How to Make Resolutions That Actually Work

Podcast Episode #020: How to Make Resolutions That Actually Work

It's almost New Years, which means it's almost time to consider resolutions for the upcoming year. What would you like to achieve in 2016?

Will it be helpful to set an official resolution that reflects that goal? Here's the 3-step process I recommend that will make your resolutions more likely to stick!

Episode Resources:

How to Make Resolutions That Actually Work [Full Text]

For those of you who've been listening for a while, you might be wondering, "What happened to the 'Lose 10 in 4 Podcast'," which was the previous name of the show. Starting this year for 2016, I changed the name to Make Your Body Work. There's a good reason for that.

The "Lose 10 in 4 Podcast," originally that came out of one of my more popular weight loss programs and I wanted a podcast that would answer people's questions that related to back to the 10 in 4 Challenge program that they're a part of. Quickly, as the questions started coming in, I realized there's a whole lot of questions being answered here that don't necessarily directly have something to do with weight loss. There are a lot of other questions that are just about healthy living and making healthier life decisions and building up habits that just make people happier and healthier.

Starting for 2016, we are now the Make Your Body Work Podcast. Like I just said, this is all about living healthier, living smarter, and living happier. If you have any questions that relate to any of those topics, feel free to send it over to me at and hopefully your question will appear on a future episode on podcast.

One other exciting thing that I want to mention just before we get into today's podcast is I've made it a lot easier for you to find previous podcast. You can now go and open up a browser and type in, and then forward slash, and just put the episode number that you'd like to search for.

For example, if you wanted to listen to the very first episode, and that'll take you right to that first episode of the podcast. I'm just having this feature against making it easier for you if you're someone that wants to go and find a specific episode, that's an easy way to do it.

Without further ado, let's get back into the typical format. I have a great question today and it's from Tom P. Let's dive right in. Tom says,

"I'm not much of a New Year's resolution type person, mostly because I don't think they work, but just curious about what you do. Do you set resolutions and do you find the help at all?"

Tom, thanks for your question. I think this is an awesome question. It's something that I've actually struggled with in the past or thought about a lot in the past at least for myself, "Does a New Year's resolution actually work?"

I found some research that actually talked with a numbers behind it, "How much do New Year's resolutions actually propel people to make change?" Right now, just under 50% of adults in North America do make New Year's resolutions each year.

I guess my question is, "What do you think? How long do those actually stick around?" The statistics are pretty interesting, about 75% of people maintain that resolution for at least one week, which is pretty encouraging. Three quarters of people make it at least through seven days, but then two weeks that number deeps down to 70%, a month 64%, and six months later, only about 46% of people are still doing activities related to that original New Year's resolution that they created.

There is something to be said. The research is obviously showing that the New Year's resolutions that we tend to make aren't actually that powerful and that it's a question, "Why? What is it that we can do that will take an in effect of New Year's resolution and turn it into an effective motivating tactic or strategy or goal that we can actually see change and see development from?"

3 Ways to Make Your Resolutions More Powerful

There's number of things that come to mind right away. The first one being that when we set these resolutions, I think too often we set ones where there's no risk or no loss involved. I'll tell you a story, because I've seen this firsthand.

#1. There Must Be Some Risk or Potential Loss Involved

About a year ago, actually exactly a year ago, I had this idea that I was going to start an outdoor boot camp in the main park of the city that I live in, and outdoors in Canada in January, and it was a cold winter last year. You might have heard me talk with this before, but we had nights where it's minus 30-degrees Celsius and we had nights where there was a snowstorm, and this was completely free.

I was really excited, I thought, "In the past I've had tons of people pay me to be a part of my boot camp. If I make this thing for free, the whole city is going to come out and we're all going to be exercising. It's going to be great." You know what, the first couple weeks actually really surprised me, particularly because like I said, it was in the middle of January, the heart of Canadian winter, and people are coming out to exercise, but really shortly, I saw that the number started to dwindle. Some of those people who had originally come out, they started to have reasons why they couldn't come.

As I reflected back on this I thought, "I made it free so that was completely accessible to anyone and money was not an object, but at the same time, I removed the risk or the loss that was involved for someone who wanted to participate." I'm not sure that that was actually a good thing, but there's something to be said for needing to have some skin in the game, having something that you could lose by not following through.

A resolution becomes most powerful when you have something to lose. Risk = Reward!

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By me making the boot camp for free, no one had to commit, no one had to put any money down, you just showed up if you felt like it, and that enabled people to very easily be off the hook.

When it comes to us setting resolutions, and I know this is for myself, I've really made this something that I try to personally follow, at the very least, you need to tell someone, and you need to tell them specifically what it is you're going to do. If you just internalize a resolution and think, "Hey, I'd like to go to boot camp once a week, but don't tell anyone," then there's absolutely no loss.

You're not even putting your own word out there, risking the fact that someone might think, "Dave, you said you're going to do this and you didn't stick with it." That is at least a little bit of a risk.

If you've been following me at all for a while, maybe you get my weekly e-mails and this is something that I've actually just practiced in December. I started this goal for 2016 to be the happiest year of my life.

I know if you haven't heard me say that before you'll probably roll your eyes and think, "Oh that's so cheesy. Happiest year. How can you do that?" I based it on some research and broke down into some categories, six categories that have been shown to really produce happiness in people. Instead of just talking with this and saying like, "Let's go and set our six goals and work on this at our own pace." I wrote an e-mail to my mailing list with thousands of people and said, "Here are the six activities, actions or goals that I'm going to take that are from these six areas of happiness. I want you to hold me accountable to it. I don't want to just do this on my own."

For me, putting it out there is hugely motivating, because again it puts my name or puts my word at risk and it has to be that risk.

If you want to take this little step further, so I do recommend that you tell someone, if you want to take a step further, think about the show, The Biggest Loser, and do you know what the contestants on that show are competing for aside from just losing weight? They're competing for $250,000. I think that most people when there's a price tag or a monetary value assigned to a goal or a resolution, the probability of that resolution happening or the probability of us sticking to it just goes through the roof.

When I watched that show and I see these people working so hard, yeah they want to lose weight, but when they're fighting for a quarter of a million dollars, of course they're going to bust their butts!

That'll be my next suggestion: If you think that a New Year's resolution isn't going to have staying power for you, turn it into something that creates a monetary loss, and what I would suggest is take something that would be an amount of money that would be painful to lose. Don't take a dollar, because I think most people can afford to lose a dollar. Take a $100 or $200 or whatever it is and give it to a friend and say, "You hold on to this until such and such date when I have," and then fill in the blank with what your resolution is.

Just think about what goals you'd be able to accomplish if your hard-earned money was on the line!

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Then not only did you just tell someone about that resolution and instantly have that accountability, but you put some money on the line and I love that, that's so powerful. It's like there's a price. There is a price waiting for you and it gives you that much more reason to really go after it. Number one, there needs to be a risk, there needs to be a loss involved in order to make resolutions effective.

#2. There Must Be a Focus on Actions, Not Outcomes

Number two, we need to focus on our actions and not our outcomes. I'll say that again, we need to focus on our actions and not our outcomes. I've written a lot about this for different magazines and on my blog, and on different places online. Maybe you've heard me speak about this before, but when it comes to resolutions, it's so obvious that most of us set outcome oriented resolutions. What do I mean by that?

Time Magazine, they made a list of the most commonly broken resolutions and let me read this off to you and just think about if they have anything in common. Lose weight and get fit, quit smoking, learn something new, eat a healthier diet, get out of debt and save money, spend more time with the family, travel to new places, be less stressed, volunteer more, and drink less alcohol. You can probably see where I'm going with this. All of those are very outcome-oriented objectives or resolutions.

I'll pick one. For example would be get out of debt and save money. That's the end result of that resolution is looking for, but it doesn't at all speak to what are the actions or what are the steps that are going to lead to that outcome?

That's something that happens all the time when it comes to health and fitness, particularly around New Year's when we set these resolutions, "Yeah, I want to lose weight or yeah I want to eat healthier and diet more. Yes, I want to go to the gym." Okay great, but what are the actual steps involved?

Wanting something and acting on it are two very different things. When you start to evaluate or try and determine what your resolution or what your goals are for 2016 or beyond, think about, what is the action that's going to get me to that outcome that I'm looking for and then make that action a priority as opposed to the outcome.

Wanting something and acting on it are 2 very different things. Are you ready to take action?

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Again, think of the idea of weight loss. I talk clients through this all the time. Instead of saying, "I need to lose weight," say, "What are the actions that will get me towards weight loss?"

That's maybe easier said than done. You know yourself. You could probably very quickly pick at a couple actions that would point you in the right direction. An easy one to pick on right away is anyone who drinks sweetened drinks, soda, pop, whether it's sweetened with sugar or artificially sweetened, researches definitively proven that doing that leads to weight gain.

Instead of saying, "I want to lose weight," and then just going about your business and hoping that weight loss happens, take that action, "I'm going to cut out drinking sweetened drinks, or I'm going to cut it back from this to this."

There is a specific action that is very measurable, is very tangible, and you know that that's going to lead to the desire outcome. I guess my challenge in this one is focusing on actions and not outcomes. Think about what some actions are and they could be very small ones.

Again, referencing back to my personal happiness project for 2016, I pick very specific actions. One for me from the category of improving my personal health was to go to bed by 10:30 each night during the workweek. That's a very specific action.

An outcome oriented goal would be, "I want to sleep more or I want to have more energy, or I want to be better rested." What's the specific action?

#3. There Has to Be a True, Super Motivation

Number three, when we get thinking about how to set these effective goals or resolutions, it is so important that we understand what our true motivation is. I call it, "Our super motivation." What is that big thing that you really have deep down inside of you that is motivating this change or propelling this change? I'll just tell you about the process, when I do an intake with a new client, I'll typically just ask a broad question that says something like, "You can to me for some help, what can I help you with?"

Because I'm in the fitness industry, the vast majority of clients will say, "I really need to lose weight." That statement, well it might be true, completely overlooks, what is the true motivation or what is that what I call the super motivator? The way that I move through this, a series of questions to get down to that super motivator is, if someone says, "I want to lose weight," and I'll respond to them, "Okay, how will this make your life better?" That question alone really drives down or digs down to that true super motivator, but it doesn't always happen right away.

Quite often, the example go like this:

"I just need to lose some weight, Dave."

I'll say, "Okay, how will that make your life better?"

Then the new client will say, "Because I just want to feel better."

Again, I'll repeat that question, "But how will that make your life better?"

"Because I want to be more confident. If I lose weight and feel better, I'm going to be more confident."

"Okay, well, how will that make your life better?"

"Because if I'm confident and I'm feeling better and I've lost some weight, I can be able to go out and socialize more."

"Okay, well how will that make your life better?" (You can sense a little bit of a theme here!)

"If I can socialize more, then maybe I'll start to go to these business networking events. I've really want to start going to these business networking events, but I'm just not confident, I don't feel good about how I look, so then I'll be able to go to those events."

"How would that make your life feel better?"

"Because if I go to these business networking events, then I'm going to get to meet some new people. Right now, I just never meet anyone new."

"Okay, well how will that make your life better?"

"Because I want to meet new people at these business networking events because I know that I need to make some business connections. The only way for me to do that is to put myself out there, so I need to have that confidence. I need to feel better about myself. It all starts with losing this weight."

"Okay, but how will that make your life better?"

"If I make some new business connections then I think that'll help me grow my business and I'm really looking to grow my business this year, so I need to connect with some new people. When I think of the networking events that'd be a great place and I want to be confident and feel good about myself."

"Okay, but how will that make your life better?"

"Dave, because this year, it's been really a struggle to make ends meet and I'm just really having a tough time with business. I'm starting to doubt whether this is the business that I should be in."

Think about how far we just drilled down and found a really powerful super motivator. We started out with a client saying, "I want to lose weight." If I had taken them in and started working with them, that's their motivation is just to lose weight. That's is such an ambiguous claimer and an ambiguous motivator. Of course it's not going to be powerful a week, or two weeks, or a month or whatever it is from now, because it doesn't actually get down to what the deep connection is with the goal that we're setting.

Saying, "My business is struggling and I need to fix it and I know right now my low confidence and low self-esteem is preventing me from doing what I need to do to fix my business, help me feel better about myself so that I can be confident, make business connections, and find those people who can take my business to the next level." Wow, like that is a super motivator. Again, I challenge you to go through that process.

If you're setting your resolution, how will it make your life better? I've done the exact same thing. I talked about setting one of my goals, my health goal for 2016 is the action is to get to bed by 10:30 every night during the workweek. When I start to drill down, I think, "There are so many things that will be better in my life when that actually comes into fruition. I'm going to perform better during my workday. My athletics are going to be better because my body is going to be able to recover better from workloads and from the exercise. My relationships are going to improve because I'm someone ... I'll be honest with you, if I don't get my sleep, I get cranky and don't want to be around people and I want to socialize, I like people."

I know that getting sleep is going to improve my life in many significant ways, but the action is getting to bed by 10:30 during the nights of the workweek.

That's process that you can use. Find out what is your super motivator.

Summarizing Your 3-Step Process For Setting Effective Resolutions

Just really quickly to go through those three things and Tom, your question was asking me about my resolutions, I'm converted. I'm a huge believer in the power of resolutions. I just think that they have to follow these three rules that I laid out here today:

There has to be risk. There has to be some potential loss involved.

There has to be a focus on the actions that myself or you are going to take, not the outcomes.

And there has to be a connection with a very deep and very powerful super motivator in order for the resolutions or goals, it doesn't matter if it's at New Year's or any other time of the year, in order for those to actually stick around and produce any results.

Your "Make Your Body Work" Takeaway

Your "Make Your Body Work Takeaway" for today - I like to wrap up things with something that's very practical and very actionable. I'll leave you with this:

So how do you actually go about setting some resolutions or setting some goals right now? I was introduced recently by a friend of mine from university where we're just having a chat one night. He was talking about this concept of backcasting. This just, wow, it resonated so clearly with me. Backcasting is taking a look at where you want your life to be in some future time, so whether it's a year, we're looking a little bit more long-term so a year, three years, or five years down the road, and think about the different areas of your life.

What would you like your life to look like at that time?

Then the idea of back casting is to take steps backward and say, again it's all about the actions, "What actions do I need to take to get there?" I'll go to one of my resolutions again. I've been talking with this idea of being more well rested. When I think about where I want my life to be a year from now, I would like to be better well-rested, I would like my body to feel better. I would like to not fight with fatigue at certain points of the day. I would like to have improved in certain areas athletically. Like I said, I don't want to be a grump. I want to be well-rested so that I'm really enjoyable to be around all the time.

What do I need to do to get there?

I need to sleep more and so that I can start to think about what actions can I take right now and I don't expect my sleep schedule to instantly improve. For me, as I did this backcasting exercise, I thought, "Okay, I'm going to try five days a week, the workweek, go to bed by 10:30." I'm a big time nerd, I need to track everything, so I created a little spreadsheet, just with the dates in there and what time I went to bed and started to track it. That's something that I can do right now that again will lead to that future goal.

The actions you take today are shaping where you life will lead, 1, 3, or even 5 years in the future.

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As you start to paint this picture of your future life, you're going to see some areas that you can start to work on and use those as your goals for 2016 and start to develop some of these actions based on that future motivation of that future life and start to implement those right now.

Let's Do This Together!

I'd love to hear from you actually. If you want to write a comment in the post and tell me about what's the goal of yours for 2016 or what's the action you're going to take? Let's hold each other accountable.

Like I said, I'd love for you to do it for me and I would love to do it for you. Feel free to put a comment in the post or if it's something that's personal, you can always e-mail me,

Thanks again for tuning in this week to actually the very first episode of the Make Your Body Work podcast. Even though it's episode 20, this is the first Make Your Body Work version. If you have any questions that you'd like answered on the future episode of the show, feel free to e-mail me again at

A Quick Favour?

If you like this show and you feel like you're inspired or you get something practical that you can use to make your life better, I'd love to get your feedback. Either a rating or review in iTunes helps other people find the show and it gives me feedback on how I can continue to improve each week.

If you go to, it'll take you right to the iTunes store and then you can just leave that review or comment. Thank you so much! I really appreciate your support and having you join me each week!

Thanks for joining me today!

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