If you resolved to do something new this year, you’re not alone: Pretty much everyone else on the planet heads into the new year aiming to be a little healthier, get a little better at something, or lose at least a little bit of weight.
You’re also in luck. We’re here to make sure your big plans don’t end up like, well, last year’s unsuccessful resolutions.
So: What’s the trick to translate your resolution into something that sticks? First of all, instead of coming in way too hot with a big goal, think smaller: Miniaturize your 2018 resolution(s) into smaller, everyday tasks that will seem much more doable. Big goals (“lose 20lbs”) are virtually impossible to act on. Small tasks, though, are doable (“eat all four meals today,” “get to the gym by 8 a.m.”). And when a task is doable, there’s a much greater chance you’ll actually get them done.
Here’s a guide to setting the right goals—and accomplishing them—in the new year.
1. Think ’30 days,’ not 365
Why does a shorter time span help? Think of it like this: If your overall resolution is to climb Everest this year (damn, bro!), maybe you say for now that for the month of January you’ll go on a hike every weekend. Much more doable, right?
Matt Cutts, a Google engineer and TED Talk speaker, says giving himself short, 30-day challenges helped him go “from desk-dwelling computer nerd to the kind of guy who bikes to work for fun”. Condensing a challenge into one-month sprints helps take the pressure of the end goal off, and allows you to focus on what you need to do now. “Instead of the months flying by, forgotten, the time was much more memorable,” Cutts says.
You’ve likely heard of SMART (specific, measured, actionable, reasonable, and timely) goals. If your goal is to lose weight, then break that weight loss down into specific, measured, actionable, reasonable, and timely goals, and then move forward with those bite-size tasks rather than pressuring yourself to (completely unreasonably) make 20lbs of belly fat vanish overnight.
Also: If your goal is fitness-focused, then it’s a really, really good idea to work with a professional who can help you translate those desires into measurable steps that are specific to you. For all the weight-loss advice you can find on Men’s Fitness, there’s nothing like having a partner who will guide you step by step in your objectives.
2. Avoid the fads (but keep the fats)
Stop us if you think that you’ve heard this one before: After realizing you look like a bloated version of your former self and vowing to get your abs back, you’ve decided to live on only bone broth and grilled chicken in 2018.
Yep, eating healthier is one of the most popular resolutions year after year—but going to extremes won’t be sustainable in the long run. If you’re planning to label yourself “vegan” or “Paleo” or start any other restrictive food regime this year, fitness and nutrition pro Rob Sulaver suggests you adopt this motto instead: “Eat like you give a fuck”. Meaning? “Food is medicine,” Sulaver writes on his blog. “It can cure. It can kill. It’s that powerful.” Instead of trying to stick to a particular diet, just do better for your body and up the quality of what you put into it.
For instance: Don’t make the common mistake of cutting out fat altogether. Your body needs fat for energy, so focus on giving yourself the cleanest possible fuel instead of thinking about what you can’t have. Sulaver says nuts, avocados, coconut oil, and even red meat can all be part of a healthy diet, so there’s no need to be miserable if you keep healthy fats in your diet. “Ideally, one third of your fat should be regular saturated (animal fats, coconut oil), one third should be monounsaturated (olive oil, nuts, nut butter, avocado), and the final third should be polyunsaturated (fish oil, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin and sunflower seeds). All equal. All delicious. All healthy,” Sulaver writes.
3. Create a daily work schedule
Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like you’re underwater at work, but still can’t get that promotion (or, at the very least, get your boss to stop hounding you). One possibility: Many of us put effort into the wrong tasks, leading to exhaustion without much payoff, says Preston Ni, management coach and author of The Seven Keys to Life Success.
The first and simplest way to streamline what you focus on each day? “Use a good day planner,” he says in a Psychology Today story. “The best ones give you at least one full page (or screen) per day, with space allocated for each working hour of the day.” If you feel like you’re about to snap from all the tasks you have, get into the habit of actually making a daily to-do list to ensure you’re really focusing on the more important things. Seeing them all on paper might even make the list feel a tad less daunting than keeping everything together in your head.
Another huge tip Ni shares from his book? “Highly productive people are often less busy than those who are overworked and overwhelmed.” Translation: Don’t be that guy running around the office always stressed, barking at anyone who even looks in your direction. That’s not being “busy” as much as just being a dick. Instead, streamline your schedule a bit. Do you have to say yes to that optional presentation? Do you really need to join that conference call? Is your two cents really necessary on this matter or are you just extending the meeting by another 15 minutes?
Instead of being all things to everyone at all times, look at where you can cut back, or where you might be overextending yourself. It might even be more social in nature, like showing up for the weekly office happy hour when you could opt for every other one instead, and score an extra two hours to hit the gym and blow off some steam. Start streamlining your daily to-do’s and your overall goal (be it a happy boss, a promotion, or just a better work-life balance) will naturally fall into place.