There’s no particular reason why you should listen to my views on how to keep to New Year’s resolutions. This quick blogpost is just to share a few thoughts. Excel is involved, obviously.
Firstly, I don’t think January 1st is a particularly good time to start major new habits. It’s dark and cold where I am, so anything that involves exercising more or denying myself some kind of comfort is never going to happen. Or rather, will happen for the first couple of weeks in a bout of post-Christmas loathing and then collapse again.
I can heartily recommend April as a good time to start something new (spring, new life, longer days etc).
How big a change is this?
Secondly, it’s important to be realistic about how big a change in your life this new resolution will be and to therefore set achievable goals. Here’s a couple of contrasting examples from my life. A few years ago I noticed I’d only read 4 or 5 books that entire year. I used to love reading so this bothered me a lot. However, it wasn’t that hard to find time for more reading because fundamentally I enjoy doing it – I just needed a few nudges to put down social media and pick up a book.
In contrast, for most of my adult life, I’ve had a vague goal to “exercise more”, and in recent years, a more specific target to run three times a week. SMART targets are definitely better than vague ones, but having the SMART-er target did not get me any closer to achieving it. Because, fundamentally, I don’t get a lot of pleasure out of running (nor any form of proper exercise, really). So it was impossible to establish the habit – there was always an excuse. All the usual advice about trying to incorporate it into routines worked up to a point, but when a challenge to the routine came, it was very easy to lapse.
However, I have finally managed to establish a solid 3-runs a week routine, and all it took was a global pandemic and the complete up-ending of what a work day looks like. I’m not being flippant here – the point I’m trying to make is to achieve this target, significant changes were needed in my life to get there – working from home and the absence of any other allowable activity outside the home.
For a while, I was obsessed with the Habit Streak idea – the idea being that once you build up a streak of doing something good (or not doing something bad), you are motivated by the streak to continue. However, in practice, this didn’t seem to do much for me; it would take me ages to get started, and then if I did break the streak, there was no motivation to start again. That said, I did like the idea and practice of logging things.
It then occurred to me to turn some of my targets into annual goals. So rather than “exercise five times a week” I would set a target like “exercise 70% of days” or “Run a thousand kilometres this year”. For some reason, I find this much more motivating. These sorts of targets should allow you to be able to make up a gap or a shortfall with a little extra work, so that you don’t fall behind.
There are various ways you can track these things, including apps, but I designed myself a very simple spreadsheet where I log what I’ve done, and then an output sheet to show me how I’m doing overall (See the image at the top of the page)
Of course, once I started logging this kind of activity it meant that I also had a baseline for future years, which is really great for continuous but lasting improvement.
So what are my resolutions for 2022? Simply to do a little better at the resolutions that I had and tracked in 2021.