With each new year there's invisible pressure to make a change (or several) via new year's resolutions. Personally I'm not a fan, but for no reason other than my resolutions would always fail and I'd feel crappy about failing something that seems to come so easily to others.

Losing weight is the classic resolution, but in reality that goal is loaded with all sorts of traps. It's been my resolution from many, many previous years of my life. In the last 3-4 years I've learnt a lot about creating new habits (which what most resolutions really entail) and learnt a lot about personal goals.

Maybe you've got a resolution to lose weight, maybe it's something entirely different, but I think (or hope) I can share some advice that's useful regardless of the aim.

With aims in mind, let's take "lose weight". Is this really the aim? To become lighter?

An aim or goal that's loaded is one that's near impossible to achieve. If you're a developer getting a clear idea of what "complete" is (i.e. achieved) for a particular problem or project is super valuable.

So, let's ask:

  • do we want to be lighter?
  • do we want to lower our body fat?
  • do we want to feel healthier?
  • want to be able to run around without losing our breath?
  • want to be stronger?
  • just want to be more active?

Set a simple goal and start from there.

That's the easy part though. Next you need to carve out the time in your day.

I was talking with Julie (my partner) and she had been trying to add a simple 10 minute workout to her life for the last 6 months but failing (to find the time) after around week 3 of each attempt.

She was beating herself up for not being able to spare as little as 10 minutes each day, in truth though it may sound like nothing, but turning it into a reoccurring assured event in your life is hard-hard work.

Mostly because just finding the time takes time that most people don't have spare.

Creating new habits are hard, so I'd suggest to find things in your day you can attach the habit to, rather than making new space in your day.

For example, I need to stretch at least once a day. Once I found the right stretch, I was able to incorporate this into my bedtime routine. I'd settle into bed with a book, and on my side, I'd let my arm hang for a few minutes for a soft stretch.

It's entirely because I do this at bedtime that I've been able to maintain this new routine.

Whatever the change, make it as simple as possible to achieve. It might be that losing weight actually (rightly) comes down to diet change. Don't change everything at once, make one small change. Once that's in place after a few months, start to make more changes, but keep it small and easy to achieve.

I've written about this before, but it bears repeating: the easiest way to avoid failure, which tends to lead to abandoning the new resolution, is to cheat. Cheat in any way you can to keep yourself from feeling like you've failed and that it's time to give up.

When it comes to diet change, the biggest thing that kept me from giving up was knowing that I could regularly cheat my diet. Every Saturday I'd eat whatever I wanted. I know some people who have a single cheat meal and others that have a cheat weekend.

Eventually when the diet change (for me) became habit, and I no longer had to try to incorporate it into my life, I was able to cheat whenever I wanted to or needed to, ie. Christmas period I cheat a lot, and times when I'm travelling and in control of my cooking, it's "planned" cheating, i.e. not a failure and thus I'm able to continue with my resolution to eat well.

Think about what your resolution is, think about what you consider "failure" then look for ways you can cheat your way out of failure. It may sound like you're cheating yourself, but a positive change is positive with cheating or not.

Finally, something that I've found a huge help is creating some kind of benchmark record at the start. For diet change, this is a picture of some of my existing meals. For weight loss (or body composition change) this is a candid photo of myself with all the bits I want to change in full view.

Meaningful change takes a long time. There's no shortcuts and motivation runs dry after the initial pleasure of a fresh change. A picture, or some kind of benchmark will help gauge progress. Even now, for me and 3 years on, I'll look back at pictures of myself before diet change. I often feel like I'm making no progress, but when I look back I can see how far I've come.

And so that's my advice, for all it's worth, take what you want and I wish you all the luck in your new year. Remember to keep it simple and only you are the judge of your success, and try (as hard as it may be) not to compare yourself to others.