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Why Your Resolutions Aren't Sticking

Tay Kae Fong

February 17, 2020

Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash

Still sticking to your 2020 resolutions? Congratulations, you’re in the minority.

January 19 was supposed to be the day in 2020 we gave up on our new year’s resolution. The date, predicted by sports fitness network Strava, is based on analysis of over 800 million activities data points from their members.

Strava even named it “Quitter’s Day”, though interestingly, it has moved later for the past three years, from Jan 12 in 2018 to Jan 17 last year. Have your resolutions outlasted “Quitter’s Day”?

If your resolutions are slipping away as day-to-day life takes over, here are a few lessons I learnt from helping corporates innovate that may be useful.

Define resolutions with the right level of details.

Getting resolutions right is a balancing act between the right degree of ambition and the right amount of details.

One way to improve your resolutions is to keep drilling in to make them more specific, measurable, and actionable, before you take a step back and decide if they are realistic. For example, here are two resolutions I have rewritten:

No dessert (too ambitious) → No more than 150 kcal of added sugar/ day
Exercise more (too vague) → Run twice a week for no less than 5km

If you want to go a deeper into how to better articulate your goals and what you will do to achieve them, a useful method that has been gaining popularity is Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), a quarterly tracking system.

Brand yourself

Resolutions that truly last are those aligned with your personal values and who you want to be. That’s why reminding yourself of your ‘personal brand’ can be helpful when your motivation is flagging.

For example, if your resolution is “going to the gym weekly” but you find yourself working late and never having the time, then reminding yourself “I’m the type of person who can balance work and workout” may keep it going.

two women working out in a gym
“I am the type of person who can balance work and workout” Photo: Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Make it a year-long experiment

An effective method in helping companies innovate is the Lean Startup that encourages teams to run experiments, test prototypes quickly, and use the validated learning to refine their course of action.

We can adapt this approach for resolutions. Simply view the year as a series of experiments and refinements on a monthly or quarterly basis with the aim of trying new ways to achieve your resolutions.

By scheduling frequent reviews, you can look at why a resolution is not working and try something else based on lessons learnt. This gives you wiggle room to change and optimise your efforts along the way.

a woman exercising running on the stairs
Keep experimenting to find what types of runs work for you. Photo: Ev on Unsplash

For example, if your resolution is to run 5 km within 25 minutes, you can experiment with factors that may impact the results, such as time of day, shoes, location, etc., to identify the best way to achieve it by the year end.

Get External Help

When you feel your own motivation and discipline are not enough to get you through, there is no shame in calling for help. Find friends or family members with similar resolutions and commit to do something together.Alternatively, making your goals public motivates you because of the expectations you get from others. Let friends and family know your resolution and ask them to call you out whenever you are not sticking to it.To make this arrangement even stronger, link it with a reward to encourage friends and family to be your cheerleaders / police.For example, if they find you taking that extra serving of chocolate cake, you commit to buy coffee next time or do the dishes for the next two days. Your surroundings can also be part of the external help in what is called choice architecture. The simple way to use it is to make it more physically difficult to do something you want to avoid. For example, put the chocolate in the lowest compartment of the fridge, behind the fruits.On the other hand, if you want to encourage a particular behaviour, make it easier. For example, place your running gear right next to your bed to reduce the friction for your morning runs. 

It’s Not Over Yet

Finally, and most importantly, it’s not over till it’s over. This article is written after Jan 19 on purpose. If you have veered off track, it is perfectly fine to dust yourself off and get started again.

Lapses should be expected and happen to everyone. Not letting one or even a few setbacks make you quit entirely is key to achieving your resolution.

I hope you find these tips useful. They are adapted from the work we do with companies in our innovation programmes, and if they work for corporates, they should also work for individuals too.  

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