January 17, 2023
Every January, many of us make a New Year resolution to become fitter and healthier than we were the year before.
You know most people fail, but do you know how bad it really is? The current estimate is that only 9% of us achieve our New Year Resolution. Many give up within the first few weeks of January and by June, more than 50% have stopped.
I can relate. I spent most of my 30’s overweight and out of shape. Making the same doomed-to-fail resolution every January. Until last year. 2022. The year I was turning 40. It had to be different.
Instead of blindly setting a goal and hoping for the best, I decided to be more intentional about it. If I was any chance of achieving my fitness goals, I needed the whole process done in a way that gave me the best chance of success. I wanted to be part of the 9%.
At work, we use OKRs for individual and company targets. This system of goal setting, and prioritising, works. So I decided to take the same approach with my 2022 fitness goals.
The short version is that by October 27, 2022, I achieved my New Years Resolution by following the OKR system. Building better habits along the way.
The longer version (and the more important one) is how it was done. How using an OKR framework may give you the best chance of achieving what most people only dream of. You’ll learn that willpower is overrated. And that action builds momentum.
More importantly, as your new habits form, the process becomes enjoyable. Exercise stops feeling like a "chore". The journey becomes more exciting than the destination, setting you up to achieve much more than a New Year Resolution.
This is how you become part of the 9%.
OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. They are a goal-setting framework used by high-performing companies around the world. Companies like Google credit much of their success to OKR’s. Don’t let that put you off - the process works at any level, including for Individuals looking to get healthier.
An Objective is just a high-level declaration of what you want to achieve. This doesn’t need to be measurable. It’s a statement of what you want. Of your main goal. For me in 2022, it was “I want to enter my 40’s fitter than I’ve lived my 30’s”.
Key Results (KR’s) support your Objective. 2-3 KR’s work well. Never more than 3 or you’ll lose focus. Less is more.
KR’s are measurable and timed. The best way to think of KR’s is that if you hit them, you would have achieved your objective. Stretch KR’s as much as possible and adjust them if they start to feel too easy.
Here’s what my OKR looked like when I wrote it in January 2022.
(Side note - I turned 40 at the end of October, so I gave myself 10 months instead of 12)
But… setting a long-term goal, with no process to manage in the short-term, is a recipe for disaster. Annual (or longer term) goals are daunting and too far in the future to be motivating alone. This is where OKRs hit different. OKRs are designed to keep you accountable in the short term, while setting you up for success over the long term.
It’s called cascading. Working backwards from a longer term goal and “cascading” it down in to shorter timeframes. Drilling them down to weekly, monthly, or quarterly structures.
We’ll come back to cascading shortly. First, we need to step back and be clear on why we’re doing all this.
There are many reasons people fail at their fitness goals, but this may be the biggest. The absence of a genuine reason for why they want to get fit. And I don’t mean arbitrary reasons like “because I want to look good”. Everyone wants to look good. You need to go deeper than that.
It needs to be personal.
You need a reason that will withstand the toughest possible test - Failure. A reason that will give an extra hit of motivation when you can’t be bothered. Because those moments will come, and how you deal with them matters.
For me, my why was straight forward - I want my wife and daughters to be proud of the Grandfather I become.
That may be 20+ years in to the future, but it doesn’t matter. That sentence is the single biggest motivator in my life right now. It’s the foundation of all my future planning.
With 2 young girls, it’s easy to see grand children in my future. I want to be fit and strong enough to to play with those grand kids. Lift them. Carry them. Swing them. And to do that, I need to minimise the natural decline in muscle loss as the body ages. I need to get strong before it’s too late. (Credit to Peter Attia for influencing this thinking)
It’s this kind of deeply personal why that gets you over the humps when you can’t be bothered. When I stray off course, I think of my girls. I think of my future Grandkids. I don’t want to let them down.
As cheesy as it sounds, it works. Try it. Take the time to find your why and focus on it until it sticks.
We know that most people give up on their resolutions early in the year. Many within the first month or two. So how do OKR’s fix this? Earlier, I talked about cascading. Here’s what I mean:
Once we set up an OKR for the year, we cascade it down in to shorter time frames.
We look at the quarter ahead and ask - “What needs to happen in the next 3 months to keep us on track for our 12-month KRs”. The annual Key Results, drive the Quarterly OKRs.
Using my fitness example, here’s what Q2, 2022 looked like -
Q2, 2022 Objective (April to June): Continue losing weight, without sacrificing strength (ie. weight-loss should come from fat loss)
If those 3 Key Results are achieved, I would be on track for the yearly OKR.
The final step in the process is to check-in. Regularly. I put 30-minutes aside every Friday - but it doesn’t need to take 30 mins or be as frequent as weekly. As long as it’s frequent enough so you can course-correct.
The review should answer one question: “Did my actions last week move me closer to my Quarterly Objective”. If yes - continue what you’re doing and be patient. If no - adjust your actions in the next week to re-align with your OKRs.
It’s this Review and Adjust process that keeps your short-term goals in constant focus. You’re always looking at them.
This is the difference between those failed NY Resolution attempts. Short term accountability, cascading from a longer term objective, is how we maintain focus on, and control over, our goals.
October 27, 2022, 9:15am was when I hit my goal and dead-hung for 67 seconds. I probably could have held for longer, but I think the weight of my smile became too heavy.
And not just because I “achieved the goals”. Because being more intentional and sticking to a system, worked.
There’s no denying how good it feels to hit a long term fitness goal. But there’s a more important take-away - you’ve changed. The journey (process) has become more exciting than the destination (goal).
Once the dust settles and you reflect on it all, you start to see the bigger picture:
Your identity changes. You’re fitter. You’re healthier. You look and feel stronger than you did before. People recognise it, but more important than a short-lived ego boost from some attention - the person you wanted to become is no longer a dream. It's real.
James Clear talks about this idea a lot in his book Atomic Habits. One of his rules for forming better habits is to define your desired identity. Be clear about the person you want to be, then ask yourself “do my actions align with my desired identity”. When they do, all you need is time.
You realise willpower doesn’t work. It’s not willpower that gets you to your goals. It’s your systems and your rules. Instead of relying on willpower to stop you eating left over Christmas chocolate, get rid of it. You can't eat it if it's not there.
Action creates momentum and momentum creates results. Not willpower.
Embrace the Journey, not the Destination. Which is ultimately the most important lesson from all of this. When it comes to setting New Year’s Resolutions, using OKR’s is the best way I’ve found to achieve goals. But the goal is not the end point. It’s a sign-post on a longer journey.
Use and refine your OKRs to continue on the journey and embrace your new identity as one of the 9%.
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