3 Tricks for Getting Your New Year's Resolutions Back on Track - America's Future

February 4, 2020

Professional Development

3 Tricks for Getting Your New Year’s Resolutions Back on Track

By: John Dale Grover

New Year’s Resolutions are a routine part of many people’s lives as they take stock for the next year. About this time in early February, people are losing steam and may have even already failed to make that commitment to go to the gym or to write more op-eds. It can be disheartening, but often people set themselves up for failure by setting the bar too high or by not having the right tools to motivate them. Here are three ways you can get back on track (or stay on track) with your goals in 2020.

1. Don’t Overdo It
No, really, don’t set the bar too high when it comes to your goals. Reaching for the stars sounds great, but if your goal is too hard, you’re only going to fail.

One of my favorite productivity books is Atomic Habits by James Clear. He lays out a ton of systems and psychological methods to incrementally win and improve in any area of your life. The catch is doing so incrementally. In fact, Clear uses a few hyperbolic examples to make his point.

For example, if you’re struggling to floss your teeth every night, just floss one tooth. If you are struggling to go to the gym, go and just run for five minutes. It sounds absurd, but the idea is to trick yourself into starting the habit because the bar is so incredibly low. So low, in fact, that once you’re there, you might as well floss the rest of your teeth or run for 15 or 25 minutes.

You know yourself. If you need “stretch goals” to improve, then you do you. But if you keep failing because your goals are too hard, then you just need to focus on achievable improvements over time. It’s like a training montage for your favorite wrestler, superhero, or air bender. Sure, it would be great if you could just crush all your goals. But if you work at smaller goals each month, imagine the powerful differences a year or five from now.

2. Use a Commitment Mechanism
I’ve written about this before, but a commitment mechanism is a really good way to turn up the pressure and pain if that’s what motivates you. Basically, you choose a punishment of some kind (nothing crazy) that you will face if you fail. Ideally, it is something that keeps you honest or even involves a trustworthy friend.

For instance, a common one I use is to promise to someone that I will write an op-ed or get x done by y date otherwise I owe them lunch. This way, if I fail I’ll have to face that person and know I failed while also coughing up some money.

Alternatively, there’s also an app for that. If you would rather not make such a commitment to a friend or if you want to automate that part of your life with technology, there are solutions. Personally, I use an app called Beeminder which keeps track of habits that you specify. Every day (or however often you have it set up), you must enter data showing that you succeeded in your habit or goal. If you don’t, it will send you annoying warnings and emails. If you still don’t enter the data or admit you failed, it will charge you $5.

Now $5 isn’t much, but that is the idea. The amount goes up with every failure, and it is annoying to see your habit tracker get reset after falling off the wagon. You can also set up a cap, so you don’t end up breaking the bank. Moreover, the free version of the app lets you have three habits or goals to track. If you accidentally forget to put in data, you can email the Beeminder team, and they’ll believe and refund you. However, if you know you’re likely to lie, then the website version of Beeminder also comes with “Weasel Insurance” where no matter what you say to the Beeminder team, they won’t refund you.

3. Make A Visual Reminder
Sometimes, you just need something right in your face to remind you of your goals and commitments. This could be a motivating print out of Shia LaBeouf’s “Just Do It” meme or an inspirational quote. Either one could be put in your closet, on your fridge, or on your bathroom mirror—basically, anywhere you are likely to see it every day. For me, I like using printed blank calendars.

The nice thing about a generic printed calendar is that you can use it as a visual tracker. Every time I achieve that daily goal or habit, I mark off that date with an x on the calendar. There’s something very mentally satisfying at seeing a calendar full of successful x marks on my office wall or on my closet door.

Further, if the goal I’m tracking on the calendar is also one I have in Beeminder, seeing and marking the calendar is a reminder to enter that goal’s data. Granted, while it is redundant to track a goal on a printed calendar and in Beeminder, I like that it is a double reminder, so I don’t forget to enter the data and avoid being charged.

So set yourself up for success in 2020. Make your goals reachable, set up a commitment mechanism, and print out some visual reminders. Use a calendar like I do or some dark humor memes like Kimspirations – whatever floats your boat and gets you closer to the success and kind of person you want to be over the next few years. It is never too late to take a few steps—you just need to keep moving.