How I Accomplished 90% of My 2020 New Year’s Resolutions
I set 84 resolutions and succeeded, despite a pandemic. Here’s my system of setting goals, tracking outcomes, and reviewing progress.
Despite COVID-19, 2020 has been one of the best years of my life. Though I’ve gone through a lockdown, had first-hand experience with coronavirus, and had to postpone my wedding and honeymoon, I’ve never felt more successful.
For the first time in 27 years, I’ve achieved most of my New Year’s resolutions.
In the past, the end of the year was a frustrating yet hopeful time. Once I begrudgingly accepted I’d barely done anything I’d set out to do that year, I excitedly prepared for the next one — only to face disappointment yet again.
From makeshift to-do lists to comprehensive essays, I tried different approaches. But regardless of the method, the results were always the same: unremarkable. I had trouble following through and, most importantly, setting feasible goals.
Last December, though, I decided enough was enough. After reading James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, I learned of the 1% rule. In a nutshell, it preaches that if you improve 1% every day, by the end of the year, you’ll be 37 times better because of the compounding effect.
I wanted that. I wanted to look back on 2020 with the eyes of a 37 times better version of me.
And now here I am. Though perhaps 37 isn’t the right number, I’ve definitely improved. I’ve rid myself of detrimental habits like biting my nails or mindlessly watching TV. I’ve introduced new, positive routines that have made me healthier and more productive, like meditation, regular exercise, and consistent writing.
Out of 84 goals I established at the end of 2019, I have accomplished 75 across different areas of my life, from fitness to finances.
However, the reason I consider myself successful goes beyond completing goals. By implementing this process, I’ve changed my mindset. By changing my mindset, I’ve changed my behaviors. By changing my behaviors, I’ve changed my results.
And by changing my results, I’ve changed my life.
Three things were vital for my success: knowledge, a journal, and a plan. Here’s what helped me accomplish 90% of my New Year’s resolutions.
Knowledge: Relevant Books, Courses, and Experiences
Besides Atomic Habits, several resources provided me with the necessary tools to develop my methodology:
- The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. After reflecting on the 366 Estoic meditations, I’ve learned that we must focus on our locus of control, what we can change. Before, I defined goals like getting a literary agent, something that isn’t in my hands. Instead, in 2020, my goal was to query the agents regardless of the outcome.
- S.M.A.R.T. Goals Made Simple — 10 Steps to Master Your Personal and Career Goals by S.J. Scott. This book taught me how the best goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Though it seems complicated to apply at first, once you get the hang of it, it becomes automatic. Instead of aiming to “write”, aim to “write every day for three hours” or “write 500 words every day.”
- Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. Besides offering mind-opening tips on boosting your study and practice sessions, this Coursera course teaches you how to beat procrastination by focusing on processes instead of outcomes — a learning I applied to my goals. Instead of stating I would weigh a certain amount or have a defined fat percentage by the end of 2020, my objective was to exercise three times per week.
- Design Your Best Life With Lifebook: Discover what you really want in all 12 dimensions of your life. And get it. In this Mindvalley course, you brainstorm your vision for the 12 dimensions of your life. By doing so, I not only learned what I wanted on a long-term basis, but I realized that to feel fulfilled after accomplishing goals, they must be holistic. They must encompass all areas of your life. This is why, when it came time to work on my 2020 New Year’s resolutions, I first defined the crucial areas of my life before establishing goals.
My own experience
As a business consultant, I’ve learned a framework to implement changes. Though it’s designed for companies, I adapted the four-step process to my personal life:
- Defining the ideal outcome
- Creating a phased plan
This structured approach helped me follow through, adapt to changes (COVID-19, for example), and kept me motivated. To me, few things feel as exhilarating as checking something off my to-do list.
The Journal: Accountability
I consider journaling to be one of the keys to my success. Having a single place to write down my objectives, plan my months, weeks, and days, check my progress, and reflect on the things I’d learned, helped me maintain my momentum throughout the year. Even when things went south because of the pandemic, my structured and accessible journal kept me moving forward.
Why? Four reasons:
- Visible goals. Having my New Year’s resolutions at hand made them impossible to forget. At the start of every week, I would check back on my goals before planning my days, ensuring I was working toward them.
- Monthly, weekly, and daily view. Planning my life on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis allowed me to split ambitious goals into unintimidating, actionable parts. Moreover, since most of my objectives were processes, this allowed me to seamlessly incorporate them into my life. For example, to ensure I exercised three times per week, I organized my schedule on Monday mornings, time-blocking sections of three different days. After that, unless there was an emergency, there was no excuse not to follow through.
- Quarterly tracking. At the end of every quarter, I checked my progress, adjusted irrelevant goals, and set the priorities for the next quarter. This self-reflection practice kept me focused on moving forward and allowed me to pivot, a fundamental skill in 2020.
- Gratitude, learnings, and big ideas. To boost my motivation, I journaled about what I was grateful for, what I’d learned, and about great ideas I’d had (many were awful) every day. This five-minute activity was a game-changer. Being grateful was energizing. Reviewing gained knowledge built my confidence; it proved I was 1% better. And brainstorming motivated me to continue on my path.
However, finding the perfect journal proved a challenging task. In the end, I created one using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I wanted a journal that included goal-setting, planning, and self-reflection at once.
Still, remember you don’t necessarily need a physical journal. What’s important is that you find a place where you can easily access your goals, plan ahead, and track your progress. Think of it as your sidekick.
The Plan: The Step-by-Step Methodology
As I mentioned before, I used the four-step Business Consultancy framework to guide my implementation: defining the ideal outcome, creating a phased plan, implementing, and tracking.
1. The ideal outcome
A ship without a plan meanders senselessly in the ocean. It might get to port, but more likely than not, a storm will sink it.
To accomplish your goals, you must understand what you want — and why.
Defining the relevant life categories
As I learned in the Mindvalley course I previously mentioned, it’s crucial to work on all areas of our life. In that course, they invite you to consider 12 categories; however, I simplified it to nine because it fit better with my lifestyle. They are:
- Health & Fitness. Here, I included every goal related to nutrition, exercise, and physical appearance. For example: stop biting my nails, fix my teeth, exercise three times per week, walk 10,000 steps every day, eat vegetables or fruits with every meal, and so on.
- Intellect & Emotions. This area revolved around acquired knowledge from books, courses, mentors, and so on. For example: read eight books per quarter, complete one course per quarter, contact two possible mentors per quarter, etc.
- Spiritual Life. This area included mental well-being. For example: meditate every day for 10 minutes, wake up at 6 a.m., pray every night, reflect on gratitude every day, walk in nature once per week, among others.
- Love Relationship. As the name suggests, here I included everything related to my romantic relationship. For example: go out on a weekly date, gift a detail every month, and so on.
- Family. This area focused on improving my relationship with my and my fiancé’s family. For example: have one meal with each family every two weeks, call my mother once per week, speak with my grandparents twice per month, etc.
- Social Life. Here, I brainstormed ways to foster new and old relationships, including childhood friends and fellow writers. For example: meet with my friends twice per month (this one suffered a lot because of COVID-19), meet fellow writers, among others.
- Career. This area revolved around what I want to do for a living. What a perfect workday, week, or month would look like for me. For example: write every day for three hours, create and update an ideal funnel, learn for one hour every day, and so on.
- Financial Life. Though some people combine this with the previous category, I prefer to keep them separated. Here, I focused on everything I needed to feel more financially secure — especially important in 2020. For example: adjusting my budget every month to make it as realistic as possible, create an emergency fund, create a financial plan with my partner, etc.
- Quality of Life. This is the play category: travels, treats, shopping, etc. For example, travel once per quarter (something that proved impossibly hard), investigate and implement Feng Shui in our apartment, invest three hours every month fixing or donating clothes, among others.
With these nine life categories, I ensured my New Year’s resolutions were holistic. As I write this, I feel healthier, smarter, kinder, more in love, closer to my family and friends, happier with my work, more financially secure, and more satisfied with my lifestyle.
However, you can adapt this in whatever way you want. Heck, you might even decide you want to focus on a single area for a specific time, and that’s totally valid. What matters is that you give it some thought before making any decision.
Establishing S.M.A.R.T goals
Before defining my 2020 goals, I did a brainstorming session. I asked myself two questions for every life category. How do I want to feel and be in a year? What do I want to be doing on a consistent basis? This second question helped me think in terms of processes instead of outcomes.
For example, in Health & Fitness, I realized I wanted to feel healthy, fit, and sexy. For that, I would need to exercise regularly, change my nutrition (I used to eat lots of processed foods, trans fat, and refined sugars), fix my teeth, and stop biting my nails.
In the past, I would’ve stopped at this point. But with such vague goals, I would’ve found myself at the end of 2020 having accomplished nothing.
To change this frustrating pattern, I went further when defining my resolutions. I made them S.M.A.R.T, and, most importantly, I ensured they were under my control.
For example, exercising regularly transformed into three Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound goals:
- Walk 10,000 steps every day
- Do resistance training three times per week for no less than half an hour
- Do 15 minutes of yoga every day
I repeated this process for every life category until I had a list of 84 New Year’s resolutions. Though the number is high, they didn’t feel like an impossible feat since they were easy to track.
Nevertheless, remember to adapt this to your needs. Perhaps you want to start small and only define two goals per life category, or maybe you just want to target your Health & Fitness. Whatever you decide, double-check that your goals are S.M.A.R.T, process-oriented, and inside your locus of control.
I didn’t establish my goals in one sitting. It can be overwhelming. Instead, I went through each life category on separate days while listening to relaxing music and drinking tea.
2. The phased plan
With 84 goals, creating a realistic and progressive plan was essential. James Clear doesn’t say you have to be 37 times better tomorrow, just 1%.
To do this, I went back to my business consultant experience. Once we determine our clients’ ideal outcomes and initiatives (goals), we propose a roadmap to implement the changes in phases. By prioritizing according to our clients’ needs, we can organize the initiatives and avoid doing too much, too soon.
Likewise, I combed through my 2020 resolutions, determined which had the most impact on my life, and chose two or three priorities for each life category. For example, I decided to focus on walking 10,000 steps every day and eating vegetables or fruits with every meal in my Health & Fitness category for the first quarter.
Once I had my first quarter priorities list, it was time to act.
3. The execution
To implement my plan, I relied heavily on my journal.
First, I split my quarter’s priorities into three parts and linked them to a specific month. For example, in January, I started walking 10,000 steps every day, while in February, I began eating fruits and vegetables with every meal and continued walking. At the end of the quarter, I had included all the prioritized goals into my lifestyle.
Secondly, on Sunday evening or Monday morning, I established the weekly goals and appointments based on the month’s priorities. Then I scheduled my days. At the end of the week, I checked my progress and prepared the next one.
Lastly, I was vigilant. One of the dangers of this execution method is burnout. For many people (me included), planning can be excruciating — and frustrating when the plan you invested so many hours into fails.
Tips to avoid burnout:
- Planning on a weekly basis. Instead of investing time every day, I chose a single day (Monday morning or Sunday evening) where I would reflect on the previous week and plan the following. This way, I avoided decision fatigue.
- Generous time-blocking. This was crucial because I tend to overestimate what I can do in a day. By giving myself plenty of time to follow through on a goal, I reduced stress and the chances of failing. For example, though I usually need 30 to 45 minutes to do a resistance workout, I blocked one hour on the days I would exercise. That gave me a 15-minute margin to deal with any emergency.
- To-do list vs. priorities list. Every day, I had two lists, one for the things I absolutely had to do, the other for the things I wanted to do. On a good day, I would breeze through both of them thanks to time-blocking. When I woke up unmotivated, though, I centered on the priorities and still felt like a champion.
- Daily gratitude practice. It’s no secret that to avoid burnout, we need to have re-energizing activities, such as exercise, naps, and meditation. By including gratitude journaling on my priorities list every day, I ensured I got off time.
- Flexibility. We aren’t machines. There were weeks I couldn’t follow through on what I had set out to do, which was totally fine. Whenever I needed a break, I simply rescheduled my plan. That’s it. Most importantly, I forgave myself for needing time off. Sometimes we can be our worst enemies.
4. The quarterly revision
In business consulting, we perform regular checkups to study the execution’s evolution. This allows the client company to course-correct. Moreover, when clients notice they’re improving — sometimes more than expected — they turbo-charge their efforts.
Likewise, when implementing New Year’s resolutions, unless you consistently evaluate your journey, you could find yourself with poor performance, burnout, or worse — habits you no longer want.
Life is unpredictable. We are unpredictable. Something that seemed fundamental six months ago might become trivial. Therefore, it’s essential to do regular checkups during your journey and adapt if something is amiss.
In my case, I chose to do quarterly revisions. At the end of every trimester, I would:
- Evaluate my goals’ status using a color scale (red for low and green for significant development)
- Define the next steps, which sometimes involved changing or eliminating a goal. In June, for example, I realized I no longer wanted to work on a book I’d been writing. So, instead of beating myself for it, I changed the goal to writing on Medium.
- Establish the priorities for the next trimester.
In the fourth trimester’s case, the quarterly checkup leads to the definition of 2021’s goals. In this way, this process becomes a never-ending cycle of self-improvement, of becoming 1% better. At this rate, who knows how I’ll be five years from now?
If you apply it, who knows how you’ll change your life?
The methodology I outlined in this article worked for me. Nevertheless, please remember everyone is different. You may wish to target a single area of your life or perhaps you abhor the idea of journaling.
In the end, the most crucial advice I can offer is this: regardless of what you want or how you go about doing it, just make sure it’s under your control. Though having a well-structured process has kept me accountable and constant, the number one reason I failed before was that my New Year’s resolutions rested on someone else’s shoulders.
Moreover, if you shift from outcomes to processes, you’ll see you’ll go beyond any milestone you could ever dream of. These new habits will set the tone for a new, improved you.