Last year I tried an experiment in New Year’s resolutions. Instead of setting specific goals I wanted to achieve, I focused on the activities that might lead me toward my goals. So instead of setting a target weight, I made a resolution to exercise at least 10 minutes a day and eat less than 1,800 calories twice a week. My aim was to set low expectations and focus on behaviors rather than outcomes.
Overall, I think the experiment was a success. I ended the year with three out of my original five resolutions still intact, and while I fell off the wagon several times throughout the year, I always wound up getting back on. I also added several resolutions throughout the year, some of which also stuck, and learned lessons on keeping resolutions.
My original 2009 resolutions were:
- Eat no more than 1,800 calories a day twice a week.
- Exercise 10 minutes a day.
- Write one article every other month.
- Learn three new German words a week.
- Play 15 minutes of drums a week.
After a month, I realized my resolution about German was goal-oriented instead of behavior-oriented and switched it to spending 60 minutes a week studying. A month later this had become overwhelming and I dropped the German resolution altogether to ensure I could better meet my other resolutions.
As a quick review of the year, to the right is a heat map showing how well I kept my resolutions. The resolutions on the left are daily resolutions, while the resolutions on the right are weekly or monthly resolutions. Grey areas indicate times when the resolution wasn’t in effect, either because it was a resolution I created later in the year or I was sick and temporarily suspended it.
In June, I got sick and for June and July I missed most of my exercise and eating resolutions. In July, I also added a “bliss” resolution, where once a week I had to enjoy an experience in the moment and try to evoke a physical sensation of happiness or pleasure throughout my body. [Throughout the year, I seemed to fulfill this resolution eating chocolate or other decadent food and letting the flavor and sensations melt over me].
In August I got back on track and added a weekly goal for exercising where I had to total 210 minutes per week, essentially averaging 30 minutes per day. By then I had exercised daily for most of the year and felt comfortable upping the ante on my exercise resolution. I kept the daily minimum at 10 minutes, however, to give me flexibility in when during the week I exercised.
At the end of September I added three more resolutions:
- Spend 10 minutes a day organizing
- Eat 1 salad per day
- Eat 1,600 calories or less almost every day
The last one was a modification of my first resolution where I upped the ante by increasing the frequency of when I had to count my calories and lowered my calories.
These eventually overwhelmed me in November. By that point I had nine different resolutions I was tracking and my job started getting intense again. Knowing the holidays were coming up and I would have a hard time keeping many of my resolutions going, I started to fumble on many of them.
Of all my resolutions, my most important was to exercise 10 minutes a day. Out of the 365 days in 2009, I missed 63 of those, which is an 83% success rate–about a B if I was being graded in school. My grades for all my resolutions were:
|Exercise 10 min/week||302||63||365||83%||B|
|Eat 1 salad/day||73||29||102||72%||C|
|Organize 10 min/day||57||45||102||56%||F|
|Eat 1,600 cal 2x/week||30||7||37||81%||B|
|Drum 15 min/week||46||5||51||90%||A|
|Experience bliss 1x/week||18||8||26||69%||F|
|Write 1 article/mo||5||1||6||83%||B|
In this table, the total represents the number of days, weeks or month the resolution was active. I didn’t include learning German in the list, since I gave up that resolution at the end of March and it changed a couple times during those three months anyway.
In the end, I don’t think I did too bad. There is definitely room for improvement, but I did much better than in previous years. And I wound up achieving my goal-based resolutions from previous years that I had failed previously on. I started the year at 167.5 pounds with a 24% fat percentage and ended it at 159.5 pounds with a 21% fat percentage (meaning I lost just under 7 pounds of fat while gaining some muscle). My resting heart rate also dropped from 76 BPM in April to 54 BPM by October, indicating I had improved my cardiovascular fitness.
A couple lessons I learned this year on resolutions:
Start with low expectations, then raise gradually
A low daily minimum with a higher weekly minimum worked best for me.
Avoid too many resolutions
More than 2-3 daily resolutions plus 1-2 weekly resolutions gets overwhelming and makes it easier to fail on all resolutions. That’s what happened to me in November.
Use measurable and clearly defined resolutions
Timing myself at activities ensured I was fulfilling the resolution and not cutting corners. Also, originally I defined my Organize resolution too loosely so almost anything qualified as organizing. Clarifying the definition helped it become a more effective resolution for me.
Do a little daily rather than a lot weekly or monthly
Daily resolutions with small minimums seem easier to keep because it becomes more of a habit and because missing one day doesn’t seem as significant.
Track resolutions daily
Writing down resolutions occasionally was burdensome, but gave me both a sense of accomplishment and kept me going when I was on a streak I didn’t want to break. I tracked my progress in an Excel spreadsheet and turned the background of cells I completed green so I had visual feedback when I completed a resolution for the day or week.
Rank your resolutions from most important to least. That way if you become overwhelmed, you can drop the less important ones to focus harder on fewer resolutions.
With one year under my belt, it’s time to set my resolutions for 2010. This year I’m also setting some goals I’d like to achieve with those resolutions. First, the goals:
- Reduce weight to 150 pounds or less
- Reduce fat percentage to less than 20%
- Write first draft of analytics patterns book
- Learn how to manage people effectively
My resolutions are a continuation of most the resolutions from last year. In priority order, my 2010 resolutions are:
- Exercise 10 minutes per day, 210 minutes per week (30 min/day on average)
- Eat 1 salad per day
- Eat 1,800 calories 3x per week
- Spend 30 minutes per week writing
- Spend 30 minutes per week organizing
- Spend 20 minutes per week studying management techniques
- Spend 30 minutes per week playing drums
- Achieve bliss once per week
While this breaks my rule about not having too many resolutions, I want to try it out. In essense, I’ve set my daily resolution limit to 3 resolutions, with 5 weekly resolutions. I think this is achievable. If it isn’t I’ll make adjustments throughout the year like I did in 2009. Regardless, I feel much more confident this year than last year that I’ll be able to achieve a majority of my resolutions.
Good luck to everyone with their resolutions and Happy Near Year!