"It's time for a fresh start."
"Make 2017 your best year."
“New year, new you."
Give me a break. Setting new resolutions just because it is the first day of the year doesn't work. In fact, I think setting wide sweeping resolutions of any kind are destined to fail. Here's why:
Resolutions by definition are destined to fail
The dictionary definition of a resolution is "a firm decision to do or not to do something".
That makes it very much a binary outcome. You DO or DO NOT succeed. There is no middle ground for resolutions and that creates a situation where you are destined to fail.
Let’s take an extreme case. Say you made a resolution to not eat chocolate in order to lose weight. You struggle through the first few days, or weeks, of cravings but with a concerted effort and good support from friends you manage to get by. In fact you go almost the entire year without eating chocolate, until late November when you finally eat your first chocolate bar.
By the definition of a resolution that technically counts as a failure because you didn’t stick to your “firm decision”. Obviously that is complete BS. Going 300+ days sticking to a resolution is fantastic! Even if you ate chocolate every day for the rest of that year you still would have managed a whopping 90% strike rate of not eating chocolate. That’s success in my book.
Of course this is an exaggeration and most people would agree that’s a good effort. But then start rolling back. What if you had the first chocolate at day 200? Still a good effort. Day 100? 50? You see where I’m going with this. When does it become bad?
If you set that no chocolate resolution and then caved in to cravings on day one that is obviously not good, but it shouldn’t be seen as immediate failure either. Most people will use this as the reason to stop trying all together. “Oh well I stuffed up. I might as well spend the next 364 days eating chocolate 3 meals a day”
But what if you only ate chocolate once on that first day and then kicked butt and went without chocolate for the rest of the year? 364 days of no chocolate would be an absolutely freaking awesome effort! But if you were thinking about it like a resolution you probably would have given up on day one instead.
And this is the problem with resolutions. When talking about making lifestyle changes success should not be measured as a hard and fast rule. It’s not a yes or no. Success is about making long lasting habit changes.
The alternative is to focus on long-term habit commitments
Habit commitments are better than resolutions. A habit commitment is essentially the same thing as a resolution but without the pressure of perfection. Instead of stupidly pushing yourself to try to adhere to some set of rules, and then beating yourself up when you fall off the wagon, a habit commitment is about taking a long-term view of the positive changes you want to make.
Making a habit commitment is about making those positive changes over a longer timeframe. Take a year and get your habits under control. You wont be perfect and that is perfectly fine.
Instead of worrying about single failures you focus on the overall progress. A habit commitment is about setting yourself up for long term success.
How to get started making habit commitments
It’s really pretty easy. There are four simple steps to trying to make a habit change in your life:
Step 1: Define your overarching goals
For example: “I want to lose 10kg”.
It’s important to know why you are choosing to do something. This gives you something to come back to and also gives you extra motivation when you get lost along the way.
Step 2: Pick habit(s) that will get your closer to your goal
Pretty obvious step. Pick some habits that align to your goal. These will sound similar to most new years resolutions (e.g. no more chocolate, no more alcohol, exercise every day).
Make them measurable and easily determinable. No wafty ideas here. You must be able to determine success easily every day.
Step 3: Track results daily
Daily is the best as you get momentum easily. I recommend setting up a spreadsheet where you can just quickly enter yes/no results for all of you habits at the end of the day. It literally takes less than minute and is great to keep your focus. You could even have updating your habit spreadsheet as a habit you want to build!
Step 4: Give yourself permission to make mistakes
You are not perfect. You will fall off the wagon. You will gorge on a double-choc donut, eat a whole pizza, and drink 6 beers one night. That is ok. Mark it down as a ‘no’ in your tracking sheet and get ready for tomorrow.
Remember the goal is not perfect but to create positive long lasting lifestyle changes.
Advanced Tips to supercharge your habits
But is that too easy? Do you want to take your habit changes to the next level? Here are some more advanced tips that you can apply to really nail those habits in to place. These come from my own personal experience from tracking and improving my habits:
Advanced Tip 1: Track Progress Visually
Visuals give you great feedback on your progress. To track my habits I use a simple spreadsheet where I enter a 1 or a 0 for whether I did or did not achieve my habit goal that day. It’s simple but after a while all the numbers blur together, like this:
So I made a tweak and now my spreadsheet colour codes the cells as soon as I enter the data. Now I get a great visual on how I am going:
I also use this data to convert to a calendar view. Sounds like duplication but this helps me notice patterns that I otherwise might have missed. Here’s an example, of my 2016 goal to write 30 minutes a day. By using this view I learned that I find it much hader to hit my writing goal on the weekend because I maximise family time.
Advanced Tip 2: Count your positive stats instead of your negative ones
When tracking habit changes it’s important to frame it positively. That way when you do fall off the wagon you’ve got something positive to pull you back in. So don’t count your failures but instead count your successes.
I like to count two main things when I pick up a new habit – my longest streak and my total successful days (or percentage strike rate) since starting.
Both of these are important. The streak can keep you going and give you the motivation to push through a period of doubt and the total count helps put it in perspective when you do have a slip up.
And remember it is ok to not be perfect. A 50% strike rate for a habit change still means you did something positive for 180+ days of a year. That’s way better than not trying or giving up after one mistake.
Advanced Tip 3: Reassess and modify your success metrics
This is another problem with a resolution. It implies the decision you made at the start will always be the best decision forevermore into the future.
The goal of a habit is to regain control over an area of your life you had previously lost your way in. The idea is to identify something you want to improve and start tweaking. As you go along you should be able to change what success looks like.
Using the chocolate example, you could start with a goal of no chocolate and record that as a success only when you eat zero chocolate for the day. But after a while you’ve built up your skills and you are now in control of your chocolate habit so you could allow yourself one piece of chocolate a day and still count as success. You control what success looks like.
And if a bit later on you find you’ve slipped into counting 10 pieces a day as success you can simply reassess and change the goal again. Go back to no chocolate and start building that skill again. The point is that it not about hitting an arbitrary goal of perfection, or an unusually high strike rate, but about forming the lifestyle habits you want.
habits are you going to change?