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Stick To It: A Different Way To Think About New Year’s Resolutions

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running-silhouetteFellow Riskologist,

Every year, I notice an increase in the number of people out for morning runs right after the new year. And I always think to myself, “January is a lousy month to start running. It’s so cold!”

Over the next few weeks, the numbers start to dwindle until it’s back to just me and a few regulars I wave at every time I’m out.

Outside a few short breaks due to illness or injury, I’ve run five miles around my neighborhood three days a week for over five years now—more than 4,000 miles. It’s lead to some great friendships, better health, and a quest to run a marathon on every continent (which I’ll be completing in Antarctica next month!).

Building a running habit has changed my life for the better and shaped how I think about habits, health, and big goals.

So, as the topic of New Year’s resolutions works its way into more and more of my conversations as the day draws near, I have a few ideas I’d like to share when it comes to creating successful resolutions that improve your life—not just for running, but for anything.

Important Things Start Today

When I decided it was time to take charge of my health in 2008, I didn’t wait for New Year’s Day to roll around to get started. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I decided I needed to make a change now.

It was September, so I got started right then and there. I dug out an old pair of tennis shoes, found some work out clothes in the back of my dresser, and walked out the door for my first run. I think I made it a mile.

If I’d waited until New Year’s, I’d have had even more progress in the wrong direction to work against along with plenty of time to talk myself into waiting another year. The longer you wait, the more psychological cannon fodder builds up to convince yourself your goal is not actually a priority and you can ignore it.

If you want to do something important, you have to do it now. Unless you’re a time traveler, you cannot do something tomorrow.

If you’re the type of person who likes to start things on a specific day, and that day is not today, get started anyway. Consider the days leading up to Monday or the 1st of the month or whenever as “practice.”

Give yourself as much practice as possible by starting today.

Choose Progress Over Perfection

One of the biggest problems I see people run into when it comes to New Year’s resolutions is they take an all or nothing mentality. I hear stories from people who said they were going to go to the gym 5 days every week, or they were not going to eat fast food all month, or write 1,000 words every single day, etc.

These are not good resolutions. In fact, they’re horrible because they set you up for failure from the beginning. It takes work and sometimes falling down and getting back up to create a good habit. If you only make it to the gym three days one week, you feel like a failure and give up, promising you’ll try again next month. Rinse/repeat.

Rather than say you’ll go to the gym five days every week, say you’re going to set a personal record for a certain lift or that you’re going to eat fast food fewer times than last month. Say you’re going to write something every day, no matter how little, and don’t worry about the word count.

When you focus on progress over perfection, you build momentum that gives you the energy and spirit you need to keep striving for something difficult. And you build a mentality that allows you to fall down and get up again because you’re headed the right direction.

Who would you rather be: the guy/girl who made it to the gym 19 times in a month and still felt like a failure or the one who ran a mile further than you could last month and felt amazing?

Make Your Resolutions Identity Based

One thing that helped propel me to where I am today as a runner is that, from the beginning, I didn’t worry much about what day I ran on or how far I made it or how much weight I lost. Instead, I just decided I wanted to be the type of person who looked and felt healthy (I wasn’t either at the time).

This is what my friend James calls an identity based habit because it’s tied to who you want to be rather than some fuzzy external goal that means very little.

From that declaration, I was able to commit to a long-term vision of becoming healthy and making decisions that not only changed my behavior but how I thought of myself.

So many people who set New Year’s resolutions make them about things they don’t actually care about. They say they want to “lose ten pounds” or “spend less time playing video games.” These are nice ideas, but they aren’t very meaningful.

Instead, think of your goals in terms of how you want to think about yourself and how you want others to think of you. Look a year or more down the road. Who do you want to be?

Do you want to be “the girl who lost ten pounds” or do you want to be “the girl who takes great care of her body?” Do you want to be the guy who “doesn’t play a lot of video games” or would you rather be “the guy who has healthy and productive hobbies?”

When I started running, I didn’t do it because I wanted to lose weight or be an elite athlete. I did it because I wanted to think of myself as a healthy person. And I wanted other people to think of me like that, too. Running was just something I enjoyed that helped me get started on that route.

Thinking in terms of identity based habits is a subtle shift, but it makes a world of difference.

Good Luck!

Whatever it is you want to do or, better yet, whoever it is you want to be, I wish you a lot of luck in achieving it in the coming year. The ideas above are what helped me build a healthy habit that’s lasted me 5 years and counting. I hope they do the same for you.

What will you be working on next year? 

Yours in resolutions,
Founder, Riskology.co

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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. Jane Hallowell says:

    This is the best article I’ve ever read on New Year’s resolutions. Wow. Thanks for the insightful inspiration. And Happy New Year! Jane
    P.S. I hope you don’t mind if I post a link to this post on my blog. Let me know if you’d rather I not do so…

  2. Jane Hallowell says:

    P.S. You asked what we’ll be working on this coming year. I’ll be working on healthier eating; i.e., especially cutting down on sugar. I’ve made changes in my eating habits during 2013: reading ingredients; cooking with real food and fresh ingredients; trying all sorts of healthy recipes; buying organic when necessary; and growing my own herbs. I even did a ten-day cleanse. But when I get started on the ice cream, it gets out of control. I’ve totally weaned myself from MacDonalds or Burger King, but ice cream is another story… Jane

  3. […] is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on new year’s resolutions.  So good, that even though I don’t […]

  4. Rosa says:

    This was a great reminder of what insightful meaning is all about. Dropping ten lbs its awesome for most of us, fitting perfectly into our fav jeans ,fantastic! But! A true commitment to inside/outside health goes beyond simple superficial expectations. Thank you Tyler !

    • Glad you enjoyed the article, Rosa.

      When you focus on the deeper goals behind “losing weight” or “fitting into jeans” or whatever else, you create much more sustainable approaches to follow, and the results are better. You still get all the fun benefits that you’re hoping for, you just don’t make them the only goal.

  5. Gary says:

    Great post! Keep thinking about things differently.

    I also find it helpful to picture my goals as already done, both at the macro and micro level. For instance, at the macro level, I know that if I want to lose 15 lbs and can picture myself having lost the weight, that that possibly timeline exists for me. Now I just need to show up at the gym and dinner table and it will happen. The hard part is already done – showing up is easy.

    Similarly, at the micro level, when I’ve got to do 15 reps of a certain exercise, before I start I picture myself as feeling great after completing all 15 reps and then after I start I picture myself finishing each rep. I try not to focus on what my body is actually doing at all, but just on the end position. I’ve found this has made my lifting much easier and I have progressed much more rapidly than I have in the past.

    • That’s a great hack, Gary. Getting yourself to picture success is a good way to motivate yourself to keep going and doing the hard work when you’re just getting started.

      Thanks for sharing.

  6. Naomi Goodlet says:

    I love this post SO much. I’m a huge advocate for being values-driven rather then goal driven. As you say, some goals can set you up for failure from the start.
    Reading this has made me realise that I am putting off a lot of things that seem too hard right now. I use the excuse that I’ll wait til my daughter is older WAY too much. Thanks for the inspiration and Happy New Year!

    • Ah, that’s a very common problem too. If you have a list of 10 things you want to work on, and you start with the easiest ones, you may never get around to the harder, more meaningful ones. Always start with the most important!

  7. Matt says:

    I’ve never really been a fan of New Years Resolutions. To me, it has always just seemed like an excuse for people to say they are going to do something to improve their lives but never actually strive to do it. Like you allude to, I think many people use the New Year as a way to say, “On this day, everything will change”.

    I used to be like that too. But recently I have been a much bigger fan of your mindset which is to just go for whatever you want now. No excuses.

    What is the point in waiting? Waiting just makes it easier for you to wait more and wait more until there is no time left. Instead, you’ve only used excuses for an entire lifetime and never really got to the part where you improve yourself.

    Cheers to a good post.

  8. Michelle says:

    Hello Tyler!

    I found this to be rather inspirational for several reasons. One, I am probably about 60 pounds overweight. Two, I have a family and when I met my husband I was this small, petite woman, but after I had my last son, I gained a lot of weight. Three, I have always admired runners, but abhorred it. I used to run in when I was in school and was athletic, but did not like running.

    After reading this, I got out of bed, told my husband, “Today is a good day for a run.” I went out and may ran for 5 minutes. That was on December 27th. Since this day, my husband I are out everyday walking and running. We have 4 kids and it’s become a habit. I race with my kids (who always beat me) and we have fun together.

    I started because what you said resonated within my vision of who I am. I see myself as a runner with a healthy mindset. I am not in this for the weight loss, although it will happen, but I want to be healthy and I like the vision of the healthy me. I have decided to make it happen.

    Thanks for writing this!


  9. Allison says:

    Hey Tyler!

    I love your blog! It is the only one that I subscribe to because it is so great! Even with one blog to follow the posts still make it to the read-later folder sometimes. Which is why this is such a late reply!

    Anyways, I’ve always wanted to respond to a post so I thought I would share my New Year’s resolution. This year I decided to write at LEAST a poem a week. I’ve been loving the challenge and I feel that the goal I set works well for a few reasons. 1. It’s concrete 2. It is achievable but allows me to get obsessed and write 100s of poems if I want to 3. Like you said it is helping me become the person I want to be

    I picked this challenge because lately I feel so inspired by people, conversations, nature, etc. and I want to capture it in words so bady! Being an engineer I’m much better at numbers than words. The 6 poems I’ve written so far definitely aren’t award worthy (or even good…) but I’m having so much fun and I can already see improvement in how I use language to express myself.

    Thanks for all the great thoughts!

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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