#30before30,  health,  New Year

#30before30: Making better New Year’s resolutions (aka, the Kaizen approach)

Happy New Year's 2019! Here are some #30before30 thoughts on making resolutions.Happy New Year everyone! I can’t believe it’s already 2019; it seems like 2018 flew by way too fast. With the New Year in mind, I thought this week for my #30before30 post I’d dip into the topic of New Year’s resolutions—what hasn’t worked for me in the past, and how I plan to get it right this year.

On New Year’s Eve I posted an excerpt on Instagram from one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman. The excerpt (from his book Trigger Warning, which I highly recommend) talks about the “little triggers” that catch you off guard. It seems like a fitting thought for the season, because although New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be forward-looking goals, for many of us, they’re rooted in a backwards glance. Whether you’re looking back with regret on the past year, or making resolutions based on all the ways you think you’re currently failing, it seems like the dawn of a new year is a ripe time for regrets as much as resolutions.

If I’ve learned something in my twenties, and especially in 2018, it’s that the past is never really dead.

Even when you think you’ve moved past something or have made progress on a goal, there will always be little triggers waiting to throw you into a spiral of self-doubt. I know now that you can’t totally avoid those things, but you can learn healthier ways to deal with them. Making peace with what has been is the first step in enjoying what has yet to be, which is why it’s at the top of my list of resolutions for 2019.

I would like to tell my younger self in 2009 that she’s about to enter a decade of incredible change and adventure, and there’s no sense wasting time looking back with regret for things that didn’t work out. I do think it’s a wonderful thing to look back at the end of each year; New Year’s is a wonderful time for reflection, both to count your blessings, to see how far you’ve come, and to realign for your new or revised goals. But don’t let that reflection prevent you from moving forward. After all, you have 365 brand new opportunities in front of you!

The other side of that coin is that in my early twenties, I set impossible New Year’s resolutions for myself every year.

Because they were unattainable, I quickly threw in the towel, then hated myself for it. Change is hard, and if you want it to stick, you need to make changes that you can realistically continue in the long term. (In other words: no crash diets, or swearing to exercise an hour every day, or some other extreme goal.) If you’re starting from scratch, you need to be easy on yourself. Set a micro-goal, then another, then another.

It’s only in the past year that I ran across the concept of micro-shifting, or the Kaizen approach. The idea is that instead of trying to immediately achieve huge goals, you shift 1% at a time. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it slowly and steadily compounds until you reach your larger goal. And because the shifts are so small, they’re easier to maintain over a longer period of time.

A lot of people have taken this approach and applied it to the time you have in a day, since one of the biggest obstacles to so many of our resolutions is “I don’t have enough time!” One percent of your day is roughly fifteen minutes—hardly anything, really. I mean, let’s be honest, I can lose fifteen minutes scrolling through Instagram without batting an eye!

The idea is to take that one percent of your day—fifteen minutes—and put it toward the goal you’re trying to achieve. And over time, keep microshifting until you hit your goal. Whether you’re trying to get up earlier in the morning, squeeze in a workout, or learn a new hobby, fifteen minutes a day is a pretty easy way to start. And at the end of the year? You’ll be looking back at 5,475 minutes, or over 91 hours, invested into your change.

Micro=shifting has changed the way I think about New Year’s resolutions.

I need flexibility for a shortage of time and a constantly changing schedule, or else I’ll never create a new habit. But fifteen minutes? I can do that. Some of my resolutions for 2019 are to exercise daily, to write every day (even if it’s just a few sentences), to read every day, to eat healthier, and to save more money. 2009 me would have set resolutions that read something like “work out for half an hour every day”, “write a full page”, etc.

But 2019 me is micro-shifting. I can crank out fifteen minutes worth of squats and crunches while I wait for the coffee to brew in the AM, read for fifteen minutes on my lunch break, and squeeze in the other items somewhere in the evening. All four goals, check and check, and still time for Netflix after dinner!

You can apply the 1% principle to any of your New Year’s resolutions. It could be your goal this year is to finally get the house clean and organized and keep it that way, dammit! Maybe you want to start working out or meditating. Or perhaps you want to learn a skill or put a little “me time” into a passion project.

Micro-shifting doesn’t just apply to time, either!

You can apply the 1% principle to finances (saving 1% of your cash, then another 1% of that, and another, and another…) You can apply it to healthy eating, slowly swapping out 1% at a time of unhealthy calories for healthy ones (or cutting back, if that’s what you need to do). Maybe you commit to reading 1% of a novel that’s so long it’s frightening, meaning it’s currently gathering dust on the shelf while you’re glued to your phone. Whatever it is, micro-shifting lets you work toward a larger goal without feeling daunting.

I’m excited to see how all my micro-shifts bear fruit over the coming year. I have a feeling they’re going to gain momentum fast, so I’ll post updates every few months to let you know how I’m doing!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I personally love the New Year because I think it’s such a great “reset” button for life. In that spirit, I have posts rolling out all month focused on how to apply micro-shifting to some common New Year’s resolutions involving fitness, finance, getting organized, and more. So stick around, because I’m excited to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned this past year!

Fireworks image credit: Roven Images


  • Erin

    Micro-shifting sounds like a really good way to make changes, and I am looking for ward to your posts and updates!

    I have started using an app called Calm which teaches meditation in 10 – 12 min daily segments. It’s been really useful to me so far, and a lot more accessible than committing to a 1 hour class somewhere!

    • Martha

      I will have to check that out! I would love to start meditating every evening, I feel like it would really help calm my mind before sleep.

      I’ve been so busy since I wrote this post that I haven’t had a chance to write any updates on the micro-shifting, Ii need to sit down and pull some of my thoughts together!

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