Forget New Year's Resolutions: How to actually stick to your health goals in 2021
Come the middle of January most people have already given up on their New Year health goals. In this article I outline why traditional New Year's Resolutions won't serve you, and what you can do instead to nail your health goals for next year and beyond.
As you sit down to set your New Year’s resolutions for 2021, I’d guess that at least one of them is to improve your health in some way. It would certainly be justified given the enormous impact improved health has on every single area of our lives.
The statistics are stacked against you though. According to Strava most people have given up with their health related goals by mid-January.
I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking: “I’m not most people though, I won’t be giving up so easily”. And who I am to tell you otherwise. But motivation can be a cruel mistress. It can trick us into thinking that we’re different, somehow more motivated than others, perhaps more able to reach our goals based on willpower alone. This is particularly true when the work required is to be done by our future self.
Unfortunately these are mere delusions.
So if you want to make sure you don’t await the same fate as the majority, and actually make a lasting difference to your health in 2021, what exactly should you do?
The answer is that traditional resolutions shouldn’t be your focus at all.
In this article I’ll lay out what you need to focus on instead so you can achieve far better health in 2021 and beyond.
Imagine for a moment that I came to you with a new idea for brushing your teeth. It’s probably fair to assume that as it stands you brush your teeth twice a day, most likely two minutes in the morning and two minutes in the evening. It’s probably also fair to assume that it doesn’t cause you a great deal of trouble in doing so.
Here’s the new idea. You’re going to brush your teeth for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening. That might seem like a lot, but here’s the good news - you only have to do it for two weeks and then you don’t need to brush for the rest of the year. Sound good?
Of course it doesn’t. It sounds idiotic. But can you see the parallels between this and the way that we view our health come January? This is precisely why most people give up before the month is out.
In order to actually achieve your goals, the approach needs to be different. Instead of being excessive, you need to build the foundations and then slowly progress from there. To accomplish lasting change you must focus on long-term habit formation.
That’s worth reading again.
If you’ve struggled with changing your health in the past, it’s more than likely because you didn’t abide by that rule.
Identity based goals
In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he sets out a framework around goal setting that applies perfectly to health related goals. He highlights the difference between outcome based goals and identity based goals. In short, you want to move away from outcome based goals and towards identity based goals.
Let’s take an example. Suppose you want to lose weight after eating more mince pies than you thought humanly possible over Christmas. The outcome is to lose weight. The identity is of a healthy person. So your goal isn’t to lose weight, it’s to become a healthy person. Someone who respects their mind and body with good sleep, nutrition and movement practices.
Sleeping well, eating well and moving well needs to become a part of your identity. When it’s freezing cold outside, you go out for a run anyway because you never miss a workout.
Now this might all seem idealistic, but it actually isn’t at all. It’s the result of working on the right things, consistently over time. And the best way to do that is to start small.
Small actions form long-term habits, that in turn create the identity that you envisage.
You can think of it as ‘casting votes’ in favour of your new identity. This will revolutionise the way you view your daily actions.
The beauty of it is that it means it’s not all over if you eat one bag of crisps. Or if you miss one workout. You just ended up casting a vote against your new identity , and so you just need to keep casting votes in favour. Over time, the new improved you will win out.
But it also highlights that if you double down on your mistake, and compound the error, then you cast even more votes against the new you. This leads to an uphill battle and ultimately to you giving up.
So the prescription is as follows: decide who you want to become, understand how that type of person acts, and start acting like that by making very small changes to the way you live.
Eventually the votes add up to elect a healthier identity that you can maintain and those small changes become as automatic as brushing your teeth.
Don’t wait until January
It may sound grandiose to think of who we want to become, but the process of getting there is actually very simple. Small positive changes to our sleep, nutrition and movement compound to create a completely new person over time - one with far more energy, impact and longevity in their lives.
There is no reason that these changes have to wait until January. It’s easy to defer to the future self, but that just amounts to kicking the can down the road. The actions are small, and they are simple, and the best time to start is right now.
If you take the attitude “I’ll start in January”, you’ll join the majority who in just two weeks into the New Year will already have their eye on starting again on Monday.
Instead, decide who you want to become and take the first step today.
If that approach resonates with you, and you’re ready to make a significant change to your health, for more energy, confidence and impact in all areas of your life, then I’d be happy to have a chat to see if I can help you out with that. Click here to book a free health blueprint call now.