The Surprising 3-Step Plan for Using December to Crush Your New Year’s Goals

For as long as I’ve been an adult, New Year’s has been my favorite holiday, and December my favorite month.

The two are related, of course, and this post is about the best way I’ve come up with to use them together—to create real, lasting change (even when you’ve failed many times in the past).

I’m a total sucker for the inspiration a New Year brings. But it’s not that I believe in some magical wiping clean of the slate and a chance to “start fresh” with a new resolution. We all know that’s a joke, and usually no more than a reason to delay making a change you’re scared to make.

But the silly New Year’s resolution tradition has ingrained one useful habit in me, which is to take a step back at the end of the year to assess how it went, and to take note of where I am relative to where I’d like to be.

And then, if there’s a gap, to set about on a course to close it.

So let’s not talk about New Year’s resolutions, but rather of new habits, habits designed to move you in the direction of goals that matter to you.

And from there—with the help of the legitimate, now well-charted science of habit change—we can actually say something logical about how best to use December as a springboard into your best year ever.


3 Simple Forces that Make All the Difference

Really, just three:

  1. Small steps. For almost everyone, they work better than dramatic, overnight change. The idea of change being easy once some imaginary internal switch flips is (mostly) a Hollywood myth, not how people really make changes that last.
  2. Impatience. The problem with small steps is they take time; they don’t bring visible results right away. Nobody wants to wait six months or a year for their change curve to hit the exciting, exponential part where the results all start to show up, seemingly once. So instead, most of us try to change too fast, and we fail.
  3. The start (or quit) date. Smokers know that cessation programs often suggest setting a “quit date”: a specific day in the future when you’ll make your move. It’s tempting to write this off as another procrastination, but it’s more than that. Setting a date (for any change, not just smoking) creates a sense of importance, even anticipation. So that once that day comes, you’re not as likely to cave to urges and cravings as you would be if you tried to change your habit today.

And with all the machinery in place, here’s the best way to make a change this time of year (hint: it involves December 1st, which comes later this week).

Step 1: Decide on your big, exciting (maybe even massive!) habit change, set to begin January 1st.

Maybe that’s the day your marathon training starts. Perhaps that’s your cheese quit date. Or maybe it’s when you start hitting the gym three times a week, and running on the off-days.

This is one time when it’s okay to go big here; we’ll worry about small steps in a minute.

Mark it on your calendar. Congratulations, you’ve got a start (or quit) date! It’s important not to let yourself begin (or quit) until then, to build the anticipation and sense of importance.

For bonus points, do all the other things that help you follow through: creating accountability by involving other people is the most important, probably.

Step 2: Make December your small steps month.

Just because we set our sights on a massive change, doesn’t mean we’re ignoring small steps. In fact, that’s why we desperately need them! And that’s why we’ve got December.

So December is for small steps. If you had a month to prepare for your January 1st change (hint: you do!), what would you do?

It shouldn’t be massive. It shouldn’t all at once. Instead, make it a gradual ramp-up, one that preserves your willpower by making it easy to succeed.

If your marathon schedule starts on January 1st, then December might be a great month to run every day. Maybe just a mile per day the first week, or another amount you can handle pretty easily (or 2.018 miles if you’re Doug). Then add a little more the next week, and a little more the next… whatever it takes to be in shape to start training for real in January.

Same story if it’s the gym. If you wait until January 1st and then go at it like a crazy person, the soreness and schedule disruption will be your downfall. But how about if you get that soreness over with in the first week of December, with just one or two light workouts? Then add some more volume and weight over the next few weeks, still not quite reaching the amount you’re saving for January 1.

Or if you’re looking to go vegan on January 1, come up with a plan to gradually transition from wherever you are. Could be a “vegan before 6” sort of thing, or maybe it’s vegan at home, or maybe just on weekdays. The in-between time will help you learn to plan meals, shop, order at restaurants, and navigate parties and social situations. And then, come January 1 when you go all the way, you’ll be in a position to make the real thing last.

Step 3: Start on December 1.

See what we did there? A mini start date, even for your small steps month! Because you’re a whole lot more likely to follow through with it, I believe, than if you were to decide to start right now—it wouldn’t mean anything.

But mark your calendar today, with the smallest possible first step, and you’ll have created something real, with your best shot ever at making this change last.

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3 Meditation Hacks for People Who Can’t Meditate

meditation

What if I told you that in just 10 to 20 minutes per day, you could improve immune function and memory, increase focus, and even physically change the structure of the brain?

You’d think I was crazy.

But these are just a few of the proven benefits of an ancient practice that is experiencing a major resurgence.

Meditation is no longer reserved for monks and yogis, with everyone from Oprah to Arianna Huffington is raving about the benefits. Even I, a guy who not that many years ago considered microwaved tortillas with cheese and pepperoni dinner, now count myself among the throngs of modern-day meditators.

Meditation has officially gone mainstream, and although mindfulness meditation has become particularly buzzworthy, this simple practice appears to live up to the hype.

There’s just one problem. Many people give meditation a try and find the experience uneventful at best and terrifying, frustrating or anxiety-producing at worst.

I was no different … allow me to explain:

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3 Valuable Lessons Learned from 4 Years with No Meat Athlete

3-LESSONS2

Criss-cross applesauce everyone, it’s story time!

It’s the summer of 2010, and I’m a new vegetarian training for my second marathon. Obsessed with protein and iron levels, I stumble upon a (then) small oasis in a sea of meat-eaters … a blog called No Meat Athlete.

Fast forward a few months and I’m walking through my first DC VegFest. After being physically pushed by my girlfriend (now wife), I awkwardly approach a guy in a running carrot shirt and ask if he’s Matt Frazier. Here, picture this:

Me: “Umm, hello. Are you, uhh, Matt Frazier?”

Matt: “Yeah!”

Me: “The Matt Frazier?!”

Erin (Matt’s wife): *eye-roll*

Matt’s confirmation and the conversation that follows is as awkward as my approach, making it clear he’s not quite used to the fanfare he’s known to receive today (picture Justin Beiber level attention, and divide that by roughly 1,000,000).

But it’s that clumsy encounter that leads me to help organize the first No Meat Athlete Marathon Training Group in 2011, and ultimately alter the direction my life takes. Since 2011, I’ve played varying roles in this company, growing right along with the brand.

I’ve learned a lot in those four years. Practical information like:

  • How to use Photoshop and edit a podcast,
  • The difference between vegan and plant-based,
  • Why I should never use phrases like “the meat of the story is…” in an email newsletter,
  • And that Matt is only human like the rest of us.

But beyond that, my work with No Meat Athlete and the people I’ve gotten to know through it, have taught me a lot about healthy living, acceptance, community, and fear.

Allow me to explain …

What I’ve Learned from No Meat Athlete

Over the past several years, I’ve worn many hats in this company. Hats that have required me to spend time in the NMA email inbox each morning, interact with readers and listeners of the podcast throughout the day, and assist in interviewing some of the biggest names in health and fitness. I’m not going to lie, it has been a lot of fun.

And starting this week I’ll have the privilege of writing more frequently on this blog, and working directly with readers to shape the content — but more on that later.

As I transition into a new role at No Meat Athlete, I find myself reflecting back on my time here, and focusing in on three major lessons which I’d like to share with you today.

Let’s start with the first:

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No Willpower, No Problem! 9 Ideas to Help You Beat Food Cravings

There’s no sadder form of failure, to me, than giving into food cravings.

Imagine you want to change your diet. Deep down, this feels right for you, right now.

You do your research, and decide that it’s not only healthy, but ideal, to eat this way.

You do the work to get your spouse on board. They’re a little hesitant, but supportive. Up for giving it a try, for you.

All the pieces are in place, and so you begin.

It all goes perfectly, until one day you hit a snag: you get out of work late, your car breaks down, you have an argument with a friend.

And visions of cheeseburgers start dancing in your head.

You’re not going to eat it, are you?

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Why I Pushed ‘Too Far’ (and Will Never Regret It)

No U-Turn traffic sign in Bangkok, Thailand

This post is written by Doug Hay of Rock Creek Runner.

Have you ever had one of those conversations that just sticks with you? Where someone makes a comment you can’t let go?

It happened to me last summer, the day after I ran a 50-mile ultramarathon. I was sitting in my 93-year-old grandmother’s house telling her about the race, and I’ll never forget her reaction.

It wasn’t one of joy or amazement.

It was sadness.

Not sadness about the race itself — I’m sure she was proud of my accomplishment — but sadness about what I was doing.

She looked right at me and said, “I’m just so worried you’re taking it too far and will regret this one day.”

That’s not something you want to hear from your grandmother after a big race. Especially when it was only a training race for the main event: a 100-miler just a month later.

But that’s the way most people look at ultrarunning, or endurance running in general. They respond to your long run miles with:

“Aren’t you taking this a little too far?”

“You know that’s bad for you, right?”

“What’s wrong with you, man?”

Beware the Status Quo

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7 Warning Signs Your Vegan Diet Won’t Last

You’re trying hard … but it’s getting harder.

Something compelled you to adopt a vegan diet — your health, the animals, the environment — and you dove in enthusiastically, sure that it would always feel this easy.

“This is the new me!” you thought to yourself, as you pictured health, energy, compassion, and a sense of oneness with the earth.

And for the first few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, it was interesting and new and fun.

But the novelty wore off — maybe it was a family gathering or an awkward conversation with friends — and now you’re wondering …

Is this really for me?

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The Secret to Fulfillment: Untangle Your Happiness from Your Results

By now you know I’m a big advocate of setting crazy, unreasonable goals.

Big goals are how you generate the energy and excitement to actually make things happen. And for this reason, I believe you’re way more likely to achieve the “unrealistic” goal (that inspires you to no end) than you are the one that’s more modest (and therefore, not that exciting).

But a lot of people get stressed out when I talk this way.

Unrealistic? That means I’ll be chasing this goal that I might never get. And even if I do one day make it happen, it’s going to take a really long time and a whole lot of work.

I’m not mocking. Even those who have created massive change in their lives, people I really respect, sometimes question whether goals are a good idea at all.

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Want to Go Vegan? A 30-Day Plan to Make the Transition (and Make It Last)

Young Woman Buying Vegetables at Grocery

Of all the changes I’ve made in my life over the past six years, none has had such a profoundly positive effect as the choice to become vegan.

This diet and lifestyle have changed me from the outside in: I expected the health benefits and to feel a boost in energy, and I got them. But I had no idea how the choice to put different foods into my body would improve my mindset, deepen my sense of compassion, and increase my willingness to take risks and march to the beat of my own drum. And if you’re vegan or even vegetarian, I bet you’ve experienced the same.

And if you’re not yet vegan? The very fact that you read a blog like this one makes it likely that you at least know where I’m coming from. Maybe you’d even like to become vegan, but have never quite been able to make it work.

In that case, let’s talk about what it takes to make the change — and just as importantly, to make it last.

The short version: I’m hosting a free live webinar this Wednesday night, August 19th, at 8pm EDT to answer that question in detail. In it, I’ll lay out a plan for you to make the transition to a vegan diet in the smartest way possible over the course of 30 days, and answer the most common questions about making it work. If you’re interested in going vegan, I hope you can make it.

So here are the three things I believe give you the biggest chance of succeeding in this diet change (assuming you’ve got your own compelling reasons for wanting to do so):

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