A retired Navy SEAL commander explains exactly why people don't stick to their New Year's resolutions -- and how you can do better

Courtesy of Jocko WillinkJocko Willink.
  • Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL commander, is a best-selling author, podcast host, and leadership consultant.
  • He finds New Year’s resolutions to be counterintuitive.
  • Instead, he recommends creating a new, disciplined approach to all aspects of life, starting immediately.

Jocko Willink doesn’t do New Year’s resolutions. “There isn’t anything special to me about the New Year,” he told Business Insider.

Willink served as commander of US Navy SEAL Team 3 Task Unit Bruiser, the most highly decorated special operations unit in the Iraq War, and has spent his retirement passing on his brand of leadership to the masses. He’s the cofounder of the leadership consulting firm Echelon Front, a best-selling author, and popular podcast host.

He told us that the notion of making a New Year’s resolution is counterproductive, because by declaring that you’re going to somehow add a single new habit into your life, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

“Change doesn’t happen in one day,” Willink said. “Getting better doesn’t happen with one statement you make once a year. Getting better is a campaign of discipline.”

One of the biggest New Year’s resolutions clich├ęs involves someone saying they will start going to the gym three times a week, attacking the goal passionately at first, and then fizzling out by mid-February.

According to Willink’s explanation, the reason why such a resolution is so easily broken is that it’s isolated and flexible. The alternative is to incorporate a level of discipline into your entire life, shifting your mindset and adjusting routines as necessary.

So instead of saying that for 2018 you’ll go to the gym three times each week, set aside some gym clothes tonight, wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual tomorrow, and exercise. Keep forcing yourself to do that every morning, not three out of seven, and don’t worry about annual goals at first.

“Getting stronger, healthier, smarter, wealthier – getting better – none of these things happen from a mere one day of effort,” Willink said. They all takes weeks, months, and years of effort for results to show.”

Of course, Willink’s approach takes more effort, but it’s much more likely to stick.

In an interview last fall, Willink offered five simple suggestions for instilling more discipline into your life immediately:

  • Wake up earlier than usual tomorrow morning (go to bed earlier, if necessary).
  • Prepare your morning’s workout clothes before going to bed.
  • Make tomorrow morning’s to-do list before going to bed.
  • Make use of six- to eight-minute naps as you adjust to a new sleep schedule.
  • Stop compulsively eating junk food at work.

The point is, stop making grand plans that you’re most likely going to break and shift your mindset right now.

“Don’t wait until tomorrow, and don’t think about what you didn’t do yesterday,” Willink said.

“Instead: Be disciplined today. Make today count. Get better today. This day. Every day. If you do that, when you look up in weeks and months and years, you won’t need a resolution to keep get you on the path of discipline. You will already be on there.”

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