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How To Follow Through On New Year’s Resolutions

December 27th, 2012 by Alison · 7 Comments · climate change (global warming), health & well being, lifestyle

This is an updated version of my popular 2009 post. When I Googled the title of this post just now, my 2009 edition came up seventh. It was right before Dr. Oz’s piece in People magazine. I’m going to fantasize that this means Diamond-Cut Life is winning its soft-spoken war against mindless mainstream culture :)

I’m not just a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I’m a cheerleader for positive change in our lives in general. As a former counselor who’s worked with a full spectrum of folks — from the ‘worried well’ to late-stage alcoholics and drug addicts – I’m realistic about what it takes for us to change our habits. We need steady accountability. What gets measured gets managed. If we’re not measuring or tracking what we’re doing, we generally don’t change.

I’m sharing here a simple tool — a chart — that’s helped me follow through on New Year’s resolutions about 5-10 times better than I’ve done without the tool. I’m sure there are some mobile apps out there I could use to track my habits. But here’s the thing: being online, or even close to online, would sabotage my tracking of my habits. Too many distractions. For example, it’s a little uncomfortable to record that I got totally distracted at work that afternoon, and didn’t put first things first. Checking email or my blog stats are reeeeally easy ways to evade that discomfort. So, online is the wrong place for me to be for this. I just made 52 photocopies of my weekly charts. Sometimes hard copy rules.

Here is an example of one of my week’s charts, filled out at the end of the week.

Wk of Jan. 4-10 Pray Run or dance Did ‘first things first’ at work? Climate activism
Mon Yes Ran A
Tue Yes - A
Wed Yes Danced B wrote back to Dr. Nathan Hatch
Thur Yes C- [got totally distracted] posted on climate change
Fri Ran B
Sat Yes Ran (n/a)
Sun yes, in church Danced (n/a) -
Plan 7 5 A 1 post, 2 letters
Actual 6 5 B+ 1 post, 1 letter

Here are the advantages to the chart system:

  • The chart clears our mind by being our memory. We walk around with way too much chatter in our heads: big meeting at work today, where did my phone go, oh geez more extreme weather, . The chart downloads from our overloaded brains what we’ve already done, and reminds us of what we still need to do.
  • This tool counts even partial and incremental success. We humans change and succeed in small steps. Some backward and sideways motion is permitted. Exercising or praying every other day still counts, even if the goal is daily.
  • This gives us a steady feedback loop. A large body of research shows that when we get immediate feedback on our behavior, we perform better. This series of weekly charts provides steady feedback loops. We have visual reassurance we are succeeding in our resolutions, at least partially.

Be sure to write your ‘Plan’ numbers in at the beginning of the week, and your ‘Actual’ numbers at the end of the week. Be realistic about your Plan numbers. For example, in the rainy winter months I’m not going to exercise as much as in the glorious summer weather. Try to record your Yesses or dashes (less judgmental than no’s) daily.

The main thing is to keep your chart and your tracking simple enough to be doable. Remember that what gets measured gets managed, and accountability leads to action and change. My experience is that this tracking system has led me to live out my values much more consistently and with more discipline than I ever did without charting my habits. That’s a great feeling, one I don’t mind being a little bit addicted to.

Sunday’s post will include the winner of the drawing for the $50 Amazon gift card.  Even if you’ve already taken the fun, five-minute survey, you can get entered in the drawing a second time if you subscribe to Diamond-Cut Life (upper right, takes about 40 seconds).

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Sedona Cole

    What a great post!! The chart is so practical and simple, and has helped me increase my efficiency exponentially. I love looking at all the check marks at the end of the day and week. It has been a great motivator and reminder tool for me. That being said, the best thing I ever did to make sure I followed through on my resolutions was last December. I decided there is no excuse for failure to achieve my goals, and I got a mentor (at FTRnation.com). Wow, I’m sure I did in three months what would normally have taken three years! The thing that really got me moving on my goals was their quote ‘The definition you’ve placed on yourself – or have allowed others to place on you – is precisely why you have what you have, do what you do, are what you are and act how you act.’ It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I took a good, long look at where I held my potential back. I can’t praise the value of it enough. My goodness, I wish I did it sooner! Anything that supports people achieving their purpose is a very noble thing. Thanks again for such a great post! I love practical tools of wisdom like yours!!

    • Alison

      Thanks for sharing this, Sedona. Hm, “the definitions we’ve placed on ourselves” as our chief driver . . . I’m thinking about that. It seems to me that we could make that work in our favor. For example, if I define myself as a kind, determined person who cares about all species and all generations, including future ones, that could drive a lot of good actions on my part (and a lot of follow-through on NY resolutions).

      - That was what went through my mind upon reading your comment. Hope you visit again and share some more inspiration.

  • GrnPwrGuy

    Nice idea, I’ll give it a try!

  • Erin

    I love this post Alison. I’ve actually made this a part of my NYE celebrations. I used a chart when I went through a period of insomnia, and I found it to be very helpful.
    I’m usually quite good at following through with resolutions (not just New Year’s ones). But I make too many and then feel disappointed in myself that I didn’t follow through. I think a chart will both help me prioritize and track the progress that I’m making. Thanks for the good idea. I will toast you and my new chart this evening!

    • Alison

      Erin, good to hear this. You’re the fourth person in the past month who’s told me the chart has worked for them. Rock on and warm wishes on your resolutions and habits.

      • Dan Patterson

        Hey Alison,

        Can we get back to new year’s resolutions? I was bombing out on mine for this year. It was to draw a bit every day. I thought about doing your chart system, but I’m probably already in danger of the loony bin from excess record-keeping. I did it a few times in January and then I faded badly.

        Now I’ve started over at the start of spring. I’ve drawn about 10 days in a row now, sometimes only for 5 minutes. I realized a few things: I had too many art supplies in not very good order and I had confusion about what book to sketch in. I streamlined my pencils and pens and played with them too. And I got a new sketch book that I can be a single-minded, linear sketcher with.

        Yea! Perhaps others can “draw” on my experience.

        • Alison

          Dan, I love that you’re revisiting NY resolutions at the begining of spring. You’re smart to be addressing the logistical obstacles to your goal of drawing steadily. Too often, people don’t identify those kinds of obstacles; they fail to “clear the path” for their follow-through. Your getting a good sketch book and organizing your pens and pencils were exactly the right things to do.
          I wonder if your kids, Allen and Kate, might want to sometimes draw (or Kate could do her beading) at the same time that you’re drawing. That kind of integration might help get your drawing more firmly grounded into your routine.
          At any rate, good work, and thanks for reminding us about our NY resolutions. Spring definitely offers us a new starting point.

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