A New Year is upon us which means new goals, a new sense of inspiration, and a commitment to changing our lives.
This is the year I finally…
Well, I’m going to be Debbie Downer here. According to this report, 92% of people will fail at accomplishing their New Year resolutions.
And it’s not just with New Year’s resolutions. It’s anytime you set a new goal that you want to achieve. You try the same approach over and over again hoping that somehow this time you’ll display enough willpower and have enough motivation to make it work.
This approach is broken. It’s time to change things up.
You’re trying to do too much, be too strict, and you’re not taking into account one tiny little detail…. LIFE – and the shit that happens unexpectedly in it.
Today’s article outlines a year-long system that will help you increase the odds of achieving any goal. It’s focus is on health and fitness but you can use the system and apply it to anything.
4 PRINCIPLES FOR ACHIEVING ANY GOAL
There are 4 keys to achieving any goal, and in this case your New Year resolutions:
Consistently practicing the behaviors that lead to the outcome you want. Outcomes you can’t control but behaviors you can. For instance, lets say you want to lose 20 pounds. You can’t control what the scale reads when you hop on it, but you can control the behaviors that lead to a loss of 20 pound.
Using the 20 pound example here some of the behaviors you can control are regular exercise, picking up healthy groceries, preparing meals ahead of time, and practicing distressing activities like meditation.
If you’re not assessing then you’re just guessing. Only one way to know if your consistent and that’s to track it. When I first meet with coaching clients around 90% of them tell me they eat pretty well most of the time. I say cool, show me. They look at me with a puzzled look and ask what I mean. My point is you don’t really know what you’re doing unless you track it. As human beings we tend to think we’re doing much better than we actually are.
Breaking big goals down into smaller goals that are easier to practice. I’ll give you a personal example of how I’m using simplicity this year to help me achieve a goal of mine. Every year I say I want to learn another language. But learning another language is a really big and broad goal.
This year what I’ve done is break it down into smaller chunks. For the month of January my goal is to learn the 100 most commonly used words in Spanish and to do this I will be spending a minimum of 10 minutes everyday studying them using 1 to 2 different methods.
Now how do you know if you’ve broken the goal down enough? Ask yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how confident you are that you can actually do what is required everyday. If you’re not at a minimum 9 on the confidence scale you need to make the task simpler for yourself. For example, exercise 60 minutes everyday versus exercise 15 minutes every day. Which one are you more confident you can do? The idea is to build consistency first and then intensity.
At the end of each day honestly assessing what went right, what went wrong, and how you can be ready for tomorrow. This is to create awareness and mindfulness. Life happens and you will fuck up. You will miss a workout, you’ll slip up on your nutrition, and I will not practice Spanish. Too often at the end of the day we’ll simply beat ourselves up for not having enough willpower or motivation and never assess why we were not able to complete our goal for the day. Using a small notebook, ask yourself these three questions every night related to your goal and answer them. You’ll be surprised at how powerful this is for setting you up for success the next day.
12 HEALTHY HABITS YOU CAN PRACTICE THIS YEAR
So how do you do this thing?
- Practice 1 healthy habit and 1 healthy habit only per month.
- Track your consistency using a simple wall calendar, year-long dry erase calendar, or this tool. If you practice your habit that day you’ll place an X on that day of the calendar. The goal is to be 90% consistent with the habit by the end of the month (26-27 days out of 30).
- At the end of the month if you find that you’ve been 90% consistent practicing your habit you’ll move on to the next one.
JANUARY HABIT: 10 Minutes of Movement/Workout Everyday
The goal of this habit is to create time in your schedule to exercise at least 10 minutes every day. You can get credit for practicing this habit by doing one of the workouts in this 10-Minute Workout Guide, doing your own 10 minute workout like a Crossfit WOD, run, yoga, or P90X. The method isn’t that important as long as you enjoy it and it feels like a workout than it counts.
If you’re finding it difficult to create 10 minutes into your day to fit in a workout try making the habit a little easier to do. Maybe a 5 minute workout, 4 minute, or even a 1 minute. The idea is to do something and to do it consistently so that a habit is established.
FEBRUARY HABIT: Workout 4 to 5 Hours Per Week
Now that you’ve made yourself and your health a priority and are consistently moving more daily, you can step-up your fitness game. This month the goal is to get in 4 to 5 hours of exercise per week. Again, choose fitness activities that you enjoy. If you like weight training then go for it. You can even use this, this, and this workout to get your through the month. If yoga is more your thing then do that. Crossfit tickle your fancy? Cool! Do that. Feel like boxing? Just don’t fight people on the street.
MARCH HABIT: Eat Slower Than You Normally Do
No one has time for anything anymore. We’re constantly being rushed. From one appointment to the next, from one work assignment to another, do this and finish that. It’s forced many of us to eat while driving, on the go, through a window, and very quickly.
This is a huge problem because you’re never giving yourself a chance to actually feel satisfied from a meal.
It takes roughly 20 minutes for your gut to signal to your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. If every meal you consume lasts 5 minutes that’s 15 extra minutes you can keep eating until you actually know that you’ve had enough.
Do you know how many scoops of ice cream I could eat in 15 more minutes? A lot!
Because most of us eat the majority of our meals in less than 20 minutes we’re eating past the point of fullness. Essentially, we’re eating more than our bodies actually need.
Yeah, but is eating slowly really going to make a difference?
You bet your butt it is. Studies are showing that just by slowing down when you eat you’ll consume fewer calories. Enough to lose 20 pounds a year without making any other changes.
In a University of Rhode Island study researchers took a group of people and served them a giant plate of Pasta with red sauce and cheese. All of the participants were told to eat until they felt comfortably full. However, half of the group was told to eat as quickly as possible while the other half was told to eat slowly and to put utensils down between bites.
What they found was this:
- Fast eaters consumed 646 calories in 9 minutes
- Slow eaters consumed 579 calories in 29 minutes
That’s right. Slow eaters ate 67 fewer calories in 20 more minutes of eating. That might not seem like much but extend those 67 calories from one meal over the course of a year and that comes out to 24,445 fewer calories consumed.
Because a pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories that comes out to about 7 pounds lost in a year from eating slowly at one stinking meal! How would you feel if you lost 7 pounds and didn’t have to change the food that you ate?
So the goal this month is to take at least 20 minutes to eat a meal. If you’re really struggling with 20 try 15, 12, or 10. The amount of time isn’t as important as just eating slower than you normally would.
APRIL HABIT: Leave A Little or Eat Until 75% Full
This is another opportunity to eat fewer calories without having to change the foods that you eat.
Eating to 75% full is tough.
As kids we had a really good thing going and then something happened that royally fucked up our eating habits for life. Let me explain.
When a child has had enough to eat what do they do? They push their plate of food away from them with no concerns about what they’ve left on it. Their mission was to eat until satisfied and not until the plate was empty.
But then grown-ups ruined this natural reaction and started forcing kids to clear their plate. You know, because there are starving kids in Africa.
Reality check. You’re not saving any kids life by clearing your plate.
So how can you practice this habit?
#1: Check in with yourself at each meal. I like to do it before a meal and every 5 minutes into a meal. When I get to 75% full (or a 7) I stop eating, wait 5 to 10 minutes and re-assess.
#2: You can shrink portions by 25% this week. Go ahead and eat normally but shrink the portion sizes by about 25%. Now I know it may be hard to shrink them exactly 25% but just estimate – you’ll be fine.
- If you get a Grande Latte at Starbucks everyday you could get the tall
- If you usually eat 3 slices of pizza for dinner you could eat 2
- If you get a meat lovers omelet with cheese for breakfast you could get it without cheese
- If you order a 16 ounce steak you could get the 12 ounce instead
#3: You can also try leaving 25% of your meal on your plate. Go ahead and order whatever you’d like but leave 25% of it or take 25% off it to go if you don’t like wasting food (but again, you’re not saving any starving kids here).
MAY HABIT: Crowd Out Those Liquid Calories
A couple of fancy coffees, sugar loaded smoothies, juices, and alcohol every week and the calories can really start to add up.
The tricky thing with drinks like this is that we never really think about them as contributing calories. We tend to associate eating with gaining weight but too many high caloric drinks can do the same thing.
Don’t let Zealander fool you. Orange Mocha Frappachino’s don’t solve your problems.
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The following list is the average amount of calories in some of our favorite beverages:
- Fruit juice (8oz.): 115 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrates, and 27 grams of sugar
- Soda (12oz.): 140 calories, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar
- Vitamin Water (20oz.): 125 calories, 33 grams of sugar
- Beer: 153 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrates
- Coffee w/cream & sugar: 120 calories, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of sugar
If you consume only two of these drinks every day, you are adding 250-300 calories, 30-80 grams of carbohydrates, and 20-80 grams of sugar.
Go crazy with these beverages:
- Unsweetened herbal teas (green tea, yerba mate, chamomile, etc.)
- Black coffee (try to limit to no more than 1-2 cups per day and always before 2 p.m.)
What you can drink less of (including but not limited to):
- Fruit juices
- Alcohol (beer, wine, liquor, spirits, mixed drinks)
- Vitamin Water and Gatorade
- Sweetened tea or coffee (or any other caloric additives)
- Any other calorie-containing beverage (i.e. coconut juice or coconut water) or zero calorie beverage with artificial sweeteners (PowerAde Zero, Vitamin Water Zero)
- Starbucks mixed beverages like Loco mocho frappo lattes and stuff
A few tips to help with this:
- Carry around a large container of water everywhere you go.
- Start your day with a tall glass of water.
- Keep water bottles in all your stops for the day.
- Watch out for those sneaky ones: Remember to keep from adding any sweeteners like sugar, honey, milk, and creamer to coffees and teas.
JUNE HABIT: Include Protein & Veggies With Every Meal
I want to make this habit as confusion-free as possible, so take a look at the Real Food Chart and use this grocery shopping cheat sheet. Choose your five favorite protein sources and five favorite veggies. Hit the grocery store, pick these up, and get to cooking.
If you’re a vegetarian—and my Dad is, so Dad, if you’re reading this—emphasize these protein sources at each meal in this order with eggs being your best option . . . but you can only eat so many eggs :).
- (Best) Eggs
- (Better) Organic Tempeh, Natto, Edamame, organic extra-firm tofu
- (Good) Protein Powders (Hemp or Pea)
- (OK) Raw and Grass-fed Cheese, Milk, Kefir
Here’s how to eat protein and veggies with every meal:
Option 1: Eat the same sources the entire day. If you really want to make this easy on yourself, think about using the same protein source for each meal of the day. It takes a lot of the confusion out of what you are going to eat today, and makes preparation super easy and convenient.
Option 2: Mix and match protein and veggie sources any which way you like. If you need a little more variety within your meal choices, this may be the best option for you. Maybe some eggs for breakfast, a little chicken for lunch, and some salmon for dinner. Do the same with your veggies.
But what if I don’t like veggies?
You probably don’t like getting up everyday to go to work or school, and I’m almost certain there are a host of other things that you do on a daily basis that you “don’t” like to do, but you do them anyway.
If all else fails try these last two strategies:
1. Just commit to eating one single piece of vegetable at each meal. You, that’s right – Just one single piece of broccoli, one single brussels sprout, one single green bean, one single leaf of spinach.
2. Hide them in other foods. Sneak a few in chili, soups, and other dishes that you enjoy. Most of the time they will take on the taste of the food you’re hiding them in.
JULY HABIT: Choose The Right Kinds of Carbs
Vegetables are carbohydrates and the best kind. This is often overlooked. And because you’re already including veggies with all of your meals – this means you’re including carbohydrates with all of your meals.
This months habit is swapping the grains you eat for greens (or veggies). Well actually, I have to be honest. It’s really about making smarter carbohydrate choices more often than not.
Take a look at the Real Food Chart and the variety of vegetables that are included. You’re probably a veggie pro by now after the last habit, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you.
You’ll notice that the Real Food Chart has carbohydrates divided into 4 different categories.
- Starchy carbs (post workout only)
- Higher sugar fruits (post workout only)
You’ll want the majority of you meals to include carbohydrates from veggies and low sugar fruits and to save the starchy carbohydrates and higher sugar fruits for post workout only.
And when I say post workout I mean a good hard workout, not just a casual stroll around the block.
AUGUST HABIT: Eat Healthy Fat With Meals
Long story made short, the real ones. The healthy fats are going to be the ones that come from grass-fed meat, whole grass-fed dairy (on occasion), monounsaturated oils, and nuts and seeds.
You can refer to the Real Food Chart as an easy reference.
Good Saturated Fats (you can heat these)
- Butter (grass-fed) and ghee
- Lard and tallow
- Chicken and duck fat
- Lamb fat
- Full-fat dairy
- Eggs, meats, and seafood
Good Unsaturated Fats (cook with low heat or use as dressings)
- Olive oil
- Sesame Oil
- Nut oils (pecan, walnut, macadamia)
- Flaxseed oil (limit to 1 tablespoon per day)
- Nuts and seeds (1-2 ounces maximum per day for fat loss)
SEPTEMBER HABIT: Sleep Game Strong
I have a confession to make… I hate sleeping. I know, I know, what kind of weirdo hates to sleep? Well, you’re looking at (I mean, you’re reading the words of) one of those weirdos.
I hate sleep for many reasons.
For one, I feel like it’s a waste of time. When I’m awake, I’m productive . . . getting sh*t done, learning stuff, and dominating. I can’t do any of that stuff when I’m sleeping. To me there are only 24 hours in a day and I have a ton of stuff I want to get done, wasting eight of them on sleep just doesn’t make any sense to me.
My friends over at Precision Nutrition like to say we wear our lack of sleep as a badge of honor.
- I pulled an all-nighter to study for my test or get this work project done.
- I only slept an hour but I feel great!
- I was out all night with so and so living it up.
- Sleep is for the weak, I’m fine on just a few hours.
- I’m just too busy to get the normal 8 hours.
- I’ve got kids, I’ve got to do this first, I have to do that now.
Personally, I have always made excuses for why I could not get the proper sleep I needed. Cutting back on sleep was a decision I was making.
- Did I really need to watch the ending to that game?
- Did I really need to check Facebook or my email so late at night?
- Was it the best decision to stay out so late with friends when I knew I’d have to get up early the next day?
- Did the decisions I made earlier in the week to procrastinate, not prioritize, or avoid altogether, create the demand for me to finish a lot of work at one time?
Trying to find time for anything almost never works in todays busy society. You probably have more on your plate, more responsibilities, more work and family obligations than ever before.
What is tomorrow looking like for you from the minute you wake up until the last thing you’ll need to get done when you get home?
- Set a specific bedtime and stick with it.
- Get to bed no later than 11PM
- Allow for a 30 minute buffer before bedtime where you do absolutely nothing (no Facebook, email, work, etc..). This will give your body a chance to unwind and relax.
Set A Consistent Time & Stick With It: If bedtime is 11PM That means that 10:30PM is your buffer zone. Something I picked up from Charlie’s book Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety is to shut it down no matter what you’re doing at this time.
So at 10:30PM whether in the middle of a conversation, responding to an email, or picking your nose just stop and let your body and mind unwind.
Be consistent with this time so that your body begins to build a bedtime habit. Eventually you will start to notice your body naturally relaxing at this hour and becoming ready for slumber.
Use relaxing techniques like:
- A warm bath
- Light reading (fiction)
- Breathing exercises
OCTOBER HABIT: Meditate
Meditating is a great habit. It’s cheap, easy to do, and it doesn’t require a lot of commitment or time. It also has a lot of benefits. And when I say a lot of benefits, I really mean it.
Let’s start with your brain. Meditating regularly will change your brain structure for the better. The results can be seen in as little as eight weeks of regular meditation: an increase in gray matter, plus an increase in volume of areas that have to do with self-control, positive emotion, and emotional regulation. It also affects the areas that are connected with attention in a good way.
Meditation is likely to help you become a happier person. It will also help you relate to other people’s emotions, which will help you forge better bonds with them. Better emotional regulation, coupled with meditation’s ability to relieve stress, may help with a wide array of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It isn’t a quick fix, but it may help to manage and improve the overall quality of life for people affected by these issues.
It’s a well-known fact that people who want to learn to concentrate better and for longer periods of time, practice meditation. That can boost your productivity at work and in your personal life alike. You’ll perform better at work, and your attention won’t stray away when someone’s talking to you outside of work. You’ll also be able to learn new things faster.
Meditation is also a great relaxation technique, it relieves stress and has a good impact on health. It restores balance to blood pressure, respiration and heart rates, improves metabolism, and has positive effects on the immune system as well.
Convinced? Great. Now we can move on to the actual practice . . . how to meditate, and how to do it in a way that establish is as a new habit.
How to Meditate
There are three basic components to meditating: relaxation, mindfulness and concentration.
Relaxation: both of the body and the mind. Generally, you should pick the relaxation technique that work best for you. Sit in a comfortable position so your body isn’t tense, and try to go to that special place where you feel relaxed. You can use music if it helps, visualization techniques, mantras, or just sitting in a dark and quiet place. Whatever gets you there is good.
Mindfulness: Now, this is a concept that’s a bit more elusive than relaxation. What does it mean to be mindful? Well, it means you’re aware. You should let your thoughts run free, and try to be aware of each and every thought that passes your mind, but don’t process them. Don’t think about them. Let them be, notice they’re there, and let them go away. This may require some practice, certainly more than getting into a relaxed state. But stick with it; it’s not that hard and it’s well worth it.
Concentration: Breathing is one of the most common things people who meditate concentrate on. It’s very convenient. Just concentrate on the feeling of your breath going through your nostrils and airways, filling your lungs, and then leaving them to go back through your nostrils and into the world around you. This isn’t as easy as it looks. In fact, some people will find it to be the trickiest part of meditating. Your mind will try to wander, and you will need to bring your attention to your breathing as soon as it does. It will become easier in time.
When you manage to get all three of these together, you’ll be sitting down with your mind and body relaxed; aware of your thoughts, but not actively thinking them; and concentrating on your breath, all at the same time. Three distinct states of mind at once . . . sounds a bit weird when you think about it, but it’s possible and yields positive results.
How To Make It A Habit
First of all, don’t try to meditate for hours. Don’t go for ten minutes either. Aim at a couple of minutes a day, two or three maybe, until you’re comfortable with spending more time in meditation. It’s also a good idea to tie your meditation to a specific trigger, like lunch. You don’t have to meditate at the same time every day, but you should tie it to an activity you do daily.
- 5 minutes of meditation after you brush your teeth
- 5 minutes of meditation when you get home from work
- 5 minutes of meditation after you’ve got the kids off to school
It’s also important to be comfortable and free of distraction.
Over time, you’ll get the hang of getting focused faster. Then you will have less of a chance of feeling frustrated by the constant breaking of your concentration from outside sources.
Make it as easy for yourself as possible, and you’ll your meditation can become a habit more quickly.
Your body and mind will thank you for it.
NOVEMBER HABIT: Change Your Environment
Sometimes it may not be you that needs to change, often it is your environment that is creating an atmosphere that is making it difficult for you to create the change that is necessary for your success.
If you really struggle with creating change do a quick little inventory of things that may be affecting your behavior.
- Going to the gym to workout is harder than working out at home.
- Buying healthy groceries is easier than turning down unhealthy foods.
- Setting up automatic savings deposits is easier than doing it yourself every two weeks.
So how can you make more of the right stuff easier and the wrong stuff harder?
I have a rule that I like to live by. “If there is food in the house it will eventually get eaten.”
This goes for the obvious junk foods:
- Baked goods
- Frozen dinners
- Ice cream
And the not so obvious junk foods:
- Breakfast cereal (even the ones you think are healthy)
- Condiments (BBQ sauce, Ketchup, Dressings)
- Granola bars
- Fruit juice (too much sugar and not enough nutrients. Just eat the fruit)
- Peanut butter (unless it’s organic and natural – even still raw almond butter is a better bet)
To sum it up quickly, if it comes in a bag, box, or has ingredients on it that you can’t pronounce you’ll want to chuck it.
However, this also means if you have good nutritious options they will also get eaten.
The good stuff, such as:
- Fresh vegetables
- Fruit (not dried)
- Healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, avocado)
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Quality protein (beef, chicken, lamb, salmon, buffalo, etc…)
DECEMBER HABIT: Reflect & Adjust
This will be an easy one for you because you’re already doing it at the end of every day. In the month of December take a look back at the past year and assess what went right, what went wrong, and how you can be better prepared this up coming year.
WHAT IF I DON’T WANT TO PRACTICE ANY OF THESE HABITS OR MY GOALS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HEALTH AND FITNESS
No problem at all, I’ve got you covered. Stealing from Austin Frakt over at the New York Times, ask yourself why you don’t do this already and why you feel you need to do this now. Take out a notebook and write your answers down. This will answer why you haven’t started doing this already and your motivation behind wanting to do it. Something to watch out for here is playing the blame game. When you answer the question why you’re not doing this already make sure to take responsibility. Avoid blaming others or your circumstances.
Next, break down your big goal into a single habit that you can practice and choose one that you don’t need motivation to do. For example if your goal is to quit smoking and you smoke 10 cigarettes a day make your habit to smoke one less cigarette. I know it sounds silly but how confident are you that you could can smoke one less cigarette per day versus completely quitting?
Once you’ve noticed that you’ve been able to practice this habit consistently step up the intensity of it but only by a little. So now you’d be smoking 2 less per day, then 3 less, 4 less, etc….
Lastly, remember to track your progress and commit to never missing two days in a row. There’s a good chance you’ll slip up one day. If that happens don’t beat yourself up about it. Reflect and assess what happened and set yourself up for success the next day. For example, if I slip up on my 10 minute Spanish habit one day I plan to start the next day with it.
ANY OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS?
Have a daily reminder of what you’re practicing. There’s a good chance you’ll forget what you’re practicing. Set up your phone so that a reminder goes off every few hours, put sticky notes in places you frequent, do whatever it takes so that you are constantly reminded of the habit that you’re practicing.
Add some extra accountability by asking someone to practice the habit with you or you can do what I do. I strategically place the calendar I use to track my progress where my roommates can see it. If there are some blank spaces on it I know they’re going to bust my chops about it.
If you find that you’ve been 90% consistent practicing your habit by the end of the month make sure to reward yourself. I plan on getting a mani-pedi (oh no, I’ve said too much!).
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What do you have planned this New Year? Do the strategies here help at all?
PS: Due to popular demand the Busy Person’s Guide to Health, Fitness, and Looking Better Naked is back. If you’re struggling with building healthy habits that stick you may want to check it out.
Photo: Jens Mayer