Resolutions Planning Workbook

According to research, only half of New Year resolutions make it out of January (27% given up in first week), and only 8% last the year, fulfilled or not. If making New Year resolutions, or any time of year resolutions, hasn’t worked out well for you, try my approach in the workbook below, with a tracker spreadsheet to help you want it. Instructions are below that, but are in the workbook if you prefer to read them there. It’s planning for success, with assistance from behavioral science. It’s not something you do in a flash, but hey, if resolution planning were easy, the success rate wouldn’t be 8%!

Print the sheets single-sided, write out your answers, and get help as needed.

  • For the psychological value of writing things out, flexibility with space and organization, and valuable help and feedback.

Resolutions Planning Workbook – Right-handed version

Resolutions Planning Workbook – Left-handed version

Free Google Sheets Daily Tracker
(save as appropriate format for your use)

What’s your resolution idea?

  • Just write it down in as much or little detail as you have right now.
  • Look at it, think about it for a few minutes, and make any adjustments you feel is appropriate before moving on. Adjusting your idea will be something you will be doing throughout so you might as well get used to it now.

Why & for whom are you doing this?

  • Can be for one reason or more, with more being better.
  • For when the going gets tough and you need to convince yourself to keep going.
  • Think beyond yourself because most people will work harder at something that helps others, primarily or in addition to themselves. If challenged:
    • Ask who could benefit indirectly from you achieving your goal, like your kids not being around second hand smoke if you stopped smoking.
    • Think of ways to include others, like donating cigarette money to a family in need, so every pack you don’t smoke compared to last year’s pace, means money for them.
  • Are your reasons convincing enough to inspire you to keep going when things get tough?
    • If so, move on.
    • If not, add more reasons.
    • If you can’t find enough good reasons, consider another goal. Not every idea will be that meaningful upon deeper examination, so better to know now than later.

How will you know when you’ve succeeded?

  • Identify one thing you can measure or detect to confirm you’ve succeeded.
  • Pending details in your initial idea, this may done (i.e. lose at least 20 pounds), or be a lot of work (i.e. lose weight, so how much?).
  • Make multiple resolutions towards a common goal if you had multiple targets in mind, unless they were rather similar and you can track them all.
  • If challenged to define a measurable way to denote success, write out a description of how things would be, or be different, if you succeeded, with some details, and look for hints (i.e. fit into old jeans, when I was Z lbs, which is X lbs lower than now so losing X lbs is my target), or ask for specifics on anything vague (i.e. not post often on Facebook, so what is “often”).
  • Just take a guess if you were not sure, but have something for now.
  • If you changed details in your resolution, rewrite it and box it to denote the latest version.

Why did you choose the target you chose?

  • Check to see if the target you chose made sense for what you want to accomplish, or if there were a better target.
    • Is your target enough? If not, can you increase it and keep the target realistic, or might it need to be spread out over two years?
    • Is your target excessive to make it harder than it needs to be? If so, reduce to make it easier.
    • Can something else better be an indicator of success than what you chose?
  • Is your target reasonable and attainable, and how do you know or why do you feel how you feel? First check of several. Adjust if the target seemed unattainable.
  • Knowing reasons for your target will give you more reasons to keep going when you need it.
  • If you changed details in your resolution, rewrite it and box it to denote the latest version.

What must you habituate to achieve success?

  • This is not the final action to achieve success (i.e. lose at least 20 lbs) , but the frequent action/s, or habit/s developed, that will enable it (i.e. eat less fast food).
  • If there were multiple actions, and they were rather different (i.e. eat less fast food and exercise more), make more than one resolution towards a common goal (i.e. eat less fast food and exercise more, both towards losing at least 20 lbs).
  • Quantify the action/s as it will need to be measurable (i.e. eat fast food no more than twice per week).
  • This is an important step. Take your time to write down ideas, refine them, again and again if needed, to envision a realistic plan to succeed.
  • Identify the most important ideas, finding one, if possible, because the more you have, the more there will be to turn into habits, and the more to track for progress.
  • For many resolutions, these habits should actually be the resolution because it is they that you must work on to achieve success. However, framing them as the resolution tends not to be inspiring. Still, update your resolution to have a summary of these actions towards your resolution, to make it more real and actionable (i.e. eat fast food no more than twice a week towards losing at least 20 lbs).
  • If you changed details in your resolution, rewrite it and box it to denote the latest version.

How will you form the new habit needed?

  • Forming new habits is key to most resolutions’ success, whether starting a new habit, or changing an old one (includes dropping one by substituting with a different habit). As a result, this is the most important step of this planning process.
  • A habit is composed of three parts (Habit Loop):
    • A cue that kicks your mind into automatic mode to do something (i.e. being tired and hungry to want food quickly);
    • A routine that is what you do, which could be physical, mental, and/or emotional (i.e. head for the fast food place across the street); and
    • A reward that reinforces why you’d want to do that again (i.e. easy way to get food quickly).
  • To acquire a new habit, you will need to identify and do all three components. For swapping habits, the reward will need to be similarly good, or better than the reward for the old habit, to succeed.
  • So for the worksheet, identify your new:
    • Cue (i.e. being tired and hungry);
    • Routine (i.e. spend more $ to order a healthy meal that tastes good or at least decent);
    • Reward (i.e. less effort to order, plan ahead for speed, satisfying meal, tell someone helping you through this that you just did a good thing, better health later).
  • When you have your habit acquisition plan, visualize yourself doing it for whatever period of time needed to see if you were convinced you could do it (i.e. yes, used to do it about 5X per week so 2X isn’t a huge reduction). Do you have the motivation, time, resources, guts, etc. for it? If not, revise until you can, including possibly adding supporting resolutions like cooking 1 of those 3 other weekly fast food meals instead of ordering something else, developing “grit”.
  • Circle steps in your Habit Loop to compile into the final plan later.

What exemption from your habit will you allow?

  • Life isn’t simple, and blanket statements (i.e. I will never or always do X), make things harder to accomplish, if not outright impractical, to either ruin your attempt, or even dissuade you from trying in the first place.
  • Having identified exceptions will allow you:
    • Flexibility (i.e. 1 impromptu fast food work lunch a month for maintaining rapport with colleagues not counting towards weekly total);
    • Adaptability (i.e. missed practices due to injury don’t count as you are better off resting than potentially injuring yourself more, with worse consequences); and
    • Relief (i.e. can have up to 6 fast food meals during year that won’t count towards weekly totals, out of 104 meals base, for those really tough times).
  • Think practically about exceptions, but allow carefully as lapses can set you back drastically in your habit formation, to keep exceptions to truly challenging situations.
  • Circle any exception you allow and put an asterisk by it to compile into the final plan later.

How will you track your progress?

  • As you work toward your goal, you will need to find ways to track your progress so you don’t fall off pace or stray off course, and so you can celebrate if you were ahead. Knowing progress can also serve as motivation to pick up things, whether you are behind, or ahead and in a groove.
  • There are many ways to decide what for progress, often without clear answers for what would work best for a person or type of goal. However, knowing these options may be useful:
    • Keep tallies for where there are counts with actions (i.e. # hours spent learning), or rates like how many times of something per week or month (i.e. # fast food meals, # of week, and do the math to see the average at a point in time).
    • Keep track of outcomes that represent the culmination of the work put in (i.e. # lbs lost since start of year, though for something that fluctuates like weight, I would do an average over a week every few months rather than one day after exercise and before a meal).
  • There many more ways to decide how to track progress, like pen and paper, spreadsheets, credit card reports that keeps records for you, apps, etc. There are too many options and variables to consider for what to recommend. However, the simpler you make it, and the more visible you make it, the more effective it will probably be. Improvise to make whatever means you choose to be simpler and more visible if it weren’t sufficient (i.e. write out by hand the data from your credit card report on how many fast food meal you had each month compared to how many you would have allowed yourself, and a reaction to it).
  • If you want to use a Google Sheets Daily Tracker, I have built one here.
  • Circle all the ways you’ll track your progress for the final plan later.

How will you be held accountable?

  • Knowing why you are committing to your resolution is your main internal motivator. Having ways to hold yourself accountable is your main external motivator. Having both, especially a potent set of each, will go a long way to help you fulfill your resolution.
  • There are many ways to be held accountable, with most falling in one of two broad classifications:
    • People who will hold you accountable, playing on your pride to create motivation. This should be someone who is important to you, preferably the person/s for whom you are committing the resolution, because it is not easy to tell them you’re failing, or that you’ve failed ultimately. Hopefully, they’ll be the type who will support you when you are struggling to get back on track rather than beat you down for it, because the latter won’t work well for most people already struggling, but there are many people and situations where “tough love” is the best motivation. If you weren’t doing something for someone, call upon best friends, family, or even announce to all your Facebook friends or social media followers and have them be the ones you have to face in reporting progress.
    • Consequences you set up for failing or falling behind, in steps along the way or ultimately at the end, in the form of doing things you don’t like, and especially involving money or things you have to give away. The key here is that you have to really dislike, or hate, doing these things, so the money you give away for failing can’t be to a good cause. That’d be what’s called a perverse incentive, where it’s not good motivation for you. If you give anything away, it should be a cause you really don’t like, with political parties being something that would resonate for a lot of people.
  • Circle how you will be held accountable for the plan later.

What are your levels of success?

  • Despite all we plan, life sometimes gets in the way and throws some or all of it out the window. For resolutions, you can deal with that by adjusting your resolutions and plans, or you can plan for some things with levels of success. These are especially good for when the top level is out of reach, but something can still be salvaged by continuing the effort rather than abandoning it all together, possibly reversing all gains made or ending up worse (i.e. by October, lost 10 lbs of 20 minimum desired, gives up and end up a few pounds heavier by end of year).
  • You can create your own level names but I find the medal standards of Gold, Silver, and Bronze work well. Not too many levels, and it has a nobility and award structure to it.
  • Gaps between levels need not be equal, pending your goals and aspirations, and/or what is practical (i.e. Gold = lose at least 20 lbs, Silver = at least 17 lbs, Bronze = at least 12 lbs).
  • Your resolution should be the top standard, with others being less. If in considering these levels of success, you think you can aspire to more for a top standard to make it a real challenge instead of a decent challenge, I suggest changing your resolution to match the top standard rather than leaving your resolution as a middle standard or lowest standard.
  • From the example, you can see someone who lost 10 lbs by October of the 20 lbs minimum desired would still have something to strive for by end of year. While it may not be as satisfying as hitting the original goal, it would be better than nothing, and something to still feel good about. It would also be a great head start to try again next year to lose more weight rather than if the person ended up at the same point by year’s end as at beginning, having things fall apart in just 2 months after 10 months of trying, and having to try again as if at same time last year, as a total failure.
  • Identify your Gold, Silver, and Bronze standards, or whatever you want to call them.

Putting it all together

  • Now that you have all the details of your resolution and associated plan to make it happen, I would rewrite it like a plan, or rather “contract” with the exceptions being the “fine print”, with a title that is your resolution. It’s a load, and not nearly as elegant as resolutions a lot of people declare, but it will show you are serious in trying to make it happen. In my version, the “contract” looks something like the example below, but yours could look as you want to, of course. Just keep all the same details together somewhere for easy reference rather than having to look through all the writing you did.
    • This year, I resolve to – pull the latest boxed version, with target, and reword as you deemed necessary to think about it, share with the world, or whatever purpose.
    • By – list the new habits that will enable success and/or what you will be tracking (those habits with metrics and more details).
    • For / because – list reasons why. You can stop your declaration here or add a few more details below.
    • I will be held accountable by – list tracking system, people, and/or penalties should you fail.
    • Should I not be able to attain my resolution, I can still try for partial success by hitting these alternate targets – list the various standards and their targets.
    • Habit Loop description – put a space between this and the above section, as if these were notes that they are, and describe how you plan to habituate actions you will take.
    • Tracking done by – list how you will track your progress.
    • Exceptions – if you have any, put an asterisk after the “By” statement and add this line at the bottom.

Scoring a set of resolutions

  • What is proposed is a lot for one resolution. However, once you get used to doing this, you’ll be able to fly through rather quickly, especially if you have something similar from before that you’d like to keep up to some extent, that you might be keen on having more than one resolution. Having resolutions in your life could be a habit, you know!
  • With multiple resolutions, if you’d like to rate your performance overall, create a way to gauge your overall standard. This is totally up to you but I will share mine as an example.
    • Create a value for each standard (i.e. Gold = 5 pts, Silver = 3, Bronze = 1 as per usual sports medal weightings).
    • Overall Gold is 85% or more of total possible points (A school grade equivalent in Canada).
    • Overall Silver is 73% to 84.99% of total possible points (B school grade equivalent).
    • Overall Bronze is 60% to 72.99% (C school grade equivalent). The 60% threshold may not sound all that inspiring for a Bronze, but keep in mind, these are all resolutions not easy to attain, where the success rate is only 8%. Even with levels like proposed here, it would still be far from 60%, especially with the weighting system used where a Bronze gets you only 20% of the maximum score of the individual resolution!

Good luck!

So that’s it for the instructions. If you have questions or feedback to help improve future versions, please leave them in the comments section. Thank you.