I’ve never been a big New Year’s resolution person. Maybe it was because I’ve never actually followed through on a resolution (though I have lots of images of myself visiting the gym every day).
However, when I was in college, each January I would pick a resolution of sorts. I called it “my test of willpower.” I would choose one unhealthy snack (my current “addiction”) and completely cut it out for one year—cold turkey.
The first year it was soda. In high school, I drank, on average, a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew each day (do the Dew!). In college, the habit switched to Coca-Cola. I was drinking several cans a day.
As a fun self-challenge, I eliminated it for a year. Guess what? I rarely drink soda to this day.
The next year it was chocolate chip cookies. I raced on the Boson University ski team and the school would send us pre-made sandwiches, chips, and chocolate chip cookies for lunch that we would ravage in the lodge in between runs. Boy, did I love those cookies. In my junior year of college, I cut them out. It wasn’t until I was pregnant and visiting Boston Children’s Hospital’s Au Bon Pain weekly that my chocolate chip cookie habit resurfaced.
My senior year, I moved on to my toughest challenge yet: French fries. It was particularly challenging when I traveled to Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort in Quebec to train and race. The poutine was calling my name, but I persevered and won each of my self-will challenges.
I call it a self-will challenge because I intended to test myself. I didn’t go at it alone. I had a lot of help. I shared my challenges with my teammates, my friends, and my family, and they all supported and helped me along the way.
Through the act of sharing my intent with them, they also held me accountable. No longer could I have dinner with my parents while home over Thanksgiving break and order a “side of fries with that.”
Since developing the Extreme Productivity System, I see that many of the things I did intuitively are proven habits of the most productive people (The XP).
If you’re serious about sticking to your New Year’s resolution, here are three sure-fire ways you can increase your chances of following through:
1. Ask yourself, why?For everything we do (and choose not to do), there is a purpose, a why. Why do you want that promotion? Why do you want more money? It’s not just to get a new title or make a certain salary. These are external drivers.
Your why is often much more personal.
Maybe you want more money to retire early or have financial freedom or more time. Maybe you want to be able to provide your children an education, so they have opportunities that you didn’t. Maybe you want to relax and take vacations.
Whatever it is, find your why that relates specifically to your new year’s resolution. When you have an underlying why, you’re much more likely to follow through regularly with whatever it is.
2. Find an accountability partner.If you want to change what you’re doing, share your resolution with someone else and check in on progress regularly. If your resolution is to focus more intentionally on work, tap your accountability partner every Friday and report on how you did that week (for example, I blocked 8–10 a.m. in my calendar each day this week and focused on my GIA) and share your plan for exactly when you plan to focus and on what will be your focus next week (see next point).
The simple act of talking with others about your resolutions will help you feel more accountable to them. Imagine if everyone you worked with knew that you planned to focus on your most important task of the day each morning from 8–10 a.m. Wouldn’t you feel obligated to get to your desk and get focused each morning?
Don’t want to share your resolution with another person? Use a commitment contract like stickk.com, which allows you to set a goal and will hold you accountable to it.
3. Make a plan.We’re creatures of habit and routine. The more you can plan around your resolution, the more likely you’ll follow through, consistently.
If your resolution is to focus every day on one important activity that will get you the greatest return on your time investment, also known as your Greatest Impact Activity (GIA), then make a plan.
- Plan for when you will focus on your GIA. Our research found that nearly half of The XP put their GIA first thing in the morning. While morning is better for most people’s energy and concentration, for some people, it’s the afternoon, evening, or late at night. Calendar your GIA for what’s best for you.
- Plan for where you will work on your GIA. For instance, if my GIA is to write, I don’t like to write in my office. I prefer overlooking our lake. When I’m there, my brain knows what to do.
- Plan for what your GIA will entail. At the beginning of each week, I map out what my GIAs are.
- Calendar your GIA. When you put something in your calendar, you’re much more likely to do it.
Before you can make a resolution a part of your regular habits or routine, you need to plan for it. You need to be mindful of it. Over time, it will develop into your regular daily routine and way of life.
Bonus tip: Say, “3, 2, 1 … Go” and “3, 2, 1 … Stop.”You may have made your resolution, tied it to a strong why, and even calendared when you’re going to do it, but when the calendar notification goes off and it’s time to get started on your GIA, another email comes in. And then another. And another. It’s easy to start and keep checking emails.
When that happens, simply say to yourself, “3, 2, 1…Go” and get started on your GIA. It’s a powerful Jedi mind trick you can play on yourself. And when you find yourself working on your GIA and tempted to go back to check emails, say, “3, 2, 1…Stop.” Don’t shame yourself. Accept that everyone has moments of weakness and simply stop, now. Not Today.
Cutting out cookies, soda, and French fries are small and relatively easy things to do. But who said a New Year’s resolution needs to be some big change? Often starting small with behavior change can lead to big changes (like not drinking soda for the last 20 years!).
It worked for me, and it can work for you too.