How to Create New Year's Resolutions That Stick
BY PAUL MEEN PARK
JAN. 18, 2018
We all do it. At the start of the new year we look at our flabby belly or the junk food in the cupboard or the sadly depleted balance in our bank account and decide that this year is going to be different. This is the year we make some goals and stick to them, dammit.
Then, a few weeks later, we look at those goals and man, they’re just too hard and we’re too busy and we’ve got a life to lead, so maybe we’ll try it again next time. And when the next January rolls around, we go through it all over again.
I’d gotten so sick of this endless, frustrating cycle that I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions. I mean, what’s the point in making resolutions if they never stick?
Then, about six years ago, I discovered an approach that allows me to create resolutions that I’ll actually keep: small and steady.
Cue the Flashback Music
Before I explain what that means, here’s a bit of context so you can see where I was coming from.
I’ve wanted to be a novelist ever since I was a young teen, but I’ve never even come close to finishing a novel. I’ve also never been particularly athletic or healthy. Playing sports or sweating my ass off in a gym never appealed to me, even though I know proper exercise will go a long way towards improving my health.
These are just a couple of the goals I’ve always wanted to achieve, but I could never summon the proper amount of discipline or willpower to actually pursue them properly.
Small is the New Large
About six years ago I read some advice that forever changed my perspective on writing: if you find it difficult to write regularly, just commit to writing for a minimum of five minutes a day, every day.
Five minutes? What good is that going to do? Despite my doubts, I gave it a try. And now, six years later, I’ve written over 100,000 words and I’m coming close to completing the first draft of my first novel.
I know, it’s not the most brag-worthy achievement — I have a writer friend who pumps out a few 60,000-word novels every year. But with my lifestyle, which includes taking care of a seven-year-old boy and two aging parents, as well as a full-time job, I consider this an achievement I can be proud of.
Five minutes, that’s it. I firmly believe that no matter how my day goes, I can spare at least five minutes to write even just a couple of sentences, no matter how bad they may be. I usually end up doing more than five minutes, but rarely more than 20, and by doing this every single day I’ve seen my word count steadily rising to levels I’d never accomplished before.
Five minutes a day, every day. Small and steady.
Sweating My Way to Better Health, One Drop at a Time
The “small and steady” approach had been working for writing, so how about exercise? Two years ago I’d finally had enough of my flabby, blob-like body and decided to apply this approach to fitness.
I signed up at the gym located in my office and for the first few weeks all I did was walk on the treadmill. It was easy, since I already enjoy walking, and it was something I could commit to doing at least three times a week.
Eventually walking transitioned into running, then bodyweight exercises, then strength training. Two years later I’m in the best shape of my life — I have more energy than I’ve had in years and I feel great.
Improving my fitness is a journey, not a destination, so there are still many ways I can increase my fitness level. But I’m happy with how I’ve progressed so far, and it all started with walking on a treadmill, three times a week, every week.
Small and steady.
The Power of Small
So why did this “small and steady” approach work for me while all of my other New Year’s resolutions fell by the wayside? Creating small goals is the way I had to start.
Most people’s resolutions are large and ambitious, like losing 40 pounds or saving $1,000 to buy a new kitchen appliance. But once you actually start trying to achieve these goals, they loom high above you like a mountain you need to climb, and it’s just so much easier to turn around and walk away.
Let me be clear, though — I’m not saying that big goals are a bad thing, not at all. Some of my teammates at Gnarly tend to think big and are dedicated to achieving large goals, which is awesome. I admire their passion. But that’s not the way I work.
The “small and steady” approach breaks down into two simple elements:
1) Make your goals small and achievable. If you’re trying to hit a large goal, break it down into smaller ones first. That’ll make them less intimidating and easier to achieve.
2) Be consistent. Commit to hitting your (small) goals on a regular basis. Who knows, if you keep it up long enough those goals might even become a habit.
But Wait, There's More
Going small and steady really sparked my motivation and gave me the confidence to believe I can achieve goals that are really important to me. But I’ve also learned a few other useful tips along the way.
I’ve realized that it’s important to take a realistic view of my goals. Writing for five minutes a day isn’t going to allow me to finish a novel within a month (NaNoWriMo? Sha, right!) or even a few months. Hitting the gym for 45 minutes, three times a week isn’t going to turn me into a mass of toned, rippling muscle any time soon.
But any progress at all is better than no progress, and I feel like I’m making gains regardless of how fast I’m going. It’s like the famous quote from Lao Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” A single step won’t take you far, but enough steps will get you to any destination.
Adding Instead of Subtracting
Making sacrifices is hard. So instead of eliminating stuff I really enjoy, I’ve focused instead on adding things that help make my life better. I love dark chocolate, and I still allow myself a couple of morsels from time to time, but I’ve also added a lot of healthier foods to my diet, like an apple and orange every day. Overall, I think I’m ahead of the game.
We all slip up from time to time. It’s part of being human. I try not to beat myself up whenever inevitable slips occur (like those yummy-but-oh-so-bad-for-me steak fries at Red Robin). Instead, I try to forgive myself, and pledge to try and do better next time. I wouldn’t enjoy it if someone started screaming at me for eating a few fries, so why should I do it to myself?
Don’t Give Up
Maybe some of these tips will work for you, maybe they won’t. But whatever you do, don’t give up. If you want to improve yourself, no matter what form that takes, just keep trying. Even if you fail a hundred times, it takes just one victory to get you where you want to go.