Right about now, your Facebook feed is probably full of well-intentioned friends who are setting themselves up to fail. Very soon your gym, your health food store and your girlfriend’s yoga classes will be packed with that annual plague of people in brand-new Christmas-gift running shoes going nowhere on the treadmill.
“Eat better,” “work out more,” “turn my stories in on time.” These are not resolutions. They are lies we tell ourselves to feel better when we’re doing the opposite. “My resolution is to eat healthy in the New Year,” we say while stuffing our faces with holiday candy. “And to stop lying to myself.”
You want to write a book, to look great naked, to retire rich. Turns out you are your own worst enemy.
“You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re relying on willpower alone. Instead, your resolutions need to take the form of specific, measurable, time-bound habits.”
But is there a better way? Yes!
First of all, focus on one resolution. You’re already not that great at commitment, so no sense starting a poly relationship with your insecurities.
Second, think S.M.A.R.T. That’s…
Sounds dorky but it’s true.
Now, because all work is equal when tackling a big project, let’s start with that crappy New Years Resolution you thought you were going to get away with. “Get in shape.” I know, it’s embarrassing now.
Let’s break “Get in shape” into its S.M.A.R.T. parts. Is it specific? Nah. Measurable? Meh. What about it is attainable? Realistic doesn’t enter into it yet. Nor does Timebound. So cool. Underline “Get in Shape” in your notes. This is the subject matter of your goal. Now let’s move backwards a bit.
You need to define, to operationalize and to agree on what metric you use to judge your progress.
“Get in Shape”
Let’s say you don’t even remotely work out. Even going to the gym would be just another place for you to stare at your phone and get fat. So you’re gonna take classes. CrossFit—yes, cult-y, jargon-filled, brawny shouldered CrossFit—is probably running a special nearby where for two weeks you learn all the safe ways to lift, thrust and grunt. So under Get in Shape you write, “I will sign up for CrossFit and do three sessions a week for the month of January and then set a new goal for February.”
You go three times your first week. You get the lingo. You’ve heard what a W.O.D. is and someone told you about Crush Week. You’re thinking of doing a “Murph.”
Then the next week your body is in pain. You’ve got plans after work. You make it to two sessions. This is where resolutions go to die. But you stick with it. The next week you go three times. You feel better. And in the next week you sneak in another session, bringing your average up to three classes a week. The last week you look in the mirror and the fat guy looking back at you at least looks like he’d be everyone’s first choice of friend on moving day.
That’s progress. Next month you can try something new or work out on your own in the park now that you’ve got the hang of it. Or sign up for 12 more CrossFit sessions because you know if you’re not signed up for something, you won’t show.
After 24 sessions, who knows? You might be hooked.
On the flip side, Neil Strauss, bestselling author and host of the self-improvement podcast The Truth Barrel, thinks that failing at a resolution can actually be a really great thing, an opportunity for future success.
“My suggestion is that if you didn’t achieve your resolutions from last year, don’t make new ones,” he says. “Figure out why you were unable to achieve what you set your mind to. Chances usually are that where willpower fails, a belief is usually at fault. So focus on identifying the belief that sabotaged last year’s resolution, pinpoint its origin (most likely in your developmental years), and make 2017 all about shrinking that belief. You’ll find that it will make not only your resolutions achievable, but a whole lot more.”
Whatever you do, don’t get down on yourself. Leila Sales is a full-time book editor with a social calendar, a DJ boyfriend and a she has still managed to write five books in her spare time. She also penned the very funny, “How to Win at New Years Resolutions.”
“Set a goal you are capable of achieving so that you don’t set yourself up for failure and quitting,” she suggestes. “For my ‘cooking for myself’ resolution, I created a Google doc listing meals I’d cooked, and my goal was to add to the list at least twice a month, so by the end of the year I’d have 25 meals I had made. Maybe I ate cereal for the other 340 days that year, but it was a start—and it gave me the foundation to do even better the next year.”
Sales adds: “The thing with New Year’s resolutions—or any sort of positive life change—is that you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re relying on willpower alone. Willpower is great, but you have a limited supply of it, so it’s not always there when you want it to be. Instead, your resolutions need to take the form of specific, measurable, time-bound habits.”
Like writing a book, building a house or rebuilding your life: All work is progress. There’s so much to do and it only gets done if you start and don’t stop.