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Small Improvements Instead of Resolutions for the New Year

By Steve Kane Published on December 28th, 2018

We’re closing in on the new year, a time when big ideas about improving our lives come to mind.  It’s common knowledge that new year’s resolutions typically abandoned by Valentine’s Day.  Taking on too much–too grand a resolution–is too big a mountain to climb.

Don’t Make a Resolution

Resolving to make a change in one’s lifestyle is a big deal.  It’s a defining moment, whether the resolution is to eat better, exercise more, set and achieve professional goals, or anything else one might promise oneself to do.  Keeping with the resolution makes one successful.  Giving up the resolution makes one a quitter or a failure, which is often accompanied by guilt and disappointment. There’s no need to go through this.

Focus on Inputs Rather Than Outcomes

New year’s resolutions typically relate to lifestyle choices.  The difficulty with changing them is that our lifestyle is comfortable.  We’ve settled into habits that we like or at least involve the minimum amount of discomfort or inconvenience as possible.  Comfort and convenience often lead to undesirable results like poor physical condition, weight gain, disorganization or firefighting at work, and other disappointments.

Rather than resolving to achieve a result or outcome, experiment with changing a habit or input. Consider the desired outcome as the general direction or long-term goal.  Consider small milestones along the way to the reaching the long-term goal.  These would be things you could accomplish in the next couple of days to the next week or two. Keep it small.

What’s Keeping You from Getting to Where You Want to Go?

Rather than thinking about what needs to be done to reach the first milestone, consider instead the things that can keep you from reaching it.  What is getting in your way?

Consider the goal of losing 20 pounds by Memorial Day.  We know this is a matter of diet and exercise (inputs).  Rather than setting a milestone of losing 5 pounds by February 1, consider setting a milestone of changing an input, perhaps something like cutting refined sugar intake in half by January 15.

Obstacles Rather Than Countermeasures.

Write a list of all of the obstacles that could keep you from reaching your milestone.  In our example, the list might look like this.

  • I like sweets
  • I like sugar in my coffee
  • Breakfast cereal is more convenient that preparing healthy food
  • My family has desert after family dinner
  • I drink two sugary sodas per day
  • Sweetened food is easy to find and convenient
  • My kids and I eat pancakes with syrup every Saturday morning
  • Packaged food typically has sugar added
  • I don’t know how much sugar I consume

Now, pick only one of the items on the list and address it.  Overcome only one obstacle at a time.  I doesn’t really matter which item is selected.  Just pick one and address it. If you’re really having trouble selecting an item, go after the obstacle that will be easiest to overcome.  Go for the quick win!

For this example, we’ll say the first obstacle to address is the soda intake.  We’ll replace one soda with a large glass of water today.  We’re not going to concern ourselves with the other obstacles.  We’ll deal with just this one.

Once the obstacle has been overcome, move on to the next.  Repeat this process until there are no more obstacles to reaching the milestone.  Once the milestone has been reached, set a new one.  Remember to keep it small.  Keep it simple.

Process Rather Than Results

By following this method, we focus on the process rather than the results.  We’re placing our attention on the fundamental inputs that we know generate the results. We wouldn’t win a football game by focusing on the score board. We’d do it by being better at ball handling, reading the defense, passing, blocking, rushing, etc.  Do these things well and the results will take care of themselves.




  1. Bob Williams

    December 31, 2018 - 7:57 pm

    I like it. Reminds me of building a snowball. Start small and work your way to something bigger with each roll.

  2. Jamilah

    January 3, 2019 - 12:32 am

    Good and realistic reminders .

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