Stick To It: A Different Way To Think About New Year’s Resolutions

running-silhouetteEvery year, I notice an increase in the number of people out for morning runs right after the new year. And I always think to myself, “January is a lousy month to start running. It’s so cold!”

Over the next few weeks, the numbers start to dwindle until it’s back to just me and a few regulars I wave at every time I’m out.

Outside a few short breaks due to illness or injury, I’ve run five miles around my neighborhood three days a week for over five years now—more than 4,000 miles. It’s lead to some great friendships, better health, and a quest to run a marathon on every continent (which I’ll be completing in Antarctica next month!).

Building a running habit has changed my life for the better and shaped how I think about habits, health, and big goals.

So, as the topic of New Year’s resolutions works its way into more and more of my conversations as the day draws near, I have a few ideas I’d like to share when it comes to creating successful resolutions that improve your life—not just for running, but for anything.

Important Things Start Today

When I decided it was time to take charge of my health in 2008, I didn’t wait for New Year’s Day to roll around to get started. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I decided I needed to make a change now.

It was September, so I got started right then and there. I dug out an old pair of tennis shoes, found some work out clothes in the back of my dresser, and walked out the door for my first run. I think I made it a mile.

If I’d waited until New Year’s, I’d have had even more progress in the wrong direction to work against along with plenty of time to talk myself into waiting another year. The longer you wait, the more psychological cannon fodder builds up to convince yourself your goal is not actually a priority and you can ignore it.

If you want to do something important, you have to do it now. Unless you’re a time traveler, you cannot do something tomorrow.

If you’re the type of person who likes to start things on a specific day, and that day is not today, get started anyway. Consider the days leading up to Monday or the 1st of the month or whenever as “practice.”

Give yourself as much practice as possible by starting today.

Choose Progress Over Perfection

One of the biggest problems I see people run into when it comes to New Year’s resolutions is they take an all or nothing mentality. I hear stories from people who said they were going to go to the gym 5 days every week, or they were not going to eat fast food all month, or write 1,000 words every single day, etc.

These are not good resolutions. In fact, they’re horrible because they set you up for failure from the beginning. It takes work and sometimes falling down and getting back up to create a good habit. If you only make it to the gym three days one week, you feel like a failure and give up, promising you’ll try again next month. Rinse/repeat.

Rather than say you’ll go to the gym five days every week, say you’re going to set a personal record for a certain lift or that you’re going to eat fast food fewer times than last month. Say you’re going to write something every day, no matter how little, and don’t worry about the word count.

When you focus on progress over perfection, you build momentum that gives you the energy and spirit you need to keep striving for something difficult. And you build a mentality that allows you to fall down and get up again because you’re headed the right direction.

Who would you rather be: the guy/girl who made it to the gym 19 times in a month and still felt like a failure or the one who ran a mile further than you could last month and felt amazing?

Make Your Resolutions Identity Based

One thing that helped propel me to where I am today as a runner is that, from the beginning, I didn’t worry much about what day I ran on or how far I made it or how much weight I lost. Instead, I just decided I wanted to be the type of person who looked and felt healthy (I wasn’t either at the time).

This is what my friend James calls an identity based habit because it’s tied to who you want to be rather than some fuzzy external goal that means very little.

From that declaration, I was able to commit to a long-term vision of becoming healthy and making decisions that not only changed my behavior but how I thought of myself.

So many people who set New Year’s resolutions make them about things they don’t actually care about. They say they want to “lose ten pounds” or “spend less time playing video games.” These are nice ideas, but they aren’t very meaningful.

Instead, think of your goals in terms of how you want to think about yourself and how you want others to think of you. Look a year or more down the road. Who do you want to be?

Do you want to be “the girl who lost ten pounds” or do you want to be “the girl who takes great care of her body?” Do you want to be the guy who “doesn’t play a lot of video games” or would you rather be “the guy who has healthy and productive hobbies?”

When I started running, I didn’t do it because I wanted to lose weight or be an elite athlete. I did it because I wanted to think of myself as a healthy person. And I wanted other people to think of me like that, too. Running was just something I enjoyed that helped me get started on that route.

Thinking in terms of identity based habits is a subtle shift, but it makes a world of difference.

Good Luck!

Whatever it is you want to do or, better yet, whoever it is you want to be, I wish you a lot of luck in achieving it in the coming year. The ideas above are what helped me build a healthy habit that’s lasted me 5 years and counting. I hope they do the same for you.