How To Follow Through On New Year’s Resolutions

By Tuesday, December 29, 2009 1 0

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

I’m sharing here a simple tool I crafted and used in 2008 that helped me follow through on New Years resolutions  about 5-10 times better than I did in past years without it. It’s an adult version of what we called a caper-chart in my Girl Scout days, but its beauty and effectiveness comes from three things:

  • This tool recognizes our partial and incremental success. We humans change and succeed in small steps. The one-day-and-week-at-a-time nature of this chart embraces that.
  • You now have a feedback loop. A large body of research shows that when we get feedback on our behavior we have better morale, and we perform better. This series of weekly charts provides steady feedback loops. You have visual reassurance you are succeeding in your resolutions, at least partially.
  • The chart clears your mind by being your memory. We walk around with way too much chatter in our heads: big meeting at work today, gotta try to hit the gym, hope Mom’s feeling better – wow, better call her – her new phone number’s in that clutter on my desk. The chart downloads from our overloaded brains what we’ve already done, and reminds us of what we still need to do in a given week.

Here is an example. Feel free to copy and paste and fill in with the habits you’re cultivating. Write your ‘Plan’ numbers at the beginning of the week, and your ‘Actual’ numbers at the end of the week. Try to record your Yesses or dashes (less judgmental than no’s) daily.

Wk of Jan. 4-10 Exercise or bike to work Call or write Mom Take out recycling & compost Refrain from meat Decluttering
Mon Yes Yes
Tue Yes Yes
Wed Yes Yes 15 min.
Thur Yes
Fri Yes Yes
Sat Yes Yes 1 hr
Sun (sort of) 15 min
Plan 4 2 3 5 2 hrs
Actual 3+ 2 3 3 1-1/2 hrs

I actually do my tracking by hand in my journal, because I don’t always have a computer open, while my journal is always available to me to refer to (did I write Mom yet this week, or not?) or to mark with a yes (ha! Four out of four. I ROCK!).

This example below using months instead of days and weeks reflects that some resolutions and habits (such as the ones in the three left columns) are better tracked on a monthly or annual basis. The right five columns tally your overall progress in your daily/weekly habits. All this could also be done in Excel sheets. The main thing is to keep the tracking simple enough to always be fun, or at least approachable and doable.



Emergency Preparedness Net gain in savings Get teeth cleaned Exercise/bike to work Call or write Mom Take out recycling & compost Refrain from meat Decluttering
Jan 2 hrs $350 14 days 6 days 7 days 12 days 4 hrs
Plan 20 hrs $2,000 twice half of work-days 100 100 200 48 hrs

I sometimes use the ‘recurring events’ function of Outlook to remind me to go into this monthly/annual chart to record what I’ve done.

I applaud that you’re wanting to improve your habits or actions, and reading this.  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.

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1 Comment
  • Lindy
    January 6, 2010

    This is a great system. Much better than goals like “lose 50 pounds.” I have just set one up a chart which includes: drink six glasses of water, eat two fruits, eat three veg, etc. Thanks for the idea! Goal setting is a very powerful tool for change.