How I actually kept my new years resolution
I have always been excellent at setting goals, targets and intentions. Each new year, season, month, or week is an excellent opportunity to reset and to create new goals. It’s sticking to the goals that I’ve generally struggled with. No matter if it is a resolution to get fit, eat better, sleep more or business goals like staying on top of my invoicing and updating my social media life and work always just seems to get in the way.
But in 2016, I made and finally stuck to a New Year Resolution and it wasn’t that cop out to simply live life to the fullest. After an enjoyable hike through the rainforest in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland on January 1, I told myself I would continue to hike by going up Mount Coot-tha every Sunday. And I did.
The two kinds of goals
The way I see it, there are two kinds of goals or resolutions. There are the big goals, the ones you aim to do once and be done with it, and the ongoing goals that require you to stick to something and repeat it for a time.
The lofty goals are generally big things that you have to work up to. They should involve training, preparation or a little bit of work over time until you can achieve them. Of course, that’s not always necessary… I’ve run (well mostly run) 10kms with very little training. It hurt... a lot. But you can generally push yourself to achieve these one off goals without too much discipline.
My Mount Coot-tha Challenge was the other type of goal - something that you have to repeat over and over again. Like those get fit, eat well, lose weight kind of goals, this is something a target that should be doable - day after day, week after week.
Make it achievable
Doing Mount Coot-tha every Sunday sounds very impressive but it’s actually not that hard to do. Before the year began I had already done it a bunch of times. The walking track is one of the most popular in Brisbane and is completed by a huge range of people with various levels of preparation. It makes for pretty good people watching. There are those super fit, slightly inhumane people who run up not just down the mountain; the parents with toddlers or carrying babies; people training for bigger hikes kitted out with boots, packs, and those weird poles; so many tourists and dog walkers; and my friend Dominika’s seventy-something dad who not only walks along at a cracking pace but uses a couple of rocks to pump his biceps as he goes. 🙌
My point is, actually going up the mountain isn’t impossible. It was enough of a challenge for me to be out of breath and feel that I had done a good workout, but it was something that I could do. The real challenge of this goal wasn’t making it up the mountain, it was having the discipline to do it every Sunday. (And to pick myself up and keep going on Easter Sunday when I tripped and developed stigmata 😉 )
Pick something that you actually want to do
This is where I have fallen over a lot in the past. It sounds obvious that you should set a goal that you actually want to achieve - but it is easy to get caught up in the new year, new you hype and make a bunch of resolutions that deep down you’re not that interested in. There’s no point setting a goal to cook a new recipe every week if you despise cooking. Nor should you commit to a goal if you don’t really care about the outcome.
As I was walking along through the rainforest on January 1, 2016 I remembered just how much I enjoyed hiking through the bush. I also realised it was one of those activities that I just don’t do often enough. Then I remembered I had a mountain with a pretty enough walking track just a short drive from my home. And I hoped that doing it regularly would make me lose a bit of weight and get fitter. So I set my goal, and then on Sunday January 3 I talk the first step towards achieving my goal.
Set some rules. And then some fine print.
If you’re going for a recurring goal, it’s helpful to set some rules. Your goal should be specific enough that it states what you have to do and when. You need to know exactly what you have to do to achieve your goal. But it also helps to be a bit vague. This gives you the flexibility to actually make your goal achievable. For me, I had to “do Mt Coot-tha every Sunday I was in Brisbane”.
The “do” part I kept deliberately vague. It meant I had to park in the JC Slaughter Falls car park and make my way up the mountain to the look out and then back to my car. Over the year “doing Mt Coot-tha” looked a little different. There were a few Sundays that meant running part of the way up, and a lot more Sundays where I ran back down. There were also a few Sundays that my pace was a lot more like an amble as I battled with the heat or a hangover. On one particularly hot and steamy Sunday, simply surviving the walk up the track seemed like a massive achievement. I got to the top, bought a bottle of water to gulp down and tried not to get embarrassed when the chick behind the counter assumed I was in such a state because I had been trail running, not just struggling to put one foot in front of the other.
The timing of my hikes were deliberately specific and vague. The fact I had to visit the mountain on Sunday was set in stone. I knew from experience that if I didn’t lock in a day and just made it a once a week thing, it simply would fall off the radar. Restricting myself to Sundays meant I had the daylight hours of one day to get it done.
What I kept vague was the actual time of the day I would do the walk. Usually I would wake up and go straight away. Earlier is definitely better, particularly when Brisbane’s heat, humidity and those crazy afternoon storms come into play. But I deliberately left myself the flexibility to fit in my walk around life and the occasional big Saturday night.
A problem people commonly experience with ongoing goals is that once you fail once or break a streak, you abandon the goal as a failure. This is particularly common with diets, where you eat something bad and then figure you may as well binge eat a bunch of crap because your diet is destroyed anyway. To counter this, I added the clause that I had to do Mount Coot-tha every Sunday - that I was in Brisbane. I didn’t travel a lot in 2016 but there were a couple of weekends out of town. Obviously being out of town made it a little hard to get hike up a specific mountain. So I added this rule to stop me from failing out of circumstance.
All up, I missed three Sundays all year. The first Sunday I missed I was staying with a friend on the Sunshine Coast. Instead of my usual Mt Coot-tha hike, we climbed Mount Coolum instead. (And just quietly, Mt Coot-tha is a lot easier than Coolum). The second Sunday I missed, I was in Bundaberg helping my mate become elected Mayor. I half intended to hike up the Hummock, which is pretty much the only high ground in Bundaberg, instead. But when celebrations took precedence, I didn’t beat myself up about it. And the next Sunday I made it up the mountain again.
The final Sunday I missed, I was in bed with bronchitis. I didn’t add a sickness or injury clause when I set my goal - because I didn’t want to give myself an easy out. In 2016 I walked up the mountain nursing a dodgy hip, sore calves, and a couple of hangovers. On those Sundays I would listen to my body and take it easy. That one Sunday I had bronchitis my body was saying, hell no. So I did the sensible thing and went back to bed to sleep it off.
While it is easy for me to focus on the Sundays I missed, the Sundays I’m most proud of are the ones that I had to make the extra effort to get it done. I refused to let the weather stop me, so I meandered slowly in the heat, got used to walking in the rain (which is actually really lovely), and went a little later in the day on the colder winter days. And sometimes getting it done meant a little bit of juggling. There was a weekend away where I squeezed in a hike just before dark after driving back from Toowoomba. There were several Sundays where it became a race to get up and down as quickly as possible to get to an event. And when the final Sunday of the year fell on Christmas Day, I got up before 6am to achieve my goal before returning home to host breakfast.
Over the year, I did make it up the mountain 52 times. I may have missed those three Sundays, but I also added a few extra hikes for the sheer pleasure of hitting the track.
Tell people about it. Let them keep you accountable
If setting some rules aren’t enough to keep you to account, telling people about your goal might. I didn’t make a big song and dance about it, but I did record my progress most Sundays with a photo on Instagram. This wasn’t something I did every Sunday… but I did it enough that it people noticed.
It became something that came up in conversation when I caught up with acquaintances. And when I hadn’t posted a photo for a few weeks (the view doesn’t change that much from the lookout) a few people questioned whether I had kept it up. This kept me accountable. Like most people, I hate admitting I have failed or slacked off - so all these little conversations helped to keep me on the right path.
Possibly the coolest thing to happen was the number of friends who also started tackling the mountain. I had a few people join me for my Sunday walks. But this wasn’t something I really encouraged. To complete my goal I knew it was important to have the flexibility to just go and get it done. I also quite like hiking on my own. But a bunch of people did join me over the year. And I started to see a few more walking up the mountain regularly. I’m not sure I can really take credit for inspiring them, but I’m going to anyway.
Mix it up.
Setting some rules and using others to keep you accountable will only go so far across the year. Walking the same track 52 times does get a little boring.
I won’t lie. There were days when I would be silently cursing the slow walking tourists and the bloody dog walkers who leave bags of dog poo along the track. (Seriously people, the idea is to bag it and take it with you, not litter the trail with plastic bags of poo). The JC Slaughter Falls track and the view from the lookout doesn’t impress me now, and it certainly doesn’t inspire the same sense of wonder I get while walking through a rainforest.
To combat boredom, I started to mix things up a little. If I wanted a challenge I would walk up the mountain and then down the super steep track on the other side. I also started to walk a couple of side trails to just do something different and get away from the crowds. Other days, I’d just embrace the people watching and enjoy the snatches of conversation I’d overhear as I ran past.
Just do it.
This is the big secret to achieving your goals. You simply have to get out of bed and do the work. Don’t wait for the perfect day to get started. As our friends at Nike say, just do it.
For me, Mt Coot-tha on Sundays just became a thing I do. Like brushing my teeth or a morning coffee, it became part of my routine. And that’s the real secret to sticking to a resolution. Make it something you just do.