Stop Making New Year’s Resolutions. Do this Instead.

Great Odin’s raven, please no more New Year’s Resolutions.

They’re about as useful as a flux capacitor on a car that can’t go 88 miles per hour (see what I did there?).

It’s that time of year again, and I want 2016 to be the year you actually accomplish stuff. Getting your first pull-up. Running your first 5k. Learning to play that piano that sits there unused. Taking that first trip overseas. And the way you’re going to do that is by saying no to resolutions.

Yup, the guy who built his life around goals (and wrote an entire book about it!)  wants to you stop making resolutions. Why?

Because New Year’s resolutions, as most people think of them, are hollow:

“I’m going to exercise every day.”

“I’m going to start flossing!”

“I’m going to eat better.”

Let’s be honest, we know these things aren’t going to become habit – we declare a random hodge podge of nebulous goals, and then we look back at year’s end and realize we never really got out of the starting gate.

Want to actually get stuff done? You don’t need resolutions.

Here’s exactly what you need instead.

Step 1: Screw Motivation!


“Well I told myself I wanted to run more and eat better, and I was motivated for a few weeks, but then life got busy and it kind of faded away. Oops”

Sound familiar?

A few months back, I stumbled across a response on Imgur (foul language warning) that perfectly encapsulated why we fail at making changes in our life:

  • “I wish I had the willpower to eat healthier.”
  • “I’m just not motivated to exercise right now.”
  • “I’m just waiting to be inspired for the adventure I want to have.”

Motivation and inspiration can certainly help to get started, but without understanding how our crazy, irrational brains work, we’re doomed to another year of “oh yeah, I forgot I said I was going to do that.” SUCK!

Motivation can get you started, and that’s great! I don’t care what gets you started or how you got here, just that you’re here. Remember, Rule #1 of the Rebellion is “We don’t care where you came from, only where you’re going.” But motivation wanes, and inspiration fades quickly when life kicks in.

If you are going to succeed this year, there are three truths that you NEED to learn immediately before we move onto anything else:

  • We are creatures of habit.
  • We are products of our environment.
  • We are the average of the people we associate most with.

To accomplish things this year, you need to build systems that deliver success. Systems take willpower out of the picture and set you up for success by routine:

  • Instead of always trying to remember where you put your keys, you hang a nail by your door and always hang your keys up when you walk in the door.
  • Instead of trying to summon the willpower to cook healthy food each night, you cook five meals on Sunday to quickly reheat daily.
  • Instead of having to remember to follow up with people a month from now, you set up google calendar reminder to do it for you, automatically.

Systems don’t rely on motivation, willpower, or inspiration to operate once they’re set up. They are emotion-free. Systems make your default behavior: “I’m going to do this [awesome] thing.”

Want to actually get things done? Screw motivation, manufacture discipline. How?

Step 2: Build the Habit

Cat Brush Teeth

We are creatures of habit.

That decision to sit on the couch instead of going for a run isn’t just a lack of building the habit of running — it’s reinforcing the habit of sitting on the couch. The decision to eat fast food rather than something healthy isn’t just a decision to not eat better, it’s running through and reinforcing the behavior of eating junk food.

Our brains are always looking for the past of least resistance, and when you perform an activity over and over again, it requires less brain power to get you to do that thing (remember how tough it was to drive a car for the first time? Now it’s something you can do with your eyes closed… wait, don’t do that).

When you are looking to build a new habit, start by keeping the habit small and actionable. Make it black-and-white: I did this/I did not do this. The smaller the better. A five minute walk. 5 minutes of playing the piano every day. 250 words written in your book.

Next, you need to put a system in place and set up a reward/accountability system that does two key things: increases the pain associated with skipping the new habit, and increases the pleasure associated with completing the habit.

You NEED to take the power away from your brain to say “meh, I can skip the run this one time” or “meh, I just don’t feel like it.”

On the positive side:

  • If you go for a short run every day for the next 4 weeks, you earn a new pair of running shoes that encourages you to continue running. Reward yourself with things that reward you back.

On the negative side:

  • Conversely, every day you skip a run, your friend will donate $50 of your hard earned cash to a political cause you hate. Might as well just do the run, right?

If you rely on just yourself without systems, your brain will default to the easiest path. But if you set up these incentives correctly, you take the power away from your brain (that loves to justify being lazy), and you will naturally start to build your new habit.

  • Increase the pain associated with a punishment for skipping the new habit (no running = losing money)
  • Increase the pleasure associated with building the new habit with a reward (running = new clothes/a class/fun that I love)

One way to create this systems is with the examples above. Another way to build these systems is through hacking our environment.

Step 3: Hack Your Batcave

Batman Lego

Every day, everything around us subtly influences us.

Think of it like the the Force. It’s a battle between the Light and the Dark, and if you’re not careful, the Dark Side can pull your strings and influence you without even knowing it.

That bowl of candy on your desk is begging for you to acknowledge its existence. You have to use willpower throughout the day to tell yourself “don’t eat the candy, don’t eat the candy.”

At your computer, you have to use willpower all day long… “Don’t check Facebook. Don’t go to Buzzfeed. Don’t go to Imgur.” Of course, we all cave in. We check Facebook, Gmail, Imgur constantly. And then it takes us four times as long to get anything done. If our new habit was around productivity, our batcave would be a part of our system that sets us up for failure.

When we come home from work, we have to tell ourselves “don’t watch TV, go exercise.” “Don’t go to McDonalds, even though that makes you happy. Go eat a salad again.”

In every scenario above, you have to use willpower and motivation to do the thing you NEED to do, instead of the thing your brain desperately WANTS to do. And remember, willpower is limited.

So, what’s a nerd to do? Take control and alter your environment to remove the Dark Side from the equation. Build systems that automate healthy behavior. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s tough to fall back on old habits when those old habits are literally impossible to continue doing.

We call this Building Your Batcave at Nerd Fitness: Just like Bruce Wayne uses his Batcave to improve his chances of being a better Batman and protecting Gotham, you are going to build your batcave to improve your chances at being more awesome at life.

Step 1: Increase the steps between you and a bad habit you’re trying to get rid of. This is just like the above examples – make it harder to do the old habit. Changes that fight your old habits might include:

  • Throwing out all junk food in your house.
  • Blocking time wasting websites on your computer.
  • Canceling your cable and Netflix (after you’ve watched Daredevil and Jessica Jones).
  • Putting your TV in your closet. Giving the power cord to your Playstation 4 to your friend.
  • Putting your alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.
  • Moving your cell phone charger out of your bedroom so you can’t lie in bed and check it.

Step 2: Decrease the steps between you and a good habit you’re trying to build. The fewer the steps, the greater the chance you’ll actually do it. Examples include:

  • Only stocking your fridge with healthy food.
  • Sleeping in your workout clothes.
  • Packing your gym bag and leaving it in the back of your car always so you can work out before work/after work.
  • Buy a Kindle with books loaded on it and bring it everywhere so you read more.
  • Put the instrument you’re learning in the middle of your living room.
  • Changing the language on Facebook to the language you’re trying to learn so you’re always practicing.

Remember, screw willpower. Don’t leave it up to the whims of inspiration or motivation. Create your own success by structuring your life and building your batcave so your life is a system designed to change for the better.

So, now we have a reward and accountability system. We have hacked our batcave and put systems in place to get us to do what needs to get done.

Lastly, if you really want to succeed, you need allies.

Step 4: Surround Yourself with Allies


Now that you have systems in place, it’s time to recruit allies and teammates (just like in a video game) to help. This could mean joining a running club at work, starting a gym group on Facebook, or joining our message boards (they’re free and supportive as hell).

We become the average of the people we associate most with. If those people are successful, fit, and happy, we are subtly influenced in that direction. On the otherhand, if we surround ourselves with negative people (or are in a negative relationship), you will be influenced in that direction.

So build yourself a jedi council of people who want to level up!

  • People who have succeeded in the way you want to succeed (your Yoda).
  • People who are at the same level as you to keep each other accountable (your fellow Jedi).
  • People who are slightly behind you. People you can teach and help (your Padawan).
  • People who help push you outside your comfort zone and challenge you to be different and take risks (your Han Solo).

You do not have to go it alone… surrounding yourself with allies can be the difference between completing your quest and never building that new habit.

how to implement this strategy NOW.

Blob Camp Nerd Fitness

Instead of resolutions, I want you to implement the above strategy by picking a habit/quest you would like to complete, and putting the system in place to make it happen. This includes identifying the daily habit and system, hacking your batcave, and recruiting allies.

Following the advice of the three steps above, here are some examples to get your brain thinking about how this can work:


  • Eat one vegetable every day for a month to earn a new pair of pants.
  • Sleep in your workout clothes, and pay your friend $50 for every skipped workout.
  • Find an accountabilibuddy at your office who will work out with you.


  • I will practice my language (starting on day 1) for 10 minutes each day. After two weeks I get to go to that expensive restaurant I’ve had my eye on.
  • I will change my Facebook account to French.
  • I will use to hire a language teacher for 1 hour per week.


  • I will run/walk for at least five minutes, five days per week for the next month. After one month I’ve earned a new pair of running shoes.
  • I will put my alarm clock across the room.
  • I will join a running club.


  • I will write 250 words every morning before I check my email.
  • I will use to block time wasting websites, and give my friend $50 every time I don’t write.
  • I will join the writer’s group on the nerd fitness message board!


  • I will rent a guitar from the local store and play for five minutes every day.
  • I will put the guitar in the middle of my living room, and I will cancel my cable.
  • I will reach out to my friend who already plays and ask him for a lesson.

Level Up Your LIfe

new years

2016 is going to be a big year for you. 

You’re not going to rely on motivation and willpower. Those things stand no chance against the Dark Side.

Instead, you are going to build systems and create proper habits the right way. You’re are going to level up yourself as you reach goals and reward yourself with things that reward you back.

You are going to surround yourself with people who positively influence you. And you are going to level up your life. Starting right now.

If your quests are health and fitness based, this site has all the free resources you need to get started. If you are looking for more specific instruction, accountability, and community, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy and Nerd Fitness Yoga to start building better habits!


I’d love to hear from you: What is ONE quest you are going to work on? And what are the three ways you’re going to put a system in place to guarantee its success?

  • Add a reward and accountability
  • Restructure your batcave
  • Recruit an ally.

Leave a comment below with your thoughts. Look out for another article this Thursday with even more tips on how to make 2016 the year you level up your life.


PS: 8 Days until my first ever published book, Level Up Your Life, hits bookshelves! Holy crap! Don’t forget: for the next week, anybody who preorders a copy (or multiple copies) will get some pretty sweet bonuses. Make sure you check out for more info!

PPS: If you are on our message boards, we’re launching a new Month-Long challenge there!


photo: Evan Leeson: New Years, Kendra Miller: Hunger Games, Vintage Fairytale: Batman, Luiz Fillipe: Cat, Josh Janssen: Runner, clement127: New Years Legos

Share this post with your friends:Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Get The Rebel Starter Kit

Enter your email and we’ll send it right over.

  • The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
  • The most effective diet and why it works.
  • Complete your first workout today, no gym required.
  • These are the tools you need to start your quest.
  • Jaclyn K

    My husband and I want to be less sedentary. We have a 7-month old baby, and since he was born, we haven’t been as active. We decided to put some furniture in storage and made room in our living room for a treadmill. Yes, it’s not a stylish thing to have in the living room, but it’ll get us off our butts and doing something!

    I’m also going to stop buying junk food! I never did before, but when I was pregnant, I started buying ice cream. Now that the holidays are over, I’m just going to stop buying it again. There’s no need to keep that in the house!

  • Megan

    Good for you guys, Jaclyn!

  • Daniel Jcs

    One great hack is leaving books in the bathroom to read when you’re on the pot. Zero effort or willpower, no work, maximum profit.

  • swati

    Can i say smething……iam in love with u..steve………aaaaaa

  • Tony Langdon

    I’ve rarely worked in New Years cycles, and my current quest started last year (and has since spawned another 😉 ). It all started at the end of last year’s competition season. I realised that for some of what I do, I was too slow, despite being the fastest on the team – there was no way I could get down the track and up a ladder in a winning time. At 46, I could have used the excuse “I’m getting old”, but I believed I had more within me. I’ve long had good habits, being used to training, and having developed the habit of year round workouts, when most would hibernate for the winter, and knew how to hack my life routines, by defining a time and place (in the afternoon, at the gym!). What was missing was Yoda. I found my Yoda at the local athletics club, along with some Jedi, and have built that into my training routine. Hacking the extra training in was trivially easy – the place was defined, and the time slotted in neatly. Oh, and I joined the Jedi, err, the club, so I can contribute to their success as well. 🙂

    I am now around half way towards my goal, which I want to meet by the second weekend in March. This change has also spawned other quests, which align well with my original one, but that’s another story. 🙂

  • Jeanette_E

    Not surprisingly, my quest for 2016 is weight loss/improved fitness. I’m tackling it by breaking it up into mini quests with a reasonable weight loss goal for the end of the year. I signed up (and paid for!) for a 5k that’s at the end of April. To that end, I have set up benchmarks from today through that date, each building on the last. I like the idea of moving my alarm clock across the room and charging my phone in another room so that I can sleep better and get up earlier, so I’m going to do both of those things. And I definitely, definitely need to stop bringing sweets into the house, because I have zero willpower on that front. I also posted my goals on Facebook with the promise to blog about them, for accountability. My first reward will be a spa massage in February if I hit all of my workouts in January! And after today, I’m really going to need it 🙂

  • Melissa G

    I needed this right now! Thanks! Time to stop feeling sorry for myself and do something about it! 🙂

  • Elyse

    Awesome post! I’ve been using a habit tracker to do just this since september. Much better to focus on the day to day then having “hey be super everything by next year”. I’m currently meditating, getting to the gym 3x a week, and drinking at least 3 water bottles at work a day. Going strong!

  • trillie

    “We become the average of the people we associate most with. If those people are successful, fit, and happy, we are subtly influenced in that direction. On the otherhand, if we surround ourselves with negative people (or are in a negative relationship), you will be influenced in that direction.”
    ^^ THIS.

  • Jimmy


    The big thing I take from this (and there is plenty to choose from) is the power of the companions of those who journey with you. I admire all that you do here and more than that I admire how you do it. I’ve decided to start writing my own blog and this popped into my inbox just as I was having an anxious moment over it all. I think I shall come off the NF fence and join the Rebellion.

    Thank you,

  • Gemfae

    My ultimate goal is to get to a healthy weight. I am 5 ft and weigh 215lbs; I need to lose 80-100 lbs to be healthy. I have a lot of habits that I need to change, so I made an outline (just like in English class lol) and broke ev-everything down into smaller goals, then broke those goals into manageable steps, and decided what I should change first. First, I need to get 8 hours of sleep every night, so I am going to change my bed time by 15 every two weeks until I can be asleep by 830pm since I have to get up for work at 430am. To make it easier, I am going to set am alarm to put my phone in airplane mode an hour before bed, I already moved the t.v. out of my bedroom, and I’m going to set up controls on my computer so that I can’t get online for the last hour before bed time. I’ll use that time to read -an actual book because I can stay up all night if I’m using an e-reader- or draw or do something else that is relaxing. I figure it will take about 2 1/2-3 mos to get my sleep habits corrected.
    I am also going to limit fast food meals to 1 per week and bring my lunch to work instead of eating in the cafeteria. I’ll do that for the next 30 days, and then my next goal (regarding eating habits) will be to eat one paleo meal a day – I began experimenting with paleo last year, but I gave up pretty quickly because I live with family and I’m the only one trying to eat healthy. I am helping rearrange the kitchen so that the most tempting- and unhealthy! – foods will be out of sight. I’ll develop further goals once I see how the first 2 months go.

  • Gissette Valentin

    Hey everyone! I know this is random but it seems like everyone here is into fitness and id love if you all can vote for me in this comp. It has been a journey to get this point and it’d mean the world to me! Thank you in advance and I hope everyone has a great start to the new year!!

  • CindyLouWho

    Hey Steve, I decided to start leveling up using things that I don’t get emotional about (read: not diet or exercise). I got myself a free app to track habits, because the whole “don’t break the streak” thing has worked for me in the past. I set up three new habits to track: #1, take my morning meds on time; #2, tidy somewhere in my house for 15 minutes; #3, clean something in my house for 15 minutes. It feels great to check those boxes and watch the streak grow.

    Those little changes in my routine (or lack thereof) are helping me realize where and when I’m vulnerable. Times of day, locations, and general circumstances where I’ve got a bad habit of being lazy. Since I’ve chosen things that I’m not emotionally charged about, it’s easy to notice more subtle nudges that, left unchecked, would derail my progress.

    My hope is that as I have success with these lightweight goals, I will strengthen my habit-building capacity, and be better equipped to tackle more challenging aspects of my life.

    Can’t wait to read your book 🙂

  • Diana

    I’ve only read the first paragraph so far but I just have to say the only New Years resolution that I’ve actually kept has been to floss every day. Started that one in 2002 and I’m still doing it. Crossing the “do 10 pull ups in a row” off the resolution list? Well this will be year 3 of the same resolution.

    Guess I ought to finish reading now. Love your site, btw!

  • Goran Dimic

    So this year, focusing on:


    1. leading a simpler life ( there was a youtube video of a same name that really resonated with me )

    2. including more primal and natural movement in my workout routine

    3. enjoying a more basic & steady diet, and develop my cooking skills further

  • Hanna Doughty

    This year, I decided to go all in on the 80% paleo “diet” and heavy weights (after having zero confidence in myself for years and many, many half hearted attempts to ‘eat better’). I’m only on day four but I’m already seeing things go the right way. I’m going to be adding boxing to compliment my weights sessions and for the first time, I’m genuinely excited to see how far I can go. My goal is to get to a healthy body fat range by January 1st 2017 🙂 Many thanks to Nerd Fitness for pointing the way forward for me 🙂

  • Ryan Lamontagne

    I just happened to stumble onto your site for the first time today while I was looking for a good way to develop a habit/routine for my newly purchased bike. This article is the absolute best thing I could’ve read. I’m totally stoked! I’ve already taken a few notes from this to make myself some reminders. Thank you is all I can say!

  • Bekka H

    I have a lot of miniquests that all spawn from one Arch Quest: to be a international assassin (without the killing people part). A worldly spy, if you will. This isn’t actually for the new year in particular, since it’s been in motion since October. Lol calendar year.

    The main parts of that being:

    1. Be able to carry my own weight out of stressful situations, aka keep calm & do a pull up by June!
    2. Speak 1-2 additional languages to English, rusty Japanese, and rustier French

    To do so:
    1a. 3 days in the gym at minimum per week for cardio and strength (also because I want my money’s worth) and one yoga class per week to increase back strength/flexibility/breathing skills/everything. Follow NF’s How To Do A Pull-Up article. Lift yoself high.
    1b. Max. 1-2 restaurant/delivery meals per month, so keep food to good clean stuff; restart Sunday cookup day and make boring formula recipes. It’ll be okay. Spice blends are friends.
    1c. Get out of my comfort zone with 1 rock climbing trip per month. It’s scary but the closest thing to scaling buildings local laws allow. Go with BF so we can make funny faces while falling instead of being weirdos just making faces by themselves.

    2a. Do min. 1 Spanish lesson on Duolingo per day. Practice with BF’s mom and roommate.
    2b. Restart French on Duolingo only when past all lessons in Spanish, and then continue 1 refresher of Spanish daily. Find daily practice partner(s) on Tandem.
    2c. Watch 1 episode of anime per week without subtitles to remember Japanese. Doodle hiragana instead of squiggles.

    Perhaps this should be the setup for a 6 week Find Your Profession challenge, but I keep missing the start dates. Bonus round: increase accountability by watching for, joining, and completing a 6 week challenge. Kill it/learn from it. Ideally kill it. Ta-da, assassin.

  • Gerald Smith

    Some great pointers on how to make meaningful change. I think the big one is who you spend your time with and how they influence you.

    Partners and family members can be the worst ones. They may not realize that not supporting your effort to make change by not joining in makes it that much harder to be focused.

    If you can get the ones closest on board with you than your success increases greatly.

    Fantastic article!

  • Gerald Smith

    Sorry (I put this as a reply to someone earlier by mistake)

    Some great pointers on how to make meaningful change. I think the big one is who you spend your time with and how they influence you.

    Partners and family members can be the worst ones. They may not realize that not supporting your effort to make change by not joining in makes it that much harder to be focused.

    If you can get the ones closest on board with you than your success increases greatly.

    Fantastic article!

  • Herbert M. Shaw

    Yes Steve! Everything here!

    The first habit I really want to focus on is getting to bed early. If I am out of bed at 5AM, likely I will be at the gym when they open their doors at 6AM, which helps me immensely in getting in the best workout I can in the time allotted before I start making my way to work.
    Next is definitely diet. Even though I cook for myself most of the time and do my best to steer clear of high-sugar/sodium foods, I find that I still eat way TOO MUCH in one sitting. I want to figure out snack foods that are comfortably mid-range between those little 100 calorie packs that we all know we can’t get enough of, and opening a fresh disposable bowl of organic guacamole – 4 servings is still 4 servings.
    Last but not least – absolutely I will be writing more. I currently plan to branch my radio show off into a blog/podcast covering news in entertainment, pop culture, trade industry, and health and well-being.

    Here’s to 2016!

  • ninjaboy56

    I am trying to get myself healthy. Past two days I have been getting up in the morning, doing 20 push ups, 20 sit ups, and lifiting weights. If I can keep this up for a month. I’m gonna buy myself the new Magic ex Libris book next month. If I don’t, then I have to wait another month. I am also getting rid of the Christmas candy I have in my room, and only watching 1 hr of Netflix every night. ( been watching X-Files).

  • Ghulam Haider (Blogger)
  • Vicarious

    For January I simply want to complete a Whole 30. This will help me in several ways, through improving my health and body composition, giving me a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, helping me to develop discipline, and setting the stage for success in my future goals for 2016. Three things I will use to help me: 1) Always keep Whole 30 compliant emergency food on hand. 2) Throw out any junk food that will tempt me. 3) Recruit support from friends and family to help me stay focused on the success of my Whole 30.

    Thanks as always for a great article, Steve.

  • meadhassan

    Really nice article. Now women are become very conscious about their fitness. So keep it up and thanks for sharing. If you do not have enough time to go gym then i have a solution. I have a product for you that called pull-up bars. Exercise tools for fitness

  • simon

    Where is this “writer’s group on the nerd fitness message board!” you talk about? Can’t find it.

  • Marcel

    Good for you!!! Keep going and building those good habits. 🙂

  • Gareth Jones

    Great article to kick the year off Steve.

    I’m a big fan of systems as they remove the guesswork and any decision making that can leave you weak to slipping back to old habits.

    The biggest problem I see with people when making a lifestyle change for the New Year is they go from one extreme to the other. Someone who hasn’t exercised for a year and decides they’re going to run every day for an hour to get fit, is far more likely to give up and go back to their previous lifestyle than someone who has an initial goal of going for a half hour walk every day. It’s those little incremental steps that will add up to the big change by the end of the year.

    The change that I’ve made this year is to start my day with a bowl of porridge. To make sure I keep to this I have the porridge oats in a plastic container by the stove along with some blueberries and flax seeds. I couldn’t make it any easier for me to start each morning with a bowl of porridge!

  • Romey B

    The one quest I’m working on right now is to become a healthier me. I’ve taken the first step which was to start the Whole30 plan which I’ve been on since 1/3/16 to learn how to live without the foods I thought have made me happy and I’m keeping a journal of my experience. The second step is to get my finances in order and pay off debt that’s holding me back from the things I really want to do. Once that’s completed, then I’m joining my local CrossFit. Please pray or send good energy (whichever you prefer) that I can nail this. Thank you!

  • Hanna Doughty

    Thank you! Heading out to the gym tonight to take on those weights again 🙂

  • Em

    What would be some small steps to take if one wants to be a better student at school?

  • Danielle Gordon

    Very creative post thanks for sharing this! I like the surround yourself with allies section. It’s great to have surrounding motivators when you have a goal you’re trying to accomplish.

  • Pingback: How to Make Pineapple Coconut Thai Curry | Nerd Fitness()

  • Naseer

    Excellence and informative post. I was looking for such post here and there but did not find anywhere.

  • Naseer

    I am glad to read your blog and liked. I need more blogs of such kind.

  • Pingback: How To Make Greek Stir Fry | Nerd Fitness()