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The 4 Secrets To Making Your New Year's Resolutions Actually Stick

Master RKC Dan John
I want you to make a New Year’s Resolution: no more resolutions for the New Year.

I’m sure there have been studies but I know that most people don’t actually stick to their resolutions. I was told that 95% of people fail on their resolutions by the first of February.

If you run a space shuttle launch program with a 95% failure rate, you are going to have to be a really good salesperson to get more to sign up.

It's not a good number.

Maybe it is because most people don’t have the resolve to do resolutions. Maybe it is because every year people choose to solve a problem (smoking, excessive drinking, weight gain, or whatever) and use the same solutions. Insanity, it has been said by brighter minds than me, is doing the same thing but expecting different results. Doing the wrong thing over and over does not guarantee optimal results.

Resolving to solve a problem with the wrong solution is fit for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

My career has ranged from the academic classroom to the sports field to the weight room. I have an interesting thing I asked my athletes to do a while after they move on in life. I ask them for a letter.

Now, I don’t charge for my coaching for throwers as I still feel like I owe a massive debt to the universe from my coaches and Mentors ("Mentor" was the name of teacher and should always be capitalized). So, the "price" of my coaching is a letter after retirement.

I don’t know if I am a great coach or a horrid coach but one bit of feedback is almost always the same:

"You never let me stray too far from the path."

Exactly. My foundational coaching and teaching insight is "Repetition is the mother of implementation." Do I need to say that again?

Of course, it should read "Correct" or "Appropriate" repetition but if you need to add that you might not need to hang up your shingle as "The World’s Finest Fitness Coach." Why? Because you are not. It’s a given and that’s where so many people miss this obvious point. To solve a problem, you must follow, over and over, the steps it takes to honestly fix this problem.

Like everything I do, I have systems for ongoing success. I’m going to give you a few tools that might take minutes or years, but any or all of these ideas can help shape your future.

Now, there are no guarantees in life, but I have found these tools helpful in goal achievement.

The Best-Worst List

There is one thing I ask my Inner Circle and athletes to do each year that makes a great little treasure as you continue to do the assignment decade after decade. It’s simply this: each year, write up your Best-Worst list of the past year. I’ve been doing this a long time.

How long? Well, this year my daughter, Kelly, hosted a party for this idea called the "The Best Of." We were asked to make a movie or presentation or board about your last year. It was a wonderful party and parents and children were brought to tears by the simple memories that glowed that day.

I mention this because in 1989 on my "Best" list, I wrote "Baby John" as we hadn’t settled on "Kelly" for her name yet. When a tradition gets handed down that’s when I know the impact of a simple annual review.

Now, why do this? If you are honest and truthful about solving some of your life’s challenges, it’s nice to take stock. I have an accountant that I pay a fair amount of money to let me know how I am doing. The load on the barbell or kettlebell gives me some feedback about my progress. The scale can give a few clues about my body composition.

You need to be able to see, at a mere glance, what direction things are going. Here is part of this year’s list:

Two New Books

         Easy Strength Omnibook

         Easy Strength for Fat Loss

Buddha and Sirius Black become Friends

Trip to England (St. Mary’s and Just Hanging)

Vermont Trip

Every single time we went to Lake Willoughby

Cutter and Vermont Champs

New Mattress and Rearrange the Home

U of U Games with Mike, Zach, Toni, and Erica

Emily, the All-American

I print it out and keep it in a little file. Often, it gives me a quick chance to double check when I did something or bought something, so that saves time, too.

The greatest benefit is that, even as I just look at part of this list, I get the glow in my heart that I had a wonderful 365-day journey around the sun and, yes, sometimes bad things happen. Overall, though, I’m trending positive.

The Eulogy

This is a new one added to my toolkit by a suggestion from Patrick Ides, a good friend and trusted advisor. He asked me to do a difficult thing: write MY eulogy, the "good story," for my funeral.

I love the Best-Worst list, but this did something else for me: it made me look at my life and pull out not only what I value, but the values I wish to share with my family, my friends, and all the wonderful people who showed up at my funeral for the after party.

It's not at all easy. Writing something for my daughters and grandchildren and knowing that these are my last words, brings me a bit of wetness to the eyes as I recall doing it. Let me share the first part with you.

First off, thank you all for being here. You "Showed Up" and if you really knew Dan John, showing up was job one. And job two.

Showing up was his two-word solution to practically everything. If you want to win the nationals, you had better fill out the form, send the check, get the hotel room, put on the uniform, and walk out on the field, court, or pitch. When someone decides to move, you show up and start moving boxes. When your daughters are playing recorders at the recorder concert, you show up, smile, and know that this cacophony will perhaps have an ending.

Today, you showed up.

Laced throughout this eulogy are the values that I lived my life by and, hopefully, that my audience will find helpful. This certainly isn’t a must, but this is far better than the usual crap I see in resolutions. As I often joke when I see people’s goals and resolutions:

I want to look like I did as a high school sophomore.

I want to make a million dollars a month without working.

I want a pony.

The joke? Okay…I can get you a pony!

The eulogy assignment can be tough. It can also open your eyes about what’s important in your life. Now, we move ahead to the other tools.

The Five-Two Assignment

The roots of this go back to an assignment I gave my high school students, "My Life is My Message" where they explored and shared their favorite books, films, songs, and quotes and discussed why they chose this over that. Those simple insights seemed to challenge and change lives.

The Five Twos is the logical follow-up to the student’s lists of favorites. I began to use this tool after the programming talk at my workshops. I began to realize that one’s programming usually practically begins and ends NOT with sets and reps but with the vision, the reasons, we decide to start the journey of fitness, health, longevity, and performance.

So, I teach this to my participants. What I noticed after this fun little exercise is that I was getting emails and telephones weeks after the cert with surprising claims:

"I love learning about x, y, and z. But I have to tell you that The Five Twos changed my life."

"I went into the workshop hoping to learn x, y, and z. I had no clue that I would learn something that (cue an oft-repeated phrase) changed my life."

It’s so simple to do the Five Twos exercise. Here are the five:

Two Decades

Two Years

Two Months



The assignment is straightforward: pick a few topics to explore. Almost universally, I have people pick physical and financial, but any of life’s "als" is fine: emotional, educational, intellectual.

Then, I ask them to do what everyone everywhere has done before me: list the things you need to do at these milestones to be the person you want to be at each of these moments.

I’m in my late sixties and older than my mom when she died. My dad held my daughter just one time before he died. To quote Tony Bennett, "I want to be around." I want to be around at my granddaughter’s wedding…and dance at it. I want to be around to see my grandsons enjoy high school and beyond. Two decades from now, I will be in my late eighties…and still stronger than most!!!

So, to get there, I need to floss my teeth, get my sleep, go to my appointments, drink my water, eat protein, walk, laugh, and seek friends "worthy of the name." Thank you, Jerome K. Jerome, for that line.

I can’t wait two decades. I can’t wait two years. So, I begin with each and every day with a simple list, my daily Pirate Map.

Pirate Maps Pat Flynn is famous for his bullet point lists of things to do to accomplish a goal. Yes, they are like a checklist. Yes, they are like a "To do" list. Yes, they are like a "Do This!" list. But they are a little different.

Pat teaches us:

"I give the analogy a lot of how a fitness program should be like a treasure map. Meaning a treasure map is valuable NOT because it is 100 pages long. It's valuable because it marks a clear path from A to B. It is a short, written-up plan, hardly amounting to more than a page, with clear instructions on how to (achieve the goal)."

It can be a plan for practically any long-term goal. Here would be one for life-long financial planning:
  • Remain debt-free.
  • Maintain an emergency fund with enough to cover minor problems (and easily accessible)
  • Save some money every month for some distant "Fortune Fund."
  • Buy quality goods and services.
  • Maintain your health with proper care and medical and dental check ups.
  • Choose wisely when it comes to matters of the heart.
  • Invest deeply in you and your partner’s education and career advancement.
I’m not sure there is a surprise on this list or anything that would make your Great Grandma wonder about or disagree with in principle.

Many fitness books have this issue: there are massive tracts on anatomy, physiology, and endocrinology that don’t get read by the typical reader and that add nothing to the question of how to build lean body mass and lose body fat.

Let me share my current Pirate Map. My goal is to dance at my granddaughter’s wedding (she is nine).
  1. Before bed, prep coffee. Take supplements (ZMA and Vitamin D). To Do list for next up. Review: TWO goals
  2. Meditate each day…either OMM or Brain.Fm
  3. Fast until I train. Lift three days a week. If NOT O lifting, bodybuild and do the basics…including Buns and Guns. Two days a week, mobility. Get those walks in.
  4. Eat fiber, fermented foods, and veggies as much as possible. Eight a day.
  5. Make a Difference.
It’s truly a rare day when I don’t easily achieve all five items on this list. Very rare. Even when I travel, I meditate on the plane, choose the veggies, and do a little mobility and walk as appropriate.

In a sense, every day I "resolve" to make my life a little better. I’ve had a few rough years, but I still focus on these daily points on my Pirate Map to achieve my "Five-Two" goals. Like building a wall, I am putting in my efforts into each and every brick. A year from now, I will see 365 (366) more bricks.

And, one year from now, I will have a new "Best-Worst" list. I will reread my eulogy and remind myself why my values are so important to my life well lived.

And, I will firmly resolve to not do New Year’s Resolutions for yet another year.

Dan John has spent his life with one foot in the world of lifting and throwing, and the other foot in academia. An All-American discus thrower, Dan has also competed at the highest levels of Olympic lifting, Highland Games and the Weight Pentathlon, an event in which he holds the American record.

Dan spends his work life blending weekly workshops and lectures with full-time writing, and is also an online religious studies instructor for Columbia College of Missouri. As a Fulbright Scholar, he toured the Middle East exploring the foundations of religious education systems. Dan is also a Senior Lecturer for St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London.

Dan holds the title of Master RKC for Dragon Door’s kettlebell instructor certification program and is the author of two major Dragon Door titles.

His books, on weightlifting, include Intervention, Never Let Go, Mass Made Simple and Easy Strength, written with Pavel Tsatsouline as well as From Dad, To Grad. He and Josh Hillis co-authored "Fat Loss Happens on Monday."

In 2015, Dan wrote Can You Go? on his approach to assessments and basic training. In addition, Before We Go, another compilation akin to Never Let Go became an Amazon Bestseller.

In early 2017, Dan’s book, Now What?, his approach to Performance and dealing with "life," became a Bestseller on Amazon. Hardstyle Kettlebell Challenge, published also in 2017, focused on the keys to the kettlebell.