The Simple Way I Succeed at My New Year's Resolutions

Leadership LessonsBrigida SwansonComment
By the end of January, it can be easy to lose motivation to keep up with resolutions. This is how I maintain my focus and find success.

At the beginning of every January, I feel motivated and excited to get started on the annual goals that I wrote down in December. As the year progresses, though, it can be challenging to maintain the same level of enthusiasm to keep working on my resolutions. The big difference-maker for me came a few years ago when I learned about a productivity method in an article about how Jerry Seinfeld motivates his writing habit.

Adding this system into the rest of my resolution plans increased the amount of success I experienced with my goals and habits dramatically, simply because I could now see the results. Here are the four ways that I turn my resolutions into positive daily habits that add up to create big changes in my year.

1. Plan in Advance

Write out your resolution as an action habit instead of as an end result. A resolution to “exercise more” or to “feel stronger” can turn into “I will do 30 repetitions of 9 strength training exercises for 10 minutes every morning as soon as I get out of bed.”

Because I love setting goals and resolutions, I spend time in December figuring out what goals I want to work on during the following year. While a few resolutions on my list are tasks to check off (“build fence for chicken run” was one that I failed on for a few years before it was finally completed), the majority of resolutions on my list are specific daily actions I want to develop into habits.

2. Schedule Time Based on Your Energy Levels

Are you a morning person or a night owl? An introvert or an extrovert? At what time during the day will you have the most energy to make progress on your resolution? One way that you can increase your chances of making your resolution stick is by scheduling time to work on it during the part of your day when you have the most energy.

As an introvert with a job that requires me to spend all day interacting with groups of people, I know that my energy levels are drained by the time I get home in the evening. To counterbalance this, I changed up my personal schedule to work on my goals and resolutions in the morning before work and spend my evenings going to bed early. Now that I’ve made the switch, I’m surprised by how long it took me to figure this out. My productivity, energy and overall sense of contentment have noticeably improved since I changed my schedule to one of an early bird.

3. Lower the Bar

You want to make this resolution so easy to accomplish that you’d have to be really lazy to manage to fail. The key is to find the small daily actions you can do that will add up to a big life change. There’s no shame in lowering the bar on the actions that you’ll take if the cumulative progress on those actions will lead to a change that’s more than what you’re currently doing.

The magic amount of time that works for me is ten minutes. No matter how busy I am during the day, I know for sure that I can spend ten minutes working on a resolution. Although I can usually spare more time, I plan my resolution to take ten minutes so that I can still be successful on the few days out of the year when work or travel makes my personal schedule completely out of whack. In general though, my use of ten minutes is simply the motivation to get myself started. Often, I can keep going for longer (especially when it comes to working on art), but I need to tell myself that I only have to do it for ten minutes in order to get myself out of bed.

Even if you don’t have ten minutes to spare (although, really, I’m sure anyone can take away a little bit of social media time to find those ten minutes) you can certainly find three minutes. There’s a guided meditation on an app I use that lasts three minutes, so a meditation resolution could be completed in that amount of time. There’s an exercise routine that last seven minutes and works all your muscles, so in under ten minutes you could create a full-body exercise resolution. Add those actions together and you’ve created yourself two new habits of exercise and meditation in ten minutes a day.

4. Don’t Break the Chain

Here’s the one most important but so simple system that has motivated me to exercise every day (with eight skipped days) for about two years and meditate every day (with one skipped day) for one year. It’s also how I know these numbers so specifically. Here’s what to do:

Get a year-at-a-glance calendar printed onto one sheet of paper. I couldn’t find one with a design I liked, so I created my own calendar. At the top of the calendar, write down the basic resolution you’re working on. I have three calendars labeled exercise, meditation and Yardia. Place the calendar in the same space where you’ll be working on your goal, along with a colorful pen to add some fun to the process. My calendars are placed in my studio and workout area, and I found some orange pens around the house to keep next to the calendars. For every day that you work on your resolution according to the specific action you planned, cross a nice big X over the date on the calendar. After a few days, you’ll be able to see the start of a chain of X’s. Once the days and weeks start to fill with X’s, it’s really hard to stop working on your resolution. You’ll want to maintain that nice block of color that you’ve created.

If you do skip a day and can’t cross it off, don’t use it as an excuse to give up on your resolution. The first year I used this method, there were about seven days over the course of the year when I didn’t exercise. After each skipped day, I started again the next day and crossed out the date on my calendar and the blank day became less noticeable as time went on. The overall amount of X’s showed how much I’d accomplished over the year, and showed the missed days as small blips instead of as total failures. Using this method brings a sense of perspective to working on resolutions by showing you the objective facts of exactly how successful you’re being.

Why This Works for Me

As an artist and visual learner, being able to see how often I’m working on my goals is a huge motivator. By looking at my calendar, I can see exactly how much I’m sticking to my plans or how much I’m slacking off. Watching the chain of success gives me a sense of accomplishment that yes, I’m doing the work and I have the proof to back myself up. I don’t have to be subjective in judging whether or not I was successful on a goal because I can look at the calendar and see exactly how many actions I took.

Even though my actions are small and take little time, I know that without my Don’t Break the Chain calendar, I probably wouldn’t be doing even that small amount of work to make a difference in my life. When I do the math, the short ten minutes of work I do for each habit daily adds up to about sixty hours of that habit each year. That’s a number that makes a difference.

What resolutions have you made for this year? How can you turn them into daily habits and create your own chain of success?