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How to Make New Year's Resolutions That Work
The Secret is Feedback Loops

New Years Eve - Tomorrow is for Resolutions

January first is a date many people set aside to make a list of resolutions for the New Year. If you haven't, you're probably thinking about it. As you prepare that list, consider this: Whatever you choose to do, will be more successful if you get feedback as you go along.

I'm not talking about friends or relatives giving you their advice, although that can be helpful. When I say feedback, I mean concrete measurements on how something is progressing. Having an appropriate feedback loop can double your chances of success. Here's how it works.

Step one is to establish a baseline. Let's say you want to lose a few pounds. You need constant feedback to determine if your actions are making a difference. Since the goal is weight loss, the action you would take is stepping on a scale. The first time would be to document your current weight (your baseline).

Step two is to make it personal. Using tools like the Body Mass Index table (BMI) you need to calculate what your ideal weight should be. The average person doesn't want to be considered too fat (or too skinny). By comparing your actual weight with the medical ideal, you learn exactly how much you need to lose (or gain). That number is your personal goal.

Step three is to arrange a way to get that feedback regularly. When it comes to weight loss, the University of Minnesota researchers found that people who weigh themselves consistently are more likely to lose weight or prevent weight gain than people who don't. In fact, subjects who weighed themselves once a day lost more than those who simply did it once a week.

Set aside a specific time that you'll step on the scale every day. Wear the same amount of clothing and write the results down so you have a running total. Those daily weigh-ins are your regularly recurring feedback.

Step four is taking action from the feedback presented. Weight fluctuates from day to day, so the actual results each time aren't going to show much of a variation. But what stepping on that scale does is give you an ongoing reminder of what you're trying to accomplish. Knowing that at some point during the day you're going to weigh yourself, may give you the willpower to resist a food craving or the strength to get in some exercise.

When the results are positive, it reinforces your good behavior. If the weight hasn't changed, it gives you time to reflect on what you need to do differently. Either way, the feedback you get from the scale is a critical piece in helping you stay on track and make better decisions.

Here's where we run into problems. Many of the resolutions we make can't be quantified. Without a way to track them, we can't get feedback to determine if we're moving in the right direction.

Let's say you resolve to "get in shape." It sounds good, but there's nothing to measure. Instead, you should resolve to do something like lower your bodyfat percentage, increase your arm dimensions, reduce your waist size or run a faster time. You've got to be specific.

Then make sure, whatever goals you set, they must allow for a feedback loop. You can time your runs, put a measuring tape around your waist or use a scale to test body fat. Monitoring the results daily helps you make small course adjustments to stay on track.

Feedback loops aren't restricted to diet and exercise. There are measurement tools available for nearly any type of resolution.

Four small steps.

  • Document your baseline.
  • Make the goal personal.
  • Get feedback regularly.
  • Take action based on the results of the feedback.

Use those steps to turn your resolutions, into reality.

For more goal setting ideas, read our article "Simple Steps for Setting Achievable Goals."

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.