Why new year’s resolutions suck (and what I’m doing instead)

I have a friend who never goes to the gym in January. He complains that it’s crowded, full of people who don’t know what they are doing getting in his way. I don’t really know if he is telling the truth. I don’t have any point of reference because I’ve never really been to a gym in any month other than January.

New year’s resolutions suck.

I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that at some point in your life you decided that starting on January 1st you would stop smoking, drinking or eating junk food. Perhaps you were going to make a commitment to learn a language, practice your religion more diligently or see your family more? Maybe you were going to work really, really hard to earn that promotion. Perhaps you bought a gym membership?

My guess is that most of the time you’d given up before Spring.

After several years of failed new year’s resolutions I gave up on the whole idea. I accept that was not really in the spirit.

How I changed a habit

In a past life I used to cycle 9 miles a day to commute to a job where I was on my feet. Then I got a desk job at Redgate where I commuted by car and got free hot breakfast and lunch every day. Like so many others who join Redgate I put on weight. In five years I’ve never really managed to change my habits enough to reverse this trend. But then something changed:

I bought a smartphone.

I had been a laggard who proudly displayed my old brick of a Nokia. It was a hand-me-down from my Dad, who is pretty behind the times himself. It was literally designed in a past millennium. I proudly boasted about its two week battery life and the fact it was theft-proof. I didn’t want to become dependent on technology.

However, last year I made the jump into the 21st century and bought a smartphone. I did it for a bunch of reasons but one of the primary reasons is that I saw how my wife’s habits changed when she started tracking her runs.

I had never really managed to get into running but the idea of tracking my distances and speeds over time was intriguing. I’m quite competitive and I could easily see how I could become addicted to beating my own times – which is probably a good way to trick my addictive personality into being useful.

What happened?

It’s New Year’s Eve today. In the last year I have recorded 79 runs spread pretty evenly throughout the year. By itself that is an achievement. I have started running regularly.

One of the things that kept me going was a couple of targets I set myself at the start of the summer. I had to run 10km in 60 minutes and I had to run 5km in 25 minutes before the end of summer. I achieved the 10km goal a few months back but I found the 5km one much harder. This morning I ran 5km in 24 minutes and 16 seconds. I was cutting it fine to achieve the goal in 2015 but it feels awesome.

I’ve also changed my eating habits. Running once or twice a week was not enough by itself to lose weight. My 11 year older (and fatter) brother recently told me he had started doing the 5-2 diet. He was singing its praises. He said it was easy to fit into his life and he was losing weight at a healthy and reliable pace. In fact he had lost a stone already. It turned out my older and fatter brother weighed less than me. :-/

Did I mention my competitive streak? There was no way I was going to let him weigh less than me. Almost immediately I started the diet too. I weighed myself every morning and was able to see the results of the food I was eating and the exercise I was doing. I set myself the goal to reach my healthy weight range by February. Now I’ve lost almost a stone too and I’m only a few pounds away from my healthy weight range. (But my brother is still lighter than me. He had an 11 year head start.)

MyWeight

 

 

(Low point in the middle is where I got food poisoning. Last week is Christmas week. I always knew I’d put on a little there. Mum’s Christmas dinner is just too tasty!)

Why do these things work?

At work we use SMART goals. When we set a goal for an individual or a team it must be:

  • pecific
  • easurable
  • ttainable
  • ealistic
  • ime-related

I’m not going to get into the theory but I’m sure there are books (or Wikipedia pages) that will explain why these attributes are important. The point is that goals like this work.

MyRun

Let’s take my running goal. I decided at the start of the summer (when I knew I could run 5km in about 27 minutes) to set myself the goal of running 5km in 25 minutes by the end of the summer. This was specific and measurable. Given that I’d gone from running 5km in 30 minutes to running it in 27 minutes in the previous few months and I could see I was improving I felt it was attainable and realistic. I had to achieve it in a given time period to keep me focussed.

As it turns out it took me longer than I’d hoped but I was driven to achieve it before 2016.

The trouble with many new year’s resolutions is that they miss out some of these attributes.

“I’m going to buy a gym membership and use it.” How often will you go? What exercises will you do there? What will be the result? How long will you keep it up? Be honest with yourself – you said this last year, and the year before – why is it achievable this time?

This year, if you decide to make a resolution, think about whether your resolution is SMART.

My goals for 2016

I’m not going to make a single ‘resolution’. Instead here are a few goals I’m setting myself:

Health and fitness

  • Reach my healthy weight range before the beginning of April and maintain it until the end of the year.
  • Run from London to Cardiff in under 24 hours in June. (More on that in a follow up post soon. See LondonCardiff24 if you are interested.)
  • Run a half marathon in under two hours by the end of the year.
  • Track 100 runs in 2016.

Professional life

  • Get involved in a software project as a developer before the end of the year.
  • Work out what my next career progression looks like and take a concrete step towards it before the end of the year.
  • Pass my current OU modules with a 90% score in any module that counts towards my final grade. Start my last second year equivalent modules.

Private life

  • Take an amazing sabbatical in April/May. And don’t read anything about continuous delivery or databases for a full 6 week period. (More on that in a follow up post soon.)
  • Organise my usual spring punting trip as well as a big 30th birthday party with as many of my friends as possible.
  • Do something special with my wife at least once a week.

  3 comments for “Why new year’s resolutions suck (and what I’m doing instead)

  1. Russell
    January 8, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Hey congrats on the sub 25min 5k Alex.

  2. Eric Greene
    February 11, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Making changes for me has always been slow and gradual. I went 100% vegan on Jan 1 and haven’t looked back since. But it wasn’t that drastic because I’ve been 90-95% vegan for about a year. Before that about 75-80% vegan for a few years. So it’s the gradual buildup and then making the final shift that works for me. Point is, suddenly changing directions is very difficult – at least for me! – Eric

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