Effective Resolutions

Effective Resolutions

Much has been written about creating effective and achievable New Year's resolutions, and still people fail. They set goals that are reasonable, measurable, and create a support system around them to help achieve their dreams, yet people consistently fail to accomplish the goals they set for themselves in the new year. In my opinion, this is because of 2 factors: goal duration and an inability to address the underlying reasons for wanting to achieve that goal.‌

Common Wisdom

You've probably heard all these before, but we need to start with the basics. The most common suggestions for creating effective and achievable resolutions is to:

  1. Make them measurable. You must have a "yes" or "no" answer immediately on hand if someone asks you if you achieved your goal.
  2. Make the reasonable. You'll rarely achieve everything you want to. You'll get sick. The weather will be bad. You'll have a stressful day at work. Friends will invite you over for a drink. You need to account for a reasonable number of life events interfering with your ability to focus on making a new and better you.
  3. Make them specific. This ties into the first bullet, but if you can hand wave your way to success with some lawyer magic, you wrote the goal wrong. Don't let yourself cheat.

There are other ways of phrasing all of these, and some might resonate more with you than others. I encourage you to poke around different lifestyle blogs if these don't hit the mark with you; there are thousands if not millions of blog posts writing about exactly this.

Keep the Timeline Short‌

I hear a lot of resolutions from people along the lines of "I'm going to lose weight this year" or "I'm going to go to the gym 4 times a week this year." A year is a long time.

I make my goals 4 to 6 weeks out. For me, that's as long as I can forecast out my capabilities and motivation for tasks. Anything longer and I am likely to lose motivation, but anything shorter and I won't accomplish much at all.

It also gives me the ability to adjust goals as it becomes clearer what I can and cannot do. Last year I wanted to lose about 15 pounds in the first 6 weeks of the year. It was an aggressive goal, but was doable over the short stretch post-holiday gorging. I did that by running 30 miles a week and eating mostly soups and salads, but it was very clear that I was starting to break down at the end, both mentally and physically. I accomplished my goal and switched up the diet and exercise plan to add miles without worrying about my weight. If I hadn't set the 6 week goal and had instead opted for a yearlong goal of losing weight and running some number of miles, I may have given up on the running as I felt my body losing energy, or the eating as I gave in to the urges to stuff my face.‌             ‌

Know Why You Want It

Most people aren't honest with themselves when they make resolutions or goals. Wanting to lose weight is a fine goal, but you better know what it is underneath it all that makes you want to do that. Do you want to "feel healthier" or are you actually trying to make your body look different? Is your exercise goal really about getting fit or are you trying to get rid of some fatty bits you've accumulated?

I'm reasonable lucky in that I've never been particularly fat, but that doesn't mean I don't strive to lose weight. The goals I had in my younger years were about getting strong, which meant adding weight to my frame. During the COVID lockdowns, the gyms closed and I needed something to keep me active. My bucket list had always included running a marathon and it felt like a logical time to switch it up. Since running is hard on the joints, I needed to lose weight to reduce the stress of running all those miles. I ran a half marathon last year at a slightly heavier weight and ended up with stress fractures in my feet.

So my motivation for losing weight is to make sure I can accomplish my life goal of running a marathon, hopefully this year. But why do I want to run a marathon? Do I think it'll be good for my health? Hardly. Do I like running or want to do it forever? Nope. Running a marathon is purely for my own pride. I want to prove to myself that I can do something I've disliked my whole life (running) and perform the most extreme version of that. I don't have a time goal in mind. I just want to be able to run the entire marathon without stopping or walking, and hopefully without causing bone damage to my feet this time.

So take a deep look inside yourself and ask why you want it. Are you trying to get healthier at the gym or trying to build beach muscles? Do you want to learn to draw because it's a hobby or because you're spiteful over a parent telling you your drawings weren't good? When you're honest with yourself, you can motivate yourself in the right way. Mom and dad didn't like your horse drawing in 7th grade? Screw them, you're going to study up on perspective and draw hyper-realistic drawings. You want bigger biceps but don't really want to be at the gym otherwise? Every day is arm day; anything else that happens in the gym is just a bonus.

My Goals

These ideas might seem obvious to you, but sometimes it helps to see what this looks like in practice. At a high level, I'd like to run a marathon this year and start climbing again. The other things in my life right now are a bit in flux (starting a new job soon, and might be moving across the country at the end of the year) so I don't want to commit to anything else big right now. Both climbing and running benefit from being lighter, so weight loss is the most important part of my plan.

Weight loss statement

I want to lose 10 pounds by Valentine's Day.

Weight loss steps

  • I will run 30 miles per week.
  • I will bike 30 miles per week.
  • To keep me from binging or being tempted by calorie-dense food, I will eat the same thing 6 days per week. This requires some more planning, but I know I have issues resisting temptation and need something extreme to get this off on the right foot.

Weight loss motivation

I don't really like running, but I'm in the best running shape of my life. If I'm going to do a marathon in my life, this is the time to train for it. Marathon training is currently much higher priority than climbing training because the sooner I run the marathon, the sooner I can choose to stop running.

The problem with these mileage goals is that it'll wear me down. I know I won't be excited to continue training at the end of the 6ish weeks, so I need to take steps to make sure I don't fall of the wagon immediately. To keep my body's damage to a minimum, I need some extra recovery steps:

  • To keep my joints and muscles happier than they have been and make sure I can lose the weight, I will stretch my lower body for at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Because I regularly have sore abs or a sore lower back after running, I will do at least 10 minutes of core strengthening exercises per day.

This style of goal-setting has been very effective for me in the past. With short timelines, I can alternate difficult and easy goals throughout the year, making sure I don't burn out but still make progress on things I'm really motivated for. And by making sure I attack the true motivation of my goals, I can make sure that I don't lose interest during the goal period.