3 Steps to New Year’s Resolution Success

Photo by: Matthew Henry

It’s the new year, a time for dreaming big about the life we want to have and the person we want to be. For many of us, that means making a New Year’s resolution to improve our mental, physical, or spiritual health through activities like exercise, diet, yoga, or meditation. This is an excellent idea, and it will reap many rewards if you’re successful. But here’s the sad truth. 80% of Near Year’s resolutions fail.

Why do so many people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions?

There are three mistakes people make when attempting New Year’s resolutions.

  1. They fail to define their resolution clearly.
  2. They don’t take the right steps to develop daily habits.
  3. They fail to prioritize and protect the time needed to complete their resolution.

Life throws constant curveballs, and if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we have very little control over what happens around us. This means that if we want to succeed with our 2021 New Year’s resolution, we must have a plan of action.

Step One: Clearly Define Your New Year’s Resolution

Select a resolution that is genuinely important to you. There’s one question I always ask myself.

“What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it, my life will become healthier, less stressful, or happier?”

Some answers to this question include yoga, weight training, cardio, running, walking, healthy eating, meditation, pranayama, drinking less alcohol, drinking more water, reducing sugar, or journaling. We can do so many things to improve our health, but it’s best to keep it simple by focusing on just ONE THING at a time. It’s also essential to be as specific as possible. Once you’ve successfully turned your ONE THING into a habit, you can move on to the next ONE THING. Finish that one and start a third. In a single year, you could accomplish five ONE THINGS that will change your life forever.

Ask five whys

Let’s get to the root of your New Year’s resolution. This will help you determine if it’s significant. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to set this resolution?” Once you have your answer, ask why again, and again, and again, and again — five times in total. In this way, you’ll get to the core of the issue, which will help you find greater motivation. Alternatively, you may find that this particular resolution no longer feels worthwhile. That’s not a problem. Just start over with a new resolution.

My New Year’s resolution is to exercise regularly. Here’s how I use the five whys for diving deeper.

  1. Why do I want to exercise regularly? Because I want to be healthy and strong.
  2. Why? Because I want to look good, and I want to stay active for the rest of my life.
  3. Why? Because I want to feel comfortable in my body, and I don’t want to be limited by physical impairments or lack of mobility as I age.
  4. Why? Because I want to enjoy my life and spend it doing things with friends and loved ones.
  5. Why? Because life is amazing! I want to explore more of this world, and I want to share those experiences with the people I love.

Wow! It suddenly feels a lot more critical to exercise than just toning my muscles. I suddenly have the motivation to be my very best self and live my life to its fullest with the people I love.

Rewrite your resolution.

Now that you’ve asked your five whys rewrite your resolution. Make it specific. Looking at my New Year’s resolution, I can see that “regularly” is too vague. I don’t know how to measure my resolution’s success, and I don’t know when I want to achieve it. A better version of my New Year’s resolution might be, “I want to exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes a day to feel great and live my life to the fullest. I will build-up to this within 66 days.”

“Why 66 days?” you ask. Keep reading to find out.

Step Two: Turn Your Resolution Into a Habit.

The Five Why’s revealed goals that I want to accomplish for the rest of my life, but to get there, I need to start small — by building a healthy habit. Habits are notoriously difficult to build. That’s because when we start something new, it takes a lot of energy and a lot of will-power to do it daily. After all, our brains and bodies just aren’t wired for it yet. So, we need to start by focusing on small tasks that we can easily and realistically accomplish every day.

Give yourself 66 days.

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. The study also concluded that it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. Once it’s automatic, it doesn’t take as much will power or energy to do it. It will feel natural, comfortable, and you may even feel a little empty when you skip it.

There are just over nine weeks in 66 days. That gives you plenty of time to build up to your resolution. Want to meditate 20 minutes a day? Start with five minutes on week one, and add two minutes each week until you get up to 20. Want to exercise for 30 minutes a day? Start with 5 to 10 minutes on week one, and add more until you get up to 30 minutes by day 66. Add as much time is as is realistic for you. It’s better to do a little every day to guarantee your success than to miss a day because you pushed yourself to do more than is possible. It will feel good to know you did it.

Also, life happens. So a little flexibility is vital. Add in a day or two each week to relax. It’s not good for my body to exercise 7 days a week, so my goal is to exercise 5 days a week and take the weekend off. That way, I’m not stressing my body or pressuring myself unrealistically. I’m also avoiding what behavior change researchers call the Abstinence Violation Effect, in which you say “screw it” after missing a day.

My Sample plan

  • Days 1-7: Exercise 10 minutes Monday to Friday. Rest on the weekend.
  • Days 8-14: Exercise 15 minutes Monday to Friday. Rest on the weekend.
  • Day 15-21: Exercise 20 minutes Monday to Friday. Rest on the weekend.
  • Day 22-28: Exercise 25 minutes Monday to Friday. Rest on the weekend.
  • Day 29-66: Exercise 30 minutes Monday to Friday. Rest on the weekend.

Step Three: Block and Defend Your Time

Time-blocking means dedicating a portion of time in your day to achieve your resolution. This allows you to focus on that task only, which improves your focus and makes it easier to do. Put it in your calendar if you need to, and defend that time from the inevitable requests that life will send your way. This is your time. It is precious. You deserve it. I find that I have the most energy and the fewest distractions first thing in the morning. Not only do I defend this time, but I also take care of it while it’s happening by turning off all distractions — no texting, no TV, no surfing the web, no phone calls.

Anytime is a Good Time to Start a Habit.

I’m a fan of New Year’s resolutions, and beginning month resolutions, and summer resolutions, and after break-up resolutions, and birthday resolutions. There’s an energy at these times that propels me forward — that I can tap into to ride my way to success. These moments give me a fresh start to look at my life and assess where I have opportunities to grow. Having the right tools to help me take advantage of those moments makes all the difference.



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