We're almost nine months into 2018, so nobody's going to be surprised if, by this point, your New Year's resolutions have fallen by the wayside. If your big New Year's plan was to, say, eat healthier, wake up earlier, or exercise three times a week, and you've slid right back into your old habits, don't worry—you can still get back on track.
September is the perfect time to set new resolutions—I'm about to explain why and share some of my best tips for making September the month that changes everything. I've spent more than a decade helping people lose weight and work out, and I can help motivate you to accomplish your goals too—this is what I do, after all!
September Is the New January
January 1 has some magic to it, doesn't it? There's something about flipping that last page on the calendar that feels like hitting the reset button on our lives. In January, anything feels possible. With a new year, we feel free to wipe away every stumble, misstep, and false start from the year before. It's the time when we can start over and re-create ourselves.
But what we soon realize is that life gets in the way. There's school, late nights, dinners with friends, practices, long days at work, family troubles... so much has happened between January and now.
But the truth is, September has the same resetting power as the New Year. In fact, it's my favorite time to start. And the best part: You don't have to wait four months to give it another go—the perfect time is now.
The Power of the Clean Slate
September has an air of excitement. It's almost electric—we're recharged from summer, schools are back in full swing, and we're ready to buckle down and get to work. Ever since we were kids, the start of fall has brought with it a chance for a new beginning. This is what makes September so amazing—it's what researchers call a "temporal landmark," which basically means it's a marker, like a birthday, the first day of a new month, or the start of the school year. These all signify a transition from what was to what could be.
The beauty of these transitions is that they knock us out of our day-to-day minutiae, give us a chance to stop and catch our breath, and take a step back to look at the big picture. And when we really seize these points in time, we're given the opportunity to start all over again on the right foot.
Resolutions With a Twist
Typically, when we make New Year's resolutions, we focus on what we're going to do.
But with September resolutions, we're going to take that model and turn it on its head. Follow these three steps and you'll have rock-solid resolutions that will last a lifetime. So open up a notepad and let's get to work!
Let's Start With Your Resolution
Before we jump in, let's write down what you want to accomplish. It could be anything:
- Wake up earlier
- Eat better
- Get to the gym four times a week
But let's say our goal is: Lose 20 pounds.
Step 1. Explain WHY your resolution matters.
Traditionally, the next step is to talk about "what" we're going to do—for instance, steps like "Go Paleo," "sign up for a gym," or "walk for 30 minutes every day."
But what we plan to do isn't nearly as important as why we want it.
Now, there's nothing wrong with talking about exactly how we plan to lose weight. But knowing what to do isn't enough to keep us going when things get tough. We need a plan for the inevitable stumbling blocks, like when we wake up, and it's cold and raining outside—totally not what inspires you to hit the gym. Or when we go to lunch with friends, and there's not a single Paleo-friendly food on the menu.
The simple (and sometimes harsh) truth is: Relying on commitment isn't going to cut it.
We need more.
This is where the "why" comes in. So below your resolution, write down the reasons why you want to lose weight. Now, this might not be obvious, so my favorite way to get there is with an exercise called "The Five Whys."
It's ridiculously simple. We're going to ask ourselves "Why?" we want to lose weight five times in a row.
Here's what that looks like:
Resolution: I want to lose 20 pounds.
The Five Whys
- Why? Because I want to be healthier.
- Why? Because I don't enjoy where I'm at now.
- Why? Because I feel terrible and guilty.
- Why? Because I know I can't eat this way forever.
- Why? Because if I keep going this direction, I'm shaving years off my life.
Now we're getting to the root of our motivation and why it's important. Keep in mind: You don't have to stop at just five "Whys?" You can keep going if you'd like to.
But what we want, in the end, is a "why statement." It could look something like this:
"It's unbearable for me to think about not being around for my children when they graduate college. And I know if I keep going this direction, I'm going to miss out on their lives."
"I can't be 10 years older and still wrestling with the same issues. I know that when I conquer myself, I'll be able to conquer the world."
"I refuse to give myself a future in which I'm still not happy with how I look and feel. I don't want to waste any more time."
There's a world of difference between taking the "why" approach—instead of focusing on "what" we're going to do.
Now we have a compelling reason to stick to our resolutions. Here's what I want you to do: Go through "The Five Whys" and dive into all the reasons your resolution is important. Then write it down, keep it on you, and read it every chance you get, until it's burned into your mind. This is going to be the motivation we need when challenges arise.
Step 2. Plan what to do when things get tough.
When we're motivated, we're ready to get started. But before we charge in head-first, let's take a step back and think about what to do when things go south—and at some point, things will go south. So what we need to do now is to plan for the inevitable, and this may be the most overlooked aspect of creating a rock-solid resolution.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Let's look at our goal to lose weight and identify what can (and likely will) go wrong:
So ask yourself these questions and write down answers to them:
- What are the reasons I've failed in the past?
- When will I have the toughest time sticking to my plan?
- When am I most likely to give myself "permission" to break my new habit?
- What do I typically say to myself when I really, really want to give in?
The goal here is to highlight our common pitfalls. We want to know where the landmines are before taking the first steps—once we know where the common traps are, we can come up with a game plan to handle those situations.
Here are a few examples:
Landmine: My diet usually caves in the evening, when I'm too hungry and too tired to cook.
Solution: I'll get into meal prep so my meals are just waiting for me, starting simple with some healthy 30-minute meal prep recipes. And when that's fallen through, I'll budget for occasionally picking up a meal from a healthy restaurant on the way home.
Landmine: When I'm out with friends, I tend to fall back into my old eating habits.
Solution: When my friends ask where we should eat, I'll suggest a restaurant with a healthy menu. But if they pick another spot, I'll eat something before we go. That way I won't be tempted to overeat.
Landmine: It's hard for me to pass up the drive-thru on the way home. I enjoy having something to snack on.
Solution: Before I pull out of the parking lot, I'll put my credit cards in the back seat, making it difficult to grab something easy. Plus, I'll stash a few healthy snacks in my car so I'll have food I know I like.
Now, it's your turn. Finish this sentence, "When I'm faced with temptation, I will…"
Step 3. Take willpower out of the picture.
Let me share a quick story with you: My friend's son was crushed by the lack of playing time he got during football season—almost to the point where he wanted to throw his hands up and quit. But instead, he turned his disappointment into action: His plan was to go to the gym three times a week, work out, and show them he deserved a spot on the field.
At the same time, he knew there was a big challenge in the way. The obstacle was his friends and playing video games. So my friend and his son came up with a strategy to take gaming out of the picture. They would set their home internet to pause between 4:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on workout days.
Now, here's what I love: They acted when their motivation was high and made a decision that knocked out future temptation. The strategy they used is what behavioral economists call "precommitment." The idea behind precommitment is to make a decision now that locks you into a choice.
And ultimately, what happens is: You remove temptation and make willpower a non-issue. You've already made the decision. My question to you is, "How can you use precommitment to take willpower out of your September resolutions?"
If you need to save money for retirement or a college fund, you could set up automatic paycheck deductions.
If you want to get to bed earlier and focus on sleep quality, you could set your internet to turn off at 9 p.m.
If you need a motivational boost to stick to your diet plan, you could find a friend or accountability coach who will help you stick to your commitment.
What decision can you make right now to lock yourself into your resolution?
Wrapping Things Up
There's no better time than September to make new resolutions. And now you know the steps to build an unbreakable plan:
Get to the heart of "why" your goal matters.
Plan what you'll do when things get tough.
Take willpower out of the picture by locking yourself into a future choice.
So what will you do today to make September the month that changes everything? In fact, send me your plan and I'll personally follow up with you in 30 days to see how you're doing. I read every email and want to hear from you.
Adam Gilbert is the founder of MyBodyTutor.com, an online program that offers daily and personal accountability like no other service in the world. Sign up for his free mini-course on weight loss, and follow Adam on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.