Ten Rules Behind My “ONE BIG CHANGE” Approach to New Years Resolutions
TLDR; In 2017, how can you make ONE BIG CHANGE? Below are 2,000 words on how I’m approaching my BIG CHANGE. The main message isn’t all the details that make up those 2,000 words. Rather, the message is that it took 2,000 words of analysis to put together a plan that would work. So, how are you going to MAKE your BIG CHANGE? Let me give you $100 to help. Details at the bottom. (Is this post a sale pitch? Sort of. I’m going to tell you what I think works and when I think money helps. You’re an adult though and can make your own decision.)
Last year I reorganized my Coach.me goals. And it worked, I had my best year ever. Coach.me makes important, small changes easy. I got bike fit and did an 80 mile bike ride. I started a budget and now save an extra $700 per month. You might think those are big changes, but really they were low hanging fruit that came through a little planning and a lot of consistency.
What I really care about, what really mattered and what I’m most proud of is that I made ONE BIG CHANGE. This change took all of my effort, willpower and knowhow. And it completely changed my life.
That change was to break my addiction to sweets. And to do that for an entire year was hard as hell. I broke dozens of separate eating habits, built new replacement habits, enlisted friends, went through cold sweats, faced and overcame temptations, hired a coach, faced down over-confidence, and then cycled through the whole list of challenges again. It was a lot of work.
And now, I’m one of fewer than 8% of people who set a New Years Resolution and kept that goal up for the entire year.
And the pay off from my BIG CHANGE was epic. I eat less, feel better, have more energy. Long term health problems disappeared. My insulin sensitivity returned. Basically I was on the standard American path to health hell. And now I’m not. So it was way more than a big change, it was an all caps BIG CHANGE.
But getting there was hell. That’s what I’m talking about with your 2017 Resolution. What is the hard thing that is life changing that you’ve never been able to do? For 2017, don’t pick boring habit resolutions. Pick ONE BIG CHANGE and do it. The rest of this post is about doing it.
For the sake of teaching I’m going to use my own resolution, which is to exercise more. Does that sound big? Wait until you get into the details.
What does your heart resolve to do?
Where does your resolution come from? I’m suspicious of anyone who tries to get there through analysis. I think you need to start with your gut.
This is exactly what my gut told me I should do in 2017:
I want to exercise for ten hours per week.
You need your subconscious and conscious minds working together. It’s straightforward to start with your gut feeling and then apply rational analysis to it. That’s what I recommend.
The other approach, start with your mind and then convince your gut that you have a good idea is hard as hell.
So, I’m using this gut-level resolution as my starting place. Now that I have this resolution statement, I can start applying my rational tools for success.
Is this a good resolution? Should you do something else?
Right away, I start comparing my gut resolution to other possible resolutions I could try. Picking one resolution created fear-of-missing-out (FOMO). You deal with that by capturing those fears and then doing rational comparisons.
I have a list of about five other alternative resolutions that my rational mind think are a good idea. That list includes things like “Eat more vegetables.”
Here’s why I weight toward my gut-level resolution — I want to work with my internal motivations rather than against them. I sort-of want to eat more vegetables. I rationally know it’s a good idea. But I also know that I have weak subconscious commitment.
In comparison, I desperately want to be more fit. Just like I desperately wanted to rid myself of an addiction to sweets in 2016. Both exercise and eating more veggies have practical value, but only exercise has my full commitment.
Rule #1: Most people fail on their resolutions simply because they find that they don’t really want to follow through. Choose a resolution you actually want to do.
Why do you want to do this resolution? Who will you be if you succeed?
Most people phrase their resolution in a way that doesn’t quite capture either the outcome or the process they need to get there.
I’m going to start with my outcome.
My experience with endurance sports is that you have four plateaus.
- Level 1 is where your endorphins kick in fast enough that exercise is enjoyable and meditative.
- Level 2 is when you can have a big workout one day and then follow it up with another the next day. You don’t need multi-day recovery.
- Level 3 is when completion of a hard challenge is no longer an issue. As a runner you can look in the distance and then run there. As a cyclist you can ride across multiple counties. I love the feeling autonomy that comes with this: if I can think it then I can do it.
- Level 4 is speed which comes from having a base that lets you do incredibly hard workouts. It’s being able to go hard for a long time. I like this too.
Right now I’m at Level 2 for swimming and biking, and level 1 for running. I’d like to be level 3 for all of them.
That would let me do things like longer triathlons. Right now short triathlons feel like endurance struggle. The last run leg is really brutal. I want to take endurance out of the equation.
Oh, and I also think I’ll look different. I’m imagining a pretty fit looking version of my body at the end of this.
Rule #2: Resolutions should have a fully painted picture of who you will become if you succeed. This picture is going to get you through some dark days.
[By the way, there is at least one psychology study that says visualization like this is counter productive. It creates a feeling that you’ve already succeeded and so you then end up losing motivation to do the work. However, in this context, the rest of the planning questions are so harsh that I think overconfidence is unlikely. Instead, you’ll end up using this picture of success to create justifications for how hard things are going to be.]
Are there any anxieties driving this resolution? Are they real? Do they motivate you?
Here’s how I answered.
Yes, I believe this is my last chance to be really, really fit. Peak fitness is rare.
I’ve had it twice. Once in high school track I had an incredible endurance base that let me do an extra interval workout each week (behind my coach’s back). I set personal bests at every single meet that year.
And a second time, in college, I devoted a summer to twice-a-day workouts ending with a string of 70 mile weeks. If you’re a runner then you know this is a lot of running. That style of workout increases your body’s production of human growth hormone. I felt invincible then — and I was because my body was producing natural steroids.
So, here I am, 38. I’m really busy. But I happen to have moment where I’m still sort of young and I have complete control of my schedule. I’m afraid that I won’t have this moment again.
That’s my anxiety. It’s probably real unless I choose to never take on outside responsibilities again (I could do this).
But does it motivate me? No. In general, I’m not motivated by anxiety. I actually find it paralyzing.
Rule #3. Separate positive (rule #2) and negative reasons for your resolution so that you can use them as motivation as appropriate. Many great people are motivated by anxiety. If you’re not, then you need to capture that anxiety and put it aside. You need to figure which strategy is right for you.
Is there a minimum consistent dose that would let you claim victory?
Some people have an all-or-nothing mindset. And this is the second biggest reason resolutions fail.
If an unforeseen obstacle comes up, then this all-in person will feel that their resolution has failed. Rather than get started again, they will completely abandon the resolution.
The fix is to bracket your goal with a floor and a ceiling. The floor is the minimum that you have to do to claim you are still on course to achieve your resolution.
In my case, I could get injured. I could get sick. Best case, I imagine all of the ten hours being things like riding a bike, swimming, or running. But what will I do if those things aren’t possible? I’m too old for injuries and I need to back off if I’m developing one.
There’s two approaches I’m considering for a minimum.
One is to have alternative exercises to degrade too. If I can’t swim/bike/run then I will do weights, elliptical, pilates, and worst case yoga or stretch. I’ll even count hiking. But I’ll still go for ten hours every week.
The other approach is to take a Tiny Habits mindset. Ten hours is a lot. If I only get 9.5 one week does that mean I need to abandon the resolution? The Tiny Habits approach would say “do at least one minute of exercise each day.”
Rule #4. There are two choices for a minimum. Choose either a degradation strategy or a tiny strategy. This is your Minimum Consistent Dose.
What does your ideal week look like?
Your ideal weak is going to be the other end of bracketing your goal. This is the idillic ceiling.
For me, ten hours is a lot of exercise to carve out. Beyond a fitness challenge, it’s also a time management challenge. Thankfully, a long bike ride can soak up a lot of those hours.
Sunday: 3–5 hour bike ride.
Monday: 1 hour swim.
Tuesday: 1 hour run.
Wednesday: 1–2 hour ride.
Thursday: 30min run / 30 min swim.
Friday: 1 hour bike.
Saturday: 1–2 hour ride.
The above is a nice fantasy. But it gives something concrete to analyze.
Rule #5: Pick a maximum dose to match the minimum consistent dose. Now you’ve bracketed your resolution with conservative and optimistic definitions.
How does the ideal match up to your historical best week? Do you need to work up to your goal?
This goes back to an estimation technique that we use at work. Don’t estimate based on hope, rather estimate based on historical performance.
In my case, I think I maxed out at 6 hours per week over the summer and at 9 hours per week when I was 20 years old running 70 miles per week. So, 10 hours is very optimistic.
Looking at this goal realistically, my biggest fear is that I am not physically capable of 10 hours of running, biking and swimming in back to back weeks (I’m pretty sure I could do it once, but then I’d be exhausted and headed toward injury).
So it turns out that I need to start with some humility and try one of my minimum consistent dose strategies. I’m going to go with degradation. The two challenges for my goal are time management and fitness. I may not be ready at a fitness level but I do think I should just bite the bullet when it comes to time management.
Specifically, I’m going to add hiking in at the beginning. It’s the one exercise I can do in volume right now. That’s a degradation strategy. (Does the word degradation sound un-inspiring? It is inspiring me to get fit enough to stop needing these degradation training wheels.)
Rule #6: Use historical performance as your starting point. Work up from there.
What could go wrong and what are you going to do about it?
This list follows a When/Then format and is something you edit and add to for the entire year.
A habit is a reliable, consistent, concrete behavior that happens over and over again. It’s stuff like brushing your teeth right before bed.
Most resolutions, and certainly your BIG CHANGE, are way beyond habits. They’re actually collections of many, many habits. The way you get there is to start collecting a list of those habits.
I like the When/Then format and those end up looking like this:
- When the Sunday long ride is short, then plan longer rides during the week.
- When my running injury acts up, then use the elliptical.
- When my legs are completely shot, then lift weights.
- When I don’t have time to get to a gym, then do a long yoga session.
Rule #7: Start a When/Then list and keep updating it. If your When/Then needs to happen every day, then add it to Coach as a goal you track.
How are you going to track progress?
I already track Exercise in Coach. I set my weekly target to 7 days per week and then mark time for the day and total time for the week in the check-in note.
But that only tracks adherence. I also track personal bests (or at least adult personal bests). That gives me a sense of improvement.
- In running, I’ll track time and pace in Coach. That’s enough to get at most of my adult personal bests.
- In cycling, I’ll track in Strava which gives me dozens of views on improvement. I already do this along with GPS and power data. If you’re just getting into power data, I’m a huge fan of the PowerPod.
- In swimming, I’ll keep track of personal bests for my new pool in Coach. My old salt-water pool was faster because it helped with buoyancy. So I need new, NYC specific swimming bests.
Rule #8: You can’t improve what you don’t measure.
Would you benefit from external support? Probably.
Everyone wants something different from a coach. Some people want direct guidance and direct accountability. I personally tend to rebel against those things.
But my “No Sugar” coach in 2016 was great as a cheerleader and as someone who could help explain what I was experiencing.
I want the same for myself in 2017, a coach to monitor my training along with me.
This Rebel framing comes from Gretchen Rubin’s Habit Tendencies. We use these to help people understand how they should approach a coach.
If you know who you are, you can just tell your coach what you’re looking for. They all know how to adjust.
Rule #9: Use the Gretchen Rubin framework when you hire a coach.
How can your environment support you?
A major strategy we employ is redesigning your environment to support your goals.
So for me, a big one was just making sure I had plenty of workout clothes. Then winter came and I needed to upgrade some of my cycling clothes.
I’m currently in need of a biking solution for rain or snow. I have rollers, but don’t like to use them in my house because they make the house smell like a gym. This is a problem I haven’t figured out yet.
Rule #10: Evaluate your environment for hurdles to your goal. Fix these.
As promised. Here’s what I’m doing to help and here’s how you can get it. Sum total is that I’m offering you $100 of help and one month of daily, direct assistance. All of this is free.
- Everything above and more broken down as individual exercises with direct feedback in order to keep your Resolution from Jan 1 to Jan 28th. At the end you’ll have the tools to keep yourself going until the end of the year.
- Help you find and try a coach who can work with you 1 on 1. These coaches are affordable steroids. I’ll give you one week with this coach so you can experience it for yourself.
- Give you ten minute 1:1 consultation with me about your particular BIG CHANGE over Google Hangouts. Let me put you on the right path.
If you care about monetary value, those three things tally up to $100. The exercises come through my VIP coaching group which would normally be $20, the free week of 1:1 coaching would also normally be $20, and ten minutes of my time goes for $67. So it’s actually $107 free.
The catch? There are two.
One is that when you complete your BIG CHANGE I’m going to start pestering you to tell me your story so that I can put it in a book.
The other is that if you completely transform your life then I want you to keep using our services. Canceling is easy, just put a reminder in your calendar for a month from now. If you’re not succeeding then cancel.
Start by doing this: Sign up for my VIP group here. I am going to ask for your credit card (securely), but you can avoid the first month of charges with this promo code: BIGCHANGEVIP. And, like I said, you can cancel at any time.