It’s that time of year again. I’m skeptical when I hear people setting New Year's resolutions, because they don’t stick and lead to excuses. Few actually follow through on the work. Why? Because of that last word: work. Change is hard.
The 21-day theory of habit change originated from plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz back in the 1960s. He observed that patients who underwent surgery took about 21 days to get used to their new facial features. Data gathered over the last six decades, however, has shown us that habits can take as little as 18 days to form — and as much as a year, depending on how you attack it.
It doesn't happen overnight, but there are a few key things that you can do to transform your resolution into a full-on personal revolution — and do it quickly.
1. The Why: Focus on What Matters
It might be trendy to start a new program, follow a new diet, or join the latest 30-day whatever, but if you don’t give a sh*t about it, you're bound to fail. It has to matter to you.
I’ve been offered numerous collaborations with large brands from around the world, but many of them did not align with Spartan’s mission. So no matter how cool it may have seemed, or how "attractive" it would make the brand look to the masses, if it didn’t fit with what I was trying to do, I wouldn't take it on.
When you consider your resolution — or any goals that you are setting for the year — ask yourself these questions: Does this actually matter to me? Or am I doing it because it matters to someone else?
It has to matter to YOU. One of the best ways to dial in on a values-driven goal is to keep in mind the WHY behind what you’re doing. Maybe on the outside you’re telling yourself that you want to lose weight, but when you boil it down to values, it’s about wanting to ski with your kids or feel more comfortable when you book a flight. Keep a reminder of this why somewhere that you can see it. Maybe it's a photo of your kids on the fridge, where you’re most likely to go for some "cheat" food. Dig deep, pull out the why behind the resolution, and you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
2. Be Specific
A massive mistake that people make when setting resolutions is making global, sweeping statements that actually don’t mean much at all. Things like I want to eat better, or I want to get in shape, or I want to do more purposeful work.
It all sounds good, but it means nothing when you get down to it. Research has shown that when you are more clear in what you are looking to achieve, you are more likely to achieve it. Move away from the umbrella statements and get down into the nitty gritty.
You want to eat better. What does that MEAN? More fruits and veggies? How many each day? You want to get in shape. What does that MEAN? Completion of a Spartan Sprint? Finishing a DEKA event? Doing 50 burpees in under two minutes? You want to do more purposeful work. Like what? Volunteer more hours at your local food bank? Engage your team in more leadership-building activities?
Be clear in what you want. Write it down. And don’t waver.
3. Become Accountable
Tell everyone you are doing this. Bet family members that you will succeed. Post results on your social media each day. When you’re on the hook and your reputation is at stake, you’re more likely to do it.
It can be scary to make your resolutions or goals public. What if you don’t get it done and others witness your failure? But a little fear never hurt anyone. In fact, it can be motivating. Patrick Sweeney, the "Fear Guru," is keen on using fear as fuel.
“If you understand it, fear can be a powerful tool,” he claims. “All the fear chemicals surging through your body can push you in the right direction if you understand that fear is a natural part of being human.”
4. Celebrate Streaks
I get it: Crossing the finish line is the ultimate goal. But each obstacle and milestone along the way deserves a solid pat on the back. Even if you've only been doing something positive for three days, you should take a moment to celebrate it. But DON'T celebrate by working backwards.
Often, people will give themselves a reward that is antithetical to the goal itself. For example, they indulge in a pancake breakfast to reward themselves for three days of eating clean, or they lay on the couch all day after a few days of consistent walks. Don’t fall into that trap. Celebrate the wins, but not by backing yourself into the very corner you want to get out off.
5. When the Going Gets Tough, Tough It Out
Change sucks. Why? Because we are creatures of habit and comfortable in our day-to-day routines, even if we know that it’s killing us. When you set your resolution for the year, expect for it to be hard, because doing things differently is hard. Know that on days 3, 6, 9, 12, and 18 you’ll be in the pain cave, dying to get back to your old ways. But by day 21, you won’t just feel better. You’ll actually begin to see that change is possible, because it will have happened.
When people do the work and begin to see the changes, their self-efficacy grows. Every time you quit on yourself, you are telling yourself that you can’t do it. I see this a lot with my kids. When they push through something that’s hard, they accumulate data that tells them that they are, in fact, capable. And they use this data during the next challenge. It becomes ingrained in them.
Following through on a resolution isn’t easy. It’s why so many people fail. But you’re a Spartan, so get after it.