Experiment: One Month of New Year’s Resolutions

by | Dec 3, 2015 | Productivity Experiments


For the month of December, I have designed a massive productivity experiment to do a deep dive into everyone’s favorite (or in some cases, least favorite) topic this time of year: New Year’s Resolutions.

Regardless of whether or not you make them, you’ve got to admit it’s pretty great how motivated people are this time of the year to make changes to their life. When we’re in the trenches throughout the year—immersed in our work and home lives—we rarely step back to think about what we want to do differently, or what habits we want to change. That is what’s so great about this time of year: it gives us the perspective to see what we want to change, and the space to make intentions to get there.

And yet, when we snap back to reality a couple weeks later, we often settle back into the same habits, rituals, and routines we had before. It’s not a massive surprise that 92% of people fail at the resolutions they make. Despite our best intentions, New Year’s resolutions rarely stick. This is what pushed me to publish a free ebook a couple years back on how you can keep your resolutions, and that’s what motivated me to design this productivity experiment.


My intention with this experiment is simple: make as many common New Year’s resolutions as I can to explore three elements that are fundamental to becoming more productive: willpower, habit formation, and most important, bridging the gap between what you intend to accomplish, and what you actually accomplish:

  • Each day you have a limited reserve of willpower—and once it’s gone, it’s gone. This is why, if you expend too much of it throughout the day—like by waking up early, then forcing yourself to the gym, then resisting other temptations during the day—you may find yourself exhausted and ordering a pizza in the evening. Willpower is fascinating concept, and one I haven’t experimented with enough for this site.
  • Habit formation. Almost every New Year’s resolution is also a habit yet to be formed. I write about habits quite a lot on here, and can’t wait to use this experiment to explore them even deeper.
  • The intention gap. We may accomplish most of what we set out to, particularly if we invest in our productivity, but only a computer accomplishes everything it sets out to. This intention gap is why productivity websites like this one exist—because while intentions are great in theory, they sometimes feel impossible to turn into a reality, like when we have to wade through a sea of challenges, such as bouts of procrastination, low willpower, and temptation. I’ve thought about intention a lot over the last couple of years—I’m convinced it lies at the heart of productivity—and am especially excited to research it over the course of the month, and share what I find.

Like many (most?) of my other productivity experiments, this one is not exactly scientific. But that’s kind of the point: whenever I push on my limits, regardless of how subjective the experiment, I invariably walk away with countless lessons about how to accomplish more every day.

Here are the resolutions I’m going to do my best to make over the month of December. I’ve done my best to pick some that are among the most popular resolutions out there:

  1. Eat zero processed food. Most of what I eat these days is unprocessed, but for the month of December I’m aiming to not eat anything that’s been pulled apart or put together by a machine. I already eat pretty healthily, so my goal is to maintain a perfect diet to stretch my willpower and patience even thinner. This resolution includes not ordering any takeout—one of my biggest weaknesses. Future-Chris is going to hate me.
  2. Lose weight. This plays into the first goal. My goal is to lose 10 pounds over the course of the month. (Generally speaking, the best way to lose weight is to eat well, the best way to gain muscle is to exercise, and cardio workouts are best at improving your mental energy and productivity.)
  3. Save more money. For the month of December, I’m going to be tracking everything I save and spend—while comparing that with previous months. This is tall order in the month of December, which for me is full of money sinks like Christmas, New Year’s, and traveling to see family, but my goal is to spend less in every single life category except gifts—groceries, entertainment, and tea/coffee included.
  4. Spend way less time on social media. I’ll be using RescueTime to track my social media usage, while comparing that to previous weeks and months. Social media is like junk food for your brain—and my brain finds it especially tasty. My aim is to cut my social media usage by at least half.
  5. Don’t complain. For the entire month of December, my goal is not to complain once. (I’ve asked my friends and family to expect this.)
  6. Learn something new and exciting. I’ve always wanted to learn how to juggle, ever since becoming really into magic tricks as a kid. (Don’t ask.) A lot of people make a New Year’s resolution to learn something new and exciting, and juggling will be my thing. Presuming all goes well, expect a video at the end of the month (or at the very least a few pictures).

As you might expect, especially since I devoted an entire year of my life to experimenting with productivity I’ve developed solid habits (often the hard way) to work out several times a week, eat well, meditate for 30 minutes every morning, manage my stress productively, volunteer, and not drink too much. But I’ve designed this experiment to touch on the things I struggle with. To make the experiment more realistic, I won’t be spending any of my working time on the experiment, except to write about what I learn.

If it sounds like this experiment is designed to be attention-grabbing, since you’ve made it this far down in the article, I’ll agree with you—it totally is. But I’ve been meaning to experiment with both willpower and intention since I started my project. And plus, the idea of New Year’s resolutions has always been fascinating to me, not only because of how many people make them, but also because so many people struggle with keeping them.

I can’t wait to see how this one goes!

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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