It’s a few days into the new year, have your resolutions already crashed and burned?  I’m working a few new principles this year to see if I can keep my resolutions.  My personal resolutions are fitness related, but these principles can be applied to any number of resolutions, from diet to running a marathon to quiting some bad habit.  Here are 4 simple rules for successfully keeping your resolutions this year.

1) Set Realistic Goals

Do not set out to lose 100 pounds in 6 weeks. You are not the biggest loser and resolutions like that are doomed to failure the first time somebody brings bagels to your office.  Take all quantitative goals out of the running.  If you goal is to lose weight, frame your goals qualitatively with resolutions like, “I will eat less, work out more, and feel better about myself by the end of this year.”  There may be specific quantitative goals that are a part of your resolution, but they are a sub-category of your resolution, not the resolution itself.  Along these lines, never quit anything cold turkey, you have the will power of cooked spaghetti and you know it.  Anything that you have to force yourself to quit is an addicting, be it smoking, drinking, porn, Starbucks, or whatever.  Addictions take time and trying to quit immediately will almost always end in failure.  Instead of quitting on new years and starting again on January 3rd, frame your resolution like this, “I will reduce my cigarettes per day incrementally until I am smoke free.”

2) Measure Anything and Everything

To quote the “Father of Modern Management,” Dr. Peter Drucker, “What gets measured, gets managed.”  This is one of the many modern management principles studied by Dr. Drucker over his long career and it works well for managing anything, including yourself.  I’ve framed my fitness goals this way, “I will write down every thing I eat, and every workout I do this year.”  I do have some weight loss goals and some strength and conditioning goals included there, but instead of making those my aim, my resolution is only to monitor my consumption and activity levels this year.  At the end of each day I can look back and evaluate what I ate and my workouts and decide if I’m on the correct path.  If I find myself veering off the path and no longer heading toward my fitness goals, I can adjust.

If your goal is to run a marathon or a triathlon, log your workouts.  If your goal is to quit something, log your consumption or participation in that thing you want to quit. Writing things down helps to actualize them.  It’s one thing to think of coming home and drinking a 6 pack of beer every night.  It’s another thing entirely when you write it down and realize that’s 63 cups of beer a week.  It helps you realize that a two pack a day cigarette habit equals 280 cigarettes a week.  It helps you realize that a healthy 170lb man has to run for 38 minutes at a 6mph pace to burn of a single McDonald’s Big Mac.

There are as many different ways to accomplish this measurement as there are creative people.  You can use a smart phone application, an excel spreadsheet, a notebook, a whiteboard, or whatever you want.  I wanted something small and pocket size to carry with me so that I can write everything down as I did it, so that I wouldn’t have to remember at the end of the day.  To facilitate this, I created a PocketMod.  These are ingenious little books that are folded out of a single sheet of paper that can be fully customized on the PocketMod website.  The one I created has a cover sheet and 7 days worth of food diary and workout logging.  I have printed out a full years worth of these things and every week I put a new one in my pocket and log everything.  You can download mine, create your own, or use another method entirely, but if you want to manage something in your life, you must measure it.

When you are measuring, make sure to keep your measuring technique the same.  If you are monitoring your Body Mass Index, do not use your bathroom scale one month, then the calipers at the doctors office the next month and expect to be able to get anything useful out of the results.  If you are calculating your calories, use the same source for calorie data and don’t start rounding halfway through the year.  Just keep your methods the same for consistent, track-able results.

3) Celebrate Small Victories

Set many small milestones and celebrate your successes when you reach them.  Do not celebrate by doing something contrary to your goals.  If you have weight loss goals, don’t celebrate by eating an entire cheese pizza the day after you reach your 10lb milestone.  If you have marathon goals, don’t celebrate your first 10k run by taking a week off of running.  Celebrate by treating yourself to something you want, or something you enjoy that is unrelated to your goals.  I have a significant weight loss milestone that will be celebrated with the purchase of a new woodworking tool that I’ve had my eye on.  I have a bible reading milestone that will be celebrated by reading a new book that I haven’t put aside the time to read yet.  I have a push-up milestone that will be celebrated by going on a rock climbing date with my wife.  If you know her, shush, because she doesn’t know that yet.  Don’t punish yourself for minor setbacks, and reward yourself for small victories.  This will help keep you motivated.

4) Have a Partner

Dismissing myself is easy, far too easy.  In order to stay the course, I need to rely on others to help keep me accountable.  I’ve started a new push-up program, and upon completion of each workout I email a friend.  Just knowing that he is expecting that email and knowing that if I don’t I’ll have to face him at church and justify my lack of discipline is enough to encourage me to do the workouts.  Find a friend to hold you accountable to your goals or even better, join you.  I managed to get two friends and two co-workers to come along for the ride on this push-up challenge and we encourage each other.  Ecclesiastes speaks to this in chapter 4. verses 9 and 10.  “Two are better than one, because they have good return for their labor: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”  Find a gym buddy, an addiction support group, or whatever it is that you need to help keep you on track and encourage you when you stumble.

Following those 4 simple rules will help your new years resolutions survive long enough to become life changing habits.  Make attainable, reasonable goals.  Measure anything you want to manage, and write it down. Celebrate small victories.  Have a partner.  It’s 4 days into the new year and I’m holding strong, only 361 days to go.  Care to join me in resolving to keep my resolutions?