Tracking resolutions throughout the year (with Excel, obviously)

Target tracker in Excel

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.

When?

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.

Incremental targets

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.

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