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New Year’s Resolutions: My 2015 Failures, Successes, and Four Key Lessons Learned

By Adam Brown

Twitter summary: Honestly grading my 2015 New Year’s Resolutions – what happened, why, and how that is informing my 2016 goals?

There is a magic to New Year’s Resolutions that I absolutely love – starting with a blank slate in January, defining areas for self-improvement, crafting specific goals that are motivating, and formulating a plan of attack to achieve them.

And resolutions are also tricky.

It’s rewarding to set an ambitious goal and complete it, but it’s equally easy to feel like a complete failure when efforts fall short.

I’ve written New Year’s Resolutions for the past three years, and my success has been all over the map. Some resolutions I’ve completed (do a 50-mile bike ride), some I haven’t come close (be able to do 25 pull-ups in a row), and some I’ve abandoned mid-year (get re-certified as a personal trainer).

But Resolutions are always a learning experience, and for the first time, I’m doing a detailed recap now that the year is complete – how did I do (letter grade), why did things turn out as they did, and what did I learn from each successful or failed Resolution. Writing this article has also informed my 2016 New Year’s Resolutions, which I’ve listed at the end of this piece.

If you wrote New Year’s Resolutions in 2015, I highly encourage going through a similar exercise. And if you are thinking about 2016 Resolutions, take a look at the lessons I learned last year – some might be useful! 

How I Did in 2015


My 2015 New Year’s Resolutions

Final Grade*

1. Wake up at 7 AM on workdays


2. Meditate for at least five minutes every day


3. Follow my ten eating commandments


4a. Cycle 4,000 miles in 2015
(80 miles per week)


4b. Complete a 200-mile bike ride



*I graded myself in late December, and then altered the grades after talking to people close to me.

What happened?

1. Though I felt like a zombie on many mornings this year, I did manage to wake up at 7 am on most workdays. I set the goal to wake up earlier very deliberately – I wanted enough time in the mornings to ease into the workday, exercise, meditate, read for pleasure, or do some uninterrupted writing. I’m not a morning person, so the earlier wake up time was ambitious for me, and I was definitely tired on many days this year. Once I was awake, however, I loved the extra time to ease into the day. My focus in 2016 is to go to sleep earlier, which will hopefully make mornings less painful.

Lesson #1: Valuable goals can have negative or unexpected side consequences; managing both is critical for long-term change.

2. Though I find meditation helpful, I found it difficult to integrate into my morning routine every day in 2015. I tried everything from pairing it with another task (e.g., while my water for tea boiled), to walking meditations on the way to work, to using apps like Buddhify and Calm. Nothing stuck. I think I fell short for a few reasons: felt too tired in the mornings; lack of a quiet, distraction-free space to meditate; five minutes may have been unambitiously short (“I’ll just do it later”); and aiming to do it every day was unrealistic. I do find meditation helpful for reducing stress and anxiety, but perhaps five minutes wasn’t enough of a positive gamechanger to sustain the behavior change. I’m going to experiment with a differently phrased meditation goal in 2016. Kelly says that for what it’s worth, she thinks five minutes a day is pretty ambitious – she sticks to two minutes a day herself! What do you think?

Lesson #2: A specific, achievable goal means nothing if it doesn’t fit into my routine, if the environment isn’t right, or if positive feedback is lacking to make the goal a priority.


3. I published my personal eating commandments early last year and stuck to them at most meals in 2015. I wrote that article not only as a tool for diaTribe readers, but as a personal and public reminder of what works for my diabetes. It definitely helped! The two commandments I want to work on in 2016 are eating more vegetables (#2) and not eating within 90 minutes of bedtime (#8).

Lesson #3: Define what success looks like and share it with others. A clear goal with public accountability worked well for me as an awesome combination last year.

4a. I cycled 3,468 miles in 2015, short of my goal of 4,000 for the year. In the process, I realized a mileage goal doesn’t motivate me. This sounded like an intimidating Resolution to start the year – a 25% increase over my 2014 goal of 3,000 miles – and breaking it down to 80 mile per week chunks certainly made it more manageable (two short rides during the week, one long ride on the weekend). Unfortunately, the more ambitious goal didn’t seem to be extra motivating: my 2015 mileage was nearly identical to my 2014 total, despite the bigger target. A slight injury, December rain, and travel certainly didn’t help my efforts, but my baseline motivation already existed to ride (I love it!), and the larger goal didn’t seem to boost my enthusiasm to get on the bike. Friends remind me that over 65 miles a week is pretty good progress, as my goal in 2013 was to do a single bike ride over 50 miles!

4b. Food poisoning sidetracked my 200-mile bike ride attempt, though in the process, I realized this level of “sufferfest” doesn’t appeal to me. After completing 100-mile and 200-kilometer rides in 2013 and 2014, I thought riding 200 miles in one ride was sufficiently ambitious in 2015. I paid for a ride (commitment device!), recruited a friend to do it with me (accountability), and even made a road trip out of it with friends (fun!). I unfortunately got food poisoning the night before the ride and only rode half the distance the next day. It was disappointing, but also a realization in disguise as I watched my friend finish in utter exhaustion – I don’t have a huge desire to spend 14 hours straight on the bike! I enjoy cycling, but 200 miles in one day takes the fun out of it!

Lesson #4: Just because a goal is ambitious or the next logical step doesn’t make it the right one. Is this something I truly care about doing?


My 2016 New Year’s Resolutions

1. Start getting ready for bed at 10:30 pm on weeknights, aiming for 7+ hours of sleep.

I averaged around 6.5 hours of sleep per night in 2015 (as measured by Fitbit), which isn’t enough. I really valued waking up earlier at 7 AM on workdays (a 2015 goal), but I need more sleep to make it sustainable. I’m hoping a firmer getting-ready-for-bed time will help. I already think it’s made a difference in my first week trying it. 

2. Meditate at least three days per week, recording my progress with the goal-tracking app Coach.me.

This goal is less ambitious than my 2015 goal (“meditate for five minutes every day”), but it corrects some key flaws:

  • I won’t feel compelled to meditate every day, and therefore won’t feel like a failure when I miss a day. At least three days per week is definitely doable.

  • I have not specified a length of meditation time this year. While five minutes per day felt achievable last year, it may have been too short to really experience meditation’s benefits. Plus, it often caused me to say, “I’ll do it later.”

  • I’m going to track my meditation this year using the goal-tracking app Coach.me – that way, I’ll actually create some small wins, build a sense of progress, and hopefully create a lasting habit.

3. Eat vegetables at every meal (three cups per day).

A recent report claimed only 4% (!) of Americans eat the recommended number of vegetables per day (2.5-3 cups for adults). I often fall one or two servings short on many days too. I like the simplicity of this goal, since I only have to ask one question at each meal, “Is there a vegetable here?” And if I miss a meal, the three-cups-per-day target makes it clear how much I need to add at a later meal (e.g., one extra cup).  

4. Eat a real lunch on workdays and nothing within 90 minutes of bedtime.

I developed two bad habits in 2015: (i) skipping lunch and only snacking on nuts during the day; and (ii) eating dinner too late. Eating a real lunch will help with my vegetable goal (above) and make me less likely to overeat or snack at night. Consuming less food before bed should also improve my overnight blood sugars – I definitely see my best nighttime numbers when I eat several hours before bed and don’t snack.

5. Stretch and foam roll daily to recover from a nagging injury, tracking my progress in Coach.me.

I’ve had a nagging injury for the past year – posterior tibial tendinitis, an overuse injury affecting the foot, ankle, and calf – but have never put in the proper effort to let it heal. I had hoped that getting custom orthotics would be the cure, but now that I have them, it’s clear I need to stretch and roll (with a foam or lacrosse ball) too. These are long-term investments that are a hassle in the short-term, but I need to recover to prevent long-term damage! 

What do you think about New Year’s Resolutions? Do you find them useful or just frustrating? What are you hoping to achieve in 2016? Please share by email or on Twitter – I would love to know!