Hacks For Sticking To Resolutions

A friend & I were skype-ing earlier. Its been a pretty standard year for him so far- he has already dumped his new year’s resolutions, no healthier, & continuing his love-hate relationship with social media.

We have all been there. Over the years I had so many unfinished resolutions that I dreaded those New Year’s eve conversations with my Dad. I can still hear him now- What’s your new resolution, or What [insert your dreaded question here]. I dealt with these by stating regally that I did not believe in resolutions. By that, of course I meant “Can we talk about something else?”.

Of the many lessons from my previous career, a valuable one was how to stick to my resolutions/goals.


Photo from this article.

Having had fun discussing favourite hacks with my friend, I wondered if anyone else could use these as we close the last day of 2016’s first month?! Here goes:

My resolutions derail due to 2 broad reasons: planning, & productivity issues.

Planning Hacks:

  • Define & Diary– Keep it simple. What precisely do I want to achieve? Then I break it down to daily tasks needed to achieve it. Finally I allocate realistic times in my diary for those tasks.

  • Simple measurable metrics– When do I want to achieve it by, or how will I decide to abort (useless goal?).
  • Align domains of life– Ah, favourite hack! My 4 domains: Physical, Mental/Spiritual, Professional, Personal/Home. My yearly goal falls under just one of these categories but all 4 influences my motivation. If I have no physical energy, or mental grace: I can’t achieve my goals. If I feel like I am stuck in a rut/all my time is sucked up at work: I won’t have the mental space/time. If home looks like a bomb hit it/not spending enough time with family: I wont want to dedicate more time to achieve a new goal. So I plan small adjustments in the 3 remaining domains to fit my agenda!
  • How badly do I want it? It may be the most important hack but it’s impossible to action unless I know how much effort to commit to attain the goal. Thus I do the first 3 hacks, & then ask- do I care enough to do all that? I couldn’t give a toss about running as exercise, for example. So every time I resolved to go running by using only the above 3 hacks: it did not work.

Productivity Hacks:

If I didn’t read lot of books the previous year; it was because I had no time. If time is still a problem this year, how will I ever read more books? See where I’m going with this?

  • Forget the snooze button– I don’t really sleep well between hitting snooze and getting up anyway. Same goes for not being able to sleep at all. So why not claim that time back & assign it to goals?
  • Do it first thing- Heard those big-rocks-and-small-pebbles-in-a-jar speech? *Yawn*. Instead I tell myself that goals are sexy, but the daily hustle to achieve them are boring as heck! So I need to get it out of the way first thing. The psychological boost I get from this is awesome too!
  • Think of an activity you can cut out: I had a deluge of free time when I started Medical School. I filled the time but I wasn’t doing anything towards my resolution. Do you know the kind of stuff I did instead? Binge-watch Friends on DVD! Is there any similar activity that you could cut out of your day?
  • Have a ritual/process to rescue an unproductive day:  Some people go for a run, a drive, or 10-minute meditation. I read story books for a bit. Then return to the remaining time, & re-prioritise task list. Though some days are just train wrecks no matter what I do!
  • Form a habit: Remember the do-something-for-28-days tip? Try that if your goal is about a specific habit. The amazing Scott H Young has some handy tips here.
  • Sleep 8 hours daily: Stopped laughing yet? Seriously, now. Have a listen to Freakonomics’ interesting 2-part podcast about how productivity, motivation, cognition, memory, and physical health improve with this arbitrarily decided duration of sleep! I block out 8 hours of sleep-time, & then work backwards to prioritise my task list. I have 16 hours a day to achieve them all. PS: don’t write off commuting hours. I used to catch up on phone calls (hands-free car phone, people!), listen to audiobooks/podcasts/news/conference calls. Freed up time, kept me motivated, and as a result I stuck to my goals.
  • Shabbat-style time off: I keep to a punishing schedule. One inch of leeway & I will happily binge watch Star Trek Voyager on DVD. However I have learnt the tremendous value of winding down and relaxing. This sundown till sun-up style suits me best. It helps with my drive to keep to schedule, which in turn helps me achieve goals. PS: By ‘Shabbat-style’ I mean focussed time off and not religion. Couple of interesting blogposts from others who tried this: my time-outs are like Lauren‘s, while Dale soaks up the religious flavour.

With the best will in the world though I don’t do everything I need to, & sometimes ditch resolutions. Emergencies crop up, unexpected tasks take over, or a darned bug beats my immune system. If that’s you too, here’s what I say- lots of grace for yourself, and learn lessons for later! You’re doing the best you can.

What are your hacks, good people?

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