New Year’s Resolutions


Happy New Year! It’s that time again where we reflect on what we did well in the year just gone and think about the things we’d like to change for the year ahead. Do you like the idea of making New Year’s resolutions but struggle to turn your commitments into lasting change? In this blog post we’ll explore eight hacks that can help you decide on resolutions that are well-aligned with what you care about and help you convert your commitments from aspirations into reality.

Change is difficult

I don’t know if you have a passing familiarity with Newton’s laws of motion, but the first law states that an object will not change its motion unless a force acts on it. Physicists might object to this, but I think the rule applies to our lives as well. We become stuck in our ways unless a sufficiently powerful force pushes us to change. The very fact that New Year’s resolutions have become a thing, demonstrates that human beings find it hard to do what they feel they should. So at the start of the year we stop, reflect, marshal our resolve, and try to do better. Sometimes we find ourselves falling flat in a heap, despite our best intentions. How can we maximise our chances of success this time around?

1. Own the resolution – no, REALLY own it

Have you made a commitment to yourself to change something this year? Where did the idea come from? Did you develop this resolution yourself, or did you finally yield to the advice and criticisms others have been giving you?

You really should lose some weight.

You have to start spending more time with your kids.

You need to study harder.

We are social animals and the opinions of others are important to us. Most of us want people to approve of us and (deep down) we generally believe that our family and friends have our interests at heart. So we listen, maybe grudgingly, to the advice of those close to us and sometimes we try to follow that advice. What’s wrong with that?

Well implementing change is usually really difficult. If it was easy, we would have done it already and wouldn’t be sitting here in early January trying to work up the willpower to make it happen. And unless you personally own the resolution and are the one driving the transformation, it’s likely your resolution will fall flat. So is there any way to take someone else’s suggestions and make them my own?

2. Reflect on your values. What do you really care about? 

Do you care about being healthy and living a longer and more physically comfortable and able life? 

Do you want to be there to experience life with your kids, to watch them grow up and to support them through the challenges they face?

Do you want to finish school and have good options for university or work?

I think most of us would answer yes to all of these questions. But even then, caring isn’t always a strong enough force to change the motion (or inertia) of our lives.

What can generate that ‘change momentum’?

3. Visit your funeral

You’ve probably heard this before, but imagine people are gathered at your funeral. For starters, let’s hope that your loved ones are mourning your departure. What would you want them to say – either from the pulpit or when they’re reminiscing over coffee afterwards? What legacy do you want to leave behind? 

Wow, Dave really did love watching Netflix’. 

‘Boy, Sarah was so good at Candy Crush!’ 

Probably not what you’re hoping for. Maybe the ‘funeral view’ might be a jolt that makes you set some firm resolutions. If you want to be remembered for your amazing achievements or wonderful character, then what do you need to do to get there?

4. Consider your role models

Maybe you can find inspiration from your role models. How did they get to where they are? Was it purely on talent (I suggest this is unlikely and usually unhelpful for motivating you) or did they practise habits you could copy? Let’s consider Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the world’s richest people. What sets them apart from the rest of us? Well one interesting observation is that they both read a huge amount – Gates reads about 50 books per year, and Buffet has said that he reads five or six hours a day. Maybe there’s something to that? Perhaps you want to incorporate time each day to read some useful books or articles?

5. Express your goal in the positive, not the negative

Want to stop eating fatty foods? Stopping isn’t enough – you still need to eat something. Instead, you could make it your goal to eat healthy food. How will you get there? Well, commit to learning how to cook delicious healthy food and to stock your pantry with good stuff (and here’s a tip – don’t do your grocery shopping when you’re hungry). 

Want to stop watching so much television? Find something to replace that and make that your goal. Just stopping an activity creates a time vacuum that you need to fill with something else. You don’t want to turn off the tv just so you can stare at the wall for two hours each night. Maybe aim to play a board game after dinner each night, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or take up that hobby you’ve always talked about wanting to do.

6. Leverage the power of habits

As we discussed in our post Decisions, Decisions good habits can be extremely powerful. As well as streamlining our lives and reducing the number of decisions we have to make, they are often the key to achieving our goals. My late father took up jogging in his mid-50s and kept it up until his mid-80s. The habit kept him physically healthy, alert and engaged – far beyond most people his age.

But some habits are unhelpful. What do you habitually do when you’ve got free time on the weekend? Do you feed your mind, exercise your body, spend time doing things you value? Or do you waste hours on your phone and then wonder where the time has gone?

I’m a reluctant runner. I run because I know it’s good for me, but I’m very good at finding excuses for not running. Much like Goldilocks, it’s often too hot, or too cold – and rarely ‘just right’. I’ve also had some valid excuses in recent years, including injuries and a time when bushfires made the air so polluted that running was out of the question. But the thing I can attest to is that when I’ve pushed myself to get out and run consistently for a month, it becomes easier. My mind and body are conditioned to run and, if I’m completely honest, I actually even enjoy it just a little bit. And if I can say that about running, I’m confident you’ll discover the same thing when you set up a new habit.

7. Reward yourself

If your resolution is a big one and you’re finding it tough to develop the new habit, try setting up some kind of reward system for yourself. If your goal requires some kind of daily habit, then set up a series of rewards that you’ll receive when you manage to do it ten, twenty, thirty and forty days straight. The reward needs to be something motivating. If you love going to the movies and want to establish a daily exercise habit, then you might plan to go out to premium class with your significant other when you reach your milestone. 

There’s a couple of things to keep in mind that will make this more effective.

Firstly, only give yourself the reward if you keep up the habit. Don’t short-circuit the process by indulging in the reward when you haven’t met the target. Don’t be offended, but we can apply the same principle to ourselves as we use to train our dog. If you don’t have the self-discipline, then put someone else in charge of giving you the reward (even if you pay for it yourself).

Secondly, the reward shouldn’t contradict the habit you’re trying to build. If you’re wanting to give up fast food and eat healthy, then don’t reward your persistence by going out to KFC. You’ll send mixed messages to your brain and, after 40 days of no fast food, you’ve been rewiring yourself not to crave it so much and so the reward will be less meaningful. 

My wife Bec walks our dog Juno every morning – rain, wind or snow. She finds a bit of extra motivation from her fitness watch, which encourages her by telling her how many consecutive days she has managed to meet her ‘step target’. It’s a small thing, but that – combined with the power of the habit she’s built – helps her to get walking every day.

8. Feel like you’ve failed? Remember it’s not ‘all or nothing’

As my wise friend Jerry shared, ‘good enough is good enough’. If you’ve set the bar high with your resolution and you’ve slipped up, don’t worry. Get up and get going again! If you vowed to be nicer to your spouse and then acted like a real jerk, swallow your pride, apologise, and do something nice for them. If you’re trying to knock off work at a more reasonable hour and you get caught up and don’t leave in time to get home for dinner, pick yourself up and do better tomorrow. Consistency, not perfection, is enough to build good habits and help you achieve your resolutions and convert your aspirations into reality!

Have you had any epic successes or failures with New Year’s resolutions? Share in the comment box below – I’d love to hear your stories!

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • I like the funeral analogy — I am reminded of Stoic philosopher and former Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who asks us to imagine our imminent or forthcoming death — then use that remaining time to inform the decisions you make, as they will better reflect your real priorities.

    • Thanks Jerry! Interesting – I hadn’t realised that Marcus Aurelius had made that suggestion. I think the strength of that perspective is that it forces you to acknowledge that your time on earth – and therefore your opportunity to your achieve your goals – is limited. And having attended several funerals of loved ones in the last few years, I’ve reflected on what I’d like to be remembered for.


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