Healthy Living

Why 1-3 is the Ideal Number of New Year’s Resolutions

Popular career blogger Penelope Trunk says New Year’s resolutions are a path to failure. Statistically, she is right.

But the New Year just feels like the right time to set goals, doesn’t it? After a break from work and the daily flurry, we often come back reenergized and refocused on the big picture. We’re ready to hit the ground running!

So why not take advantage of that January momentum? With the right approach — including the right number of goals — we can prove that New Year’s resolutions are a fabulously strategic way to create the healthy lifestyle we want.

Here’s how to set ‘em right for 2015.

First, the Reason Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail


If you were really going to do something, Penelope says you would have already started it. It’s true that resolving to tackle a goal “in the New Year” can feed that “I’ll do it tomorrow” mentality. And “the New Year” pretty much means any time in the next 12 months. 😉

But if you’re procrastinating, it usually signals two deeper reasons that resolutions fail:

  1. Unrealistic goals
  2. Too many goals. We are perfectionists, and if we think we can’t succeed, we won’t even try.

There’s already a great post from Wes about unrealistic goals, so let’s jump right into reason #2: the problem of setting too many goals. The ideal number of goals you can actually achieve? It’s around 1-3.

Why Having 1-3 Goals Is Powerful

I know a consulting firm that helps corporations meet their sales quota by focusing on just a “Few Important Goals.” It cant be done, their clients always say. But in the end it works — and its the only thing that works. These companies go from ragged sales teams running in circles to focused top performers who achieve record-level sales. Every. Time.

The same concept applies to health goals and pretty much every other type of achievement. If you try to do it all at once, you will fail.

And you know what? You will have failed for nothing, because most things are not that important. It’s the 80/20 principle. On average, 80% of our gains come from just 20% of our actions. When we figure out the right 20% to focus on, we hit the jackpot. It’s a straight shot to success.

How to Choose Your “Few Important Goals”


This is a proven approach to goal-setting, yet paring down to just 1-3 goals is incredibly hard, right? We’re idealistic about what we can achieve, and maybe a bit greedy about what we want now. (But if you’ve read Diet Chaos you know why that greediness backfires.)

Last year I test-drove this approach and chose a single goal: exercise. I wanted to create a solid habit to work out five times a week. I bumped up against the challenge of wanting to “do it all” again and again, but reminded myself that it was the only way — either I could achieve this one big goal or nothing at all. Plus, it wasn’t saying “no” to the other goals but merely saving them to do next.

The result was that I accomplished the goal: a whole year of almost-daily physical activity, plus a discovery of new fitness passions that I’ll stick with for years, like rock climbing. I was only able to do this by focusing most of my energy on it (and letting my cookbooks gather dust).

Try dividing your health wishes for 2015 into three lists:

1.     Your Few Big Important Goals

2.     Your Small Easy Goals

3.     The Later List (stuff you’re saving to tackle next)

The small goals will be things like putting your gym bag in the car every morning. The big goals entail some major change in your approach to food, sleep, stress, exercise, etc. These big goals take absolute focus and commitment.

For your big goals, rather than asking “what’s most important”— which tends to produce the response “everything!” — ask yourself: If every other aspect remained at its current state, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact on my health?

I chose exercise last year because I felt that moving my body every day would have huge benefits. Beyond improving my physical and mental wellbeing, it altered my mood, confidence, sleep quality, social life and even my food choices.

After success with this approach, I’m excited to do it again this year with nutrition. Specifically, I’ll be learning to cook healthier, including new dishes that incorporate piles of veggies.

Zac and Kami Price's IdealShape for Life Challenge

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert

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