Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck (And How to Fix Them)

Did you go to the gym in the last week?

If so, you probably noticed every single cardio and weight machine taken up by eager beavers working hard on their New Year’s resolutions to “work out more!” and “get healthy!”  Who knows, maybe even the buried-in-the-back free weight section is busier than usual!

Well, what’s a Rebel to do in this situation?

Give it two weeks and everything will be back to normal, as most people will have already abandoned their goals for the year.

Here’s the problem with 99% of New Year’s resolutions: They suck.

Big time.

If you were one of the millions (AND MILLIONS!) of people out there who woke up last week and made a list of things you’re going to change about yourself this year, keep reading.  Today you’re going to learn why New Year’s resolutions are bogus and how you can ACTUALLY follow through with your goals for the year.

Don’t do it, be it

Guess Who?

The typical New Year’s resolution is centered around performance or appearance goals:

  • “I want to lose weight.”
  • “I want to run more.”
  • “I want to eat better.”

For starters, these goals only address the outer layers of personal development – our performance or appearance.  This is kind of like treating the symptoms instead of addressing the underlying issue. In order to have the best chance for lasting success and permanent behavior change, consider digging even deeper: ask who you are and who you want to be. Change your identity!

No, I don’t mean witness protection.

I mean addressing your goals at the most basic level.

My buddy James Clear wrote a FANTASTIC article on this subject recently. One paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).

To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.

Remember Joe? The Rebel who dropped 128 pounds in 10 months?  When he started out, he didn’t set grand goals and make sweeping declarations about what he was going to accomplish. He simply gave himself an identity change: “I am the type of person who makes healthy eating decisions and never misses a workout.”

From that point on, Joe LIVED his identity change.  Hell, he didn’t even step on a scale for six months, he just put his focus on being the person that makes healthier eating decisions and NEVER misses a workout…that’s who the new Joe was, and that’s what the new Joe does.

Not surprisingly, 10 months later, Joe’s outer appearance reflected his new identity.

When you set a new identity for yourself, every other decision you make becomes easier – it’s either part of who you are or it’s not.  If you’re the type of person now that “never misses a workout,” guess what you’ll be doing tomorrow morning instead of sleeping in?  Working out!

Once you’ve identified who you want to be (your new identity), pick teeny tiny goals (which we’ll cover below) to show that you CAN be that person.

What happened last week doesn’t matter, because that was the old you. The new you is who you want to be. Now here’s how to live it.

There’s TOO Many of Them

tie-fighter

When people set out to change their lives, they make a list that looks something like this:

  • Eat better
  • Go to sleep earlier
  • Exercise more
  • Run more
  • Learn a language
  • Drink less
  • Be a better husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/friend

Do you see the big problem with this list? There’s too many of them!

Humans are pretty smart S.O.B.’s, but we’re also very resistant to change. The body you’ve built and the life you lead is a result of years and years of habit building, both good and bad.  The second you want to build a new habit or change an old one, your brain needs to start working hard to complete ‘unusual tasks.’

We only have a finite amount of brain willpower that we can dedicate to new habits and tasks; when we try to change too much at once, our brain gets overwhelmed and we give up in the face of the slightest amount of adversity.

This is why you do SOOOOO WELL for two weeks with your ten changes, and then fall off the wagon after missing just one day.

The solution: Don’t overwhelm your body with new changes. Do less. To quote the all-knowing (and burned out) Kunu, “the less you do, the more you do.” Pick ONE thing this month and work on it. Or maybe two.  As you learn these new habits, you’ll learn that other changes start to happen automatically.  Momentum rules!

Small and simple!

small storm troopers

Every New Years we love to make grand, sweeping declarations:

  • This year I’m going to run a marathon! …but I haven’t run in 10 years.
  • I’m going to exercise for 90 minutes every day.  …but I don’t currently exercise at all.
  • I’m going to cook all of my meals at home. …but I don’t cook ANY meals at home yet.

Setting ambitious goals is admirable, it means you’re aiming for the stars.  And stars are pretty. Unfortunately, goals like these are totally setting you up to fail.

And here’s why: Things will go great for a few days, or maybe even a week or two. However, with big, non-specific goals, life eventually gets in the way and these types of thoughts will creep into your head:

  • “Shoot, this week I’m supposed to run 25 miles for marathon training, but I have vacation/work/whatever. Oh well, I’ll start back up next week.”
  • “Aw man, thanks to traffic today I don’t have time to exercise for 90 minutes.  That’s okay though, tomorrow I’ll have time…I think.  Back to watching Dr. Who.”
  • “Crap, I forgot to go to the grocery store today and can’t make dinner. So…off to Taco Bell!”

At some point, you may even utter the phrase, “I don’t have time to ______,” to which I would reply, “liar, liar, pants on fire.

The solution: Set goals that are so freaking simple and small that completing them every day is almost too easy:

  • Want to run a marathon eventually, but haven’t started training yet?  Try a goal like this: “Every day, I will run for at least FIVE MINUTES.”
  • Want to exercise for 90 minutes every day?  Start with exercising every day for 10 minutes. That is ALL that is required.
  • Want to cook all of your meals at home? Start by committing to one meal per day or even one meal per week.

“But Steve, those goals seem way too easy!” I know, my dear Rebel friend, that’s the point!  When you’re building habits, you need to make your habit goals so stupidly simple that there are literally ZERO excuses as to why you’d skip them.  On top of that, if you set the goal for five or ten minutes, you’ll often find that you end up continuing for longer.  And on days when you’re incredibly busy, you can just do the five minutes.

Completing the action every day for a whole month is how habits are built and resolutions kept!

Could you BE any more vague?

super mario cloud

Let’s take a look at that long list above again:

  • Eat better
  • Go to sleep earlier
  • Exercise more
  • Run more
  • Learn a language
  • Drink less
  • Be a better husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/friend

Can you see the other problem here? Every item on that list is about as nebulous as the Super Mario Cloud above!  There’s no way to tell if you’re succeeding or failing. It’s like getting a half-smiley face on your report card instead of an A+ or a B-.  What the hell does that mean? How much do I need to improve!?

  • “I want to eat better” is too vague!  HOW are you going to eat better SPECIFICALLY? Cut back from 5 sodas a day to 5 sodas a week?  Eat a vegetable with each meal?  Cook a healthy meal at home at least four times a week? Go full Paleo for 30 days?
  • “I want to exercise more” is too vague!  Congratulations – now what the heck do you mean by that!?  Are you going to strength train three times a week, every week?  Are you going to run one mile every morning? Are you going to do yoga every morning for 10 minutes when you wake up?
  • “I want to be a better husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend” is too vague! – I’m excited for you!  Now how specifically do you plan on accomplishing that, Romeo?  Date night once a week?  Make a commitment to ALWAYS show up on time instead of 15 minutes late?

The solution: Be specific so that you can measure your progress and check off a box that says “I completed this task today.”

What gets measured, gets improved.  The more specific you can be in your goals (habit change), the easier it is for you to say “yes, I did this” or “no, I did not do this.”  When it’s vague and nebulous, there’s all sorts of wiggle room for you to rationalize, “well, I kinda did it!” or “I tried at least.”

When it’s “YUP!” or “NOPE!” it’s easier to follow through.

Where’s the accountability!?

dollar bills

When you gave up on your New Year’s resolution last year, what happened?

Probably nothing! You looked back a few months later and said, “oh yeah, remember when I said I was going to do ________. Oh well!”

There was no accountability when you gave up, which meant there was no real drive for you to succeed other than “you wanted to be better.”

Remember my friend Saint? He had made the goal that he was going to get to single digit body fat percentage dozens of times before.  Then, he just DID it. How? By telling everybody he knew, “If I don’t accomplish this goal by my wedding, then I will pay my friends $500.”

Suddenly, faced with the prospect of failing miserably (and making his friends $500 richer), Saint shut up, stopped complaining, and started taking daily steps towards the new Saint.

Right now, the pain of skipping your new habit is minimal compared to the joy associated with skipping it: “Why go do [exercise] and be tired when I can sit here and watch Arrested Development!”

Flip the scenario, and make it more ‘painful’ to skip the workout instead of just doing it:

  • “For every time I miss a run, I will pay $25 to coworker/friend/political cause that I strongly oppose.”  Ruh roh, now that run doesn’t seem so bad, especially when you could REALLY use that $25 bucks!
  • “If either my friend or I skip a workout, the other one is buying the dinner or drinks this weekend.”
  • “If I don’t reach __________ goal this week, then I have to give my PS3 to a friend, and I can’t have it back until I complete two straight weeks of _______________.”
  • “I will use Self Control on all of my favorite sites for a full 24 hours if I miss a workout or go eat fast food.” (This is the greatest app ever for productivity by the way.)

Where’s the support?

portland elephant

Finally, I want to address support and assistance.

Changing habits and behavior is difficult (as you’ve probably figured out from this article), which is why you should use every trick in the book to help you get there: friends, a calendar, your phone, your significant other, even bribery. Whatever works to get you to stick with it until your actions become automatic behavior:

  • Have a support group: The Nerd Fitness community is ready, willing, and able to help you reach your goals and keep you on target.
  • Use technology to your advantage. If your goal habit is to work out three times a week, schedule your workouts in your calendar, and have it email you a reminder a few hours ahead of time so you actually complete the workout!
  • Apps for the win! Start an excel sheet and use an app to track your progress (check off a box each day).  Have it alert you when you skip a habit! I’m using the app “Lift” to keep track of my “make my bed” and “meditate for 3 minutes” goals for the month of January (here’s my profile).
  • Lean on your friends or significant other: Rather than allow your significant other and friends to enable your bad behavior, work with them to create a fun reward system that encourages GOOD behavior. There’s no reason you both can’t level up your lives together!
  • Bribery!  Start a workout habit building group at work. Everybody throws $50 into the pool. As soon as you miss a workout, you’re out.  Last man or woman to not miss a workout gets all of the money.

You’re not in this alone, friend.  We have a few thousands of Rebels who are here to support you, but you need to want this for yourself, and you need to be smart about how you approach it.

Putting it all together

Puzzle

Want to know one of my favorite things about all of the success stories I’ve featured on Nerd Fitness?  

These are people that have lost 70+ pounds, transitioned from smokers into power lifters, gone from flabby to ripped in a matter of months, and more.

NONE OF THEM STARTED THEIR JOURNEY ON JANUARY 1st.

They all woke up on some random day, and decided “Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Let’s do this.”

Now, if you DID happen to start on January 1st, that’s totally fine.  It can also be the first day of the rest of your life.

Just make sure you approach your goals the right way:

  • Identify a new identity for yourself: “I am somebody that never misses a workout.”
  • Pick teeny tiny, measurable, and specific goals to show that YOU are that new identity: “I complete the Angry Birds workout every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, no excuses.”
  • Keep the number of goals/habits to a minimum: “This month, I will workout three days a week. Next month, I will start cooking one meal a day.” Focus on that one change until it becomes automatic. ONLY THEN add a new habit.
  • Have support and accountability: “I will work out when my calendar sends me a reminder. I will check in daily with my friend Han Solo. I will mark my progress on this excel sheet or in this app. If I miss a workout, I will pay $50 to my co-worker Angelo who smells like cheese.”

If you’re looking to change something about yourself this year, but understand that a single, nebulous “resolution” may not be the best way to go, you’re in luck!

Today we are launching the next 6-Week Challenge on the Nerd Fitness Message Boards! 

It’s 100% free to join and costs nothing to participate.  Check it out if you are struggling with a change and need an extra something to keep you motivated and accountable.  Hundreds and hundreds of rebels join us each month – see you on there!

I would LOVE to hear what your new identity and teeny tiny goals are. Leave a comment below.

And then get started!

-Steve

###

PS - Want to know my identity goal for the new year? For the entirety of my life, I have always been late to everything - I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on time. I hate this about myself. For this reason, I’ve recently decided to change my identity: I’ve stuck post it notes all over my apartment that say “I am NEVER late to anything.” I’ve even changed my Twitter bio from “I’m fifteen minutes late to everything” to “I am never late to anything.”

I’ve also picked two tiny goals for the next thirty days:

  1. Making my bed every day. I hear that’s what grownups do.  I wonder when I’ll grow up?
  2. After reading The Happiness HypothesisI’m building a daily routine of meditation. Every morning I wake up, make my bed, and then meditate for THREE minutes. That’s it. Meditating is an unusual concept for me, because turning my brain off is like trying to dam the Mississippi. I plan to convince myself each day by saying, “I can survive for three minutes.”  I’ll let you know when I reach total consciousness.

PPS – One final reminder for the start of the next 6-Week Challenge on the Nerd Fitness Message Boards!

photo: party dino, tie fighter, guess who, small storm trooper, super mario cloud, dollar bills, portland elephant, puzzle pieces

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  • Pika24

    YOU DID NOT just quote Kunu! This has been my motto for years now – “When life gives you lemons, just say ‘F the lemons’ and bail!” lolol.

    Great points here! I just signed up for the challenge yesterday, and I do worry a little that some of my goals are too big – but all of my major ones I have committed to have a partner in crime doing them with me (like training for a half marathon – I’ll be up to 6 miles in 6 weeks). Accountability, don’t fail me now!

  • Joia J

    My New Year’s resolution (made in November, to avoid the holiday stress) is to make one happiest memory, the kind that you can look back on and enjoy for the rest of your life. You can’t really force a memory, but you can definitely create circumstances that make it more likely to happen.  So…

    1.) I LOVE running around outside, playing capture-the-flag and Greek dodgeball and soccer, so I am going to gradually increase my daily 10,000 steps to 15,000 by spring.
    2.) I enjoy dancing, so I’m going to revel in an increasingly svelte figure and start to dress for it.  Looking good encourages more dancing, which means looking even better!
    3.) By summer, I expect to be back to full health and goal weight, and ready to take on parkour in earnest.  If Staci’s guide comes out, that’ll definitely play a role (Assassin-Monks have got to be able to lift themselves easily over walls:)).

    Fall and winter will have to wait.  I’ll re-resolve in July :).

    Joia

  • Meghan Hoskins

    This is my first year to make resolutions in a LONG time! Here’s to losing that last 20 or so pounds like everyone else :) (http://nerky.blogspot.com/2012/12/happy-new-year.html). And in keeping with my first resolution, I love your blog and you are also really ridiculously good looking. 

  • Danielle Newcomb

     
    First, a random fact: My dog goes to obedience classes in your hometown (random coincidence)

    Second, my resolutions/goals:
    1. Do a pullup. Then do some more. I’ve been working on this for a while and am now using your plan from here: http://www.nerdfitness.com/2011/04/25/do-a-pull-up/ I’m on step 2 and tried a pull up last night. My girlfriend estimates I got halfway :)
    2. Keep on improving. This will take shape as the year progresses but I’m planning to do as many of the 6 week challenges as I can and keep upping my goals.
    3. Try eating paleo. I try to be a “don’t knock it til you’ve tried it” sort of girl so I figure I better try it. And I love me some fruits & veggies (and meat).
    4. Wear a bikini. For the first time in a very, very, very long time. And in public. I’d do it now but it’s a little chilly out. Saving this one for summertime.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eva.leppard.9 Eva Leppard

    Great advice- except…
    watching Doctor Who is never a bad choice ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.mansour.77 Jonathan Mansour

    An excellent book in improving your self image is Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  I became “a guy who takes care of his health” in my head, and my actions follow.  Can also helps in other aspects of your life you find lacking (business, public speaking, instruments, whatever)

  • http://thebalancedlife.co.uk/ Nick

    That’s a HENCH article, I love your long blog posts, and I know that I should recommend this to someone when they question about NY resolutions! Only this year (well, last) have I started a conscious journey in my personal development, and I’ve gotta say I haven’t looked back, it’s awesome! I didn’t make a resolution 8 days ago, I went for goals (ones that I’d set way beforehand, why wait?). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1048242586 Antheea Borch

    Just putting it out there… I am the kind of person who doesn’t eat processed junkfood because I know how it will effect my body and workouts! 

    I’m zone-paleo at the moment but sometimes I slip. Just have to avoid the work lolly jar! 

  • Theredwriter

    I was just in the gym for my first workout of four for the week (been going 13 weeks in a row without a break!), and saw a bunch of guys there I’d never seen there before, and somehow I resisted asking them, “You guys here for your new years resolutions?”

    It was extremely difficult, let me tell you.

  • Duh2000-facebook

    Meditating is the bomb! I recommend the practice to everyone! Currently I do ten minutes in the morning and ten at night. If anyone is interested in starting, read this: http://www.highexistence.com/the-art-of-meditation-stop-being-a-zombie/ You don’t have anything to lose by starting (the same goes with working out haha). I recomend starting slow. Steve is doing good, starting at three minutes. If thats where you want to stop, by all means do so. If you wish to increase the duration of time you meditate, increase by what is comfortable. Quality>Quanity.
    Peace Rebels!
    Sam

  • http://twitter.com/fallLinePro Brian Starie

    Great Post! The two parts that hit home the most were 1. none of the 70+ weight loss examples started January 1st, and 2. the meditation goal. My life has been screaming at me lately, I need to start my day with just a few minutes of this. Completely borrowing this, and will enlist the support of my wife to encourage the follow through.

  • Heather Chansler

    “Don’t do it, be it” totally put Rocky Horror Picture Show into my head!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=206801877 Amanda Hoffman

    My main new years resolution… eat Paleo! and I don’t look at it as a diet, I look at it as a lifestyle change and so far, I’m loving it! haven’t felt hungry at all since I started and even skipped my lunch (not on purpose). :D 

  • Beth Kee

    My New Year’s Resolution is to work out everyday and 5 minutes of it must be in front of my daughter or I will give her $5. (She doesn’t know this and I will play it off as a random present if I miss.) 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/X6HNUDMIP2S5JBVSZHZU7OO2G4 Kiel

    that self control app is funny..ok for me ill try to wake at 4:00am everyday and walk till 7:00 pretty simple.

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  • http://bestproteinbarsreview.com/ Andrew

    That is a great tip Amanda! I started eating paleo a year ago and feel it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Best of luck to you on it!

  • http://modernhealthmonk.com/ Alexander

    Haha finally man! Someone who agrees that habits (and tinnnnnny baby steps) are the real key to creating fitness habits (or habits, in general) that stick.  We need more people supporting this fact !

    And props on getting the early morning meditation down, it’s tough but it will pay off bigtime. Once you start you can’t go back.. ;)

  • Meghan Guidry

    This article really hit a chord with me!  I’ve been surprised how easy it’s been to tell myself that ‘I am that person that eats healthy and works out 3 days a week.’  So far I’ve lost 6lbs using this mentality to keep me motivated!  Looking forward to further words of wisdom, Yoda!

  • Cangirl75

    Don’t give up on the meditation. It used to take me 30-40 minutes of focusing on “relaxing Breath” to get there, your body gets used to it and the time decreases quickly. When I sit to mediate by the time I’ve settled myself my body knows it’s mediation time and it takes only sec (maybe 30) to center myself to a place where I can meditate.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1742671554 David Prahastha

    Wow, the whole article was a strong hit.

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  • http://www.drbillofhealth.com/ Dr. Bill Sukala

    An enjoyable post with good advice.  I say go the other direction and help people sabotage their new years resolutions!  Just a humorous list of common resolutions pitfalls you and your readers might get a laugh out of:  http://www.drbillofhealth.com/exercise/sabotage-new-years-resolutions-10-quick-easy-steps .   Humor is also just what the doctor ordered for 2013!  Keep up the great work, amigo! 
    Cheers,
    Bill Sukala, PhD

  • http://www.adaptamed.com/emr-news/ EMR Technician

    I haven’t made NY resolutions for the past years since I always fail to achieve them. It was so nice of you to identify why this always happen but can I have a cheat day? 

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