Birthday resolutions

Could moving resolutions from the New Year to a more personal date make them more effective?

New Year resolutions fail by the dozen with every passing minute of a new year. Research estimates that 88% of people who set resolutions fail to achieve them. This number, frankly, is smaller than I expected so in some capacity I am impressed by the other 12%. Something more realistic is this: over half the people who resolved either forgot their resolves or forgot to keep track of their resolves. The problem could lie in the complete detachment between the day for setting resolutions and our individual selves.

Today is my birthday so for my annual birthday essay I decided to start a little experiment as a gift for myself. What if I set my resolutions on a day that actually mattered to me personally rather than one that was popular by calendar design? Rather than New Year resolutions then, here are my birthday resolutions:

  1. Read more books
  2. Do something towards improving my health and fitness daily
  3. Be more present and honest to myself

The idea is unlike any other resolution: I will track my progress on these all year long and be accountable to myself come my next birthday. If all goes well my progress this year will be my gift next year.

However, the resolutions in their current format are less than promising from a practical perspective. They are succinct and capture the spirit of what I intend to achieve but if science has taught us anything about resolutions it is that bite-sized goal-setting trumps long term goal declarations—and this is true every single time. It increases the likelihood of realising one’s resolves by a fifth.

Resolution 1: Read more books

I am not dissatisfied with how many books I read these days although the number has reduced from back when I was in school. I would blame the grown-up world but I happen to know many grown-ups who read just fine so the fault lies within.

Currently I read about one book every fortnight. I would like to increase it by a small amount to three books a month. It is important to not hurt my chances of achieving my resolutions by being over-ambitious.

Resolution 2: Daily health and fitness

This is the big one of the three for me personally. The problem with this goal is defining what counts as a health or fitness activity: Will a long walk do? Must it be a morning jog? Can cardio be dropped entirely one day in favour of HIIT? And what about recovery days? This seems like a grey area at best.

The solution lies in slightly redefining my Apple Watch rings. Rather than focus on closing my rings I want to give myself two stages of goals: a minimum and a target. The intention of the minimum would be to allow me to work out to close my rings on any day—including on recovery days—in such a way that working out to my daily minimum requirement closes the rings without pushing me to the limit. This will be 700 calories, 30 exercise minutes and 12 standing hours. The target will be what I really want to accomplish: 1,000 calories, 45 exercise minutes and 12 standing hours.

My Apple Watch will track my minimum and I will keep track of my targets. Over time, ideally, the target should go up reasonably, reaching about 1,250/60/12 around my next birthday.

Resolution 3: Presence and honesty

If the first resolution was about a disparate activity to be done at point in my day or week, and the second resolution was a discrete activity to be integrated at a (more or less) fixed point in my daily schedule, my final resolution is a continuous one which I will need to take care of all the time.

It is not too strenuous or nagging, but it serves the purpose of reminding me of my resolutions frequently. And the reason I picked these two is because I am quite confident of the former which will increase the odds of me achieving the latter. In a year where I expect huge changes in my career this is a meaningful resolve to make.

This is honestly not something I have given a lot of thought to, but it struck me just today, in context, and seems like a really powerful idea. It is at least worth trying with nothing to lose.

I will be tracking all my resolutions and in a year publishing the results in a follow-up essay. Is this a fourth resolution? Not quite; it is a promise made in the open.

Cover image: Abbey Lossing.