The Best Ways To Succeed at Resolutions, What Tom Knows

In a few weeks, the happy, celebratory holiday season will be over. Next up is the “New Years Resolution” season. If you had to choose one new habit to form when you're making your New Year's promises to yourself, Tom Brady should be your guide.

Some say NFL stands for “not for long.” But Brady is still playing at 44. The big secret behind his remarkable health, longevity, and skill is one you can use, too. It's the art of delayed gratification.

Bleacher Report did a statistical analyses of all the to NFL players who were good enough to make it to postseason play. The conclusion is that good quarterbacks hold up about 12 years. So Brady’s about a decade overdue for retirement. 

If you’d like a dose of inspiration, The Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins did an excellent article on how Tom Brady’s discipline is what makes him tick. Read it for fun whether you are a football fan or not.  Even if you hate the Patriots.

One thing Jenkins shows loud and clear is that Tom Brady is not blessed in some way that’s beyond the reach of all of us. Even Brady has said that if he didn’t work at it, the way he does, he’d be “a very average quarterback.”

It’s worth remembering that “average” seemed to be his destiny. The Patriots picked him up near the end of the 6th round in the 2000 NFL draft. Selection number 199. Six other quarterbacks were chosen first: Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn. He's always remembered their names as he worked to get better and better. 

Now how to be more like Tom and set those coming New Year’s resolutions on fire…

There’s No “Just” to “Just Saying No”—These 4 Tactics Can Help You

Delaying gratification for distant and vague payoffs is hardest thing of all.

If you know a chocolate cupcake would make your face break out immediately and you are getting your picture taken tomorrow, you’d probably pass.

But if you know that you have to avoid chocolate cupcakes every day for weeks on end to lose a pound… skipping that one little cupcake is pretty hard to do. How much difference could it make?

So, besides having a clear goal, the first thing is to see how your small habits add up to a lot.

That’s when you call on the “Seinfeld Strategy”

Don’t Break the Chain

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians ever. More than that he is unusually consistent in that success.

Early on, Seinfeld believed that it was important to write at least one new joke every day to stay fresh and funny. When he does it, he puts an X on the calendar.

It’s what comes next that is his super power. Each X is good. But several X’s in a row becomes a chain. And his mantra is “don’t break the chain.” Make those X’s stretch as long as possible.

The trouble with distant goals is the feeling that small, daily actions (which may involve sacrifices) don’t seem like you are doing enough for all the inconvenience you’re causing yourself. But adding to the chain becomes a small daily victory that encourages the next, and the next and the next.

Push Your Goals Closer

Losing weight is one of the most common New Years’ resolutions, so it makes a good example.

Let’s say the resolver would like to drop 40 pounds. Or in the case of a really big guy, even 100 pounds.

Never happening.

You can’t lose 40 pounds. You can only lose one or two pounds at a time. So set yourself up for success by breaking big goals into smaller milestones. Plan to lose 2 pound in two weeks. Or whatever realistic and doable goal works for you.

If you want to play guitar like Slash, just work on one new riff, then another. Or perfect your slurs.

If you want to speak Italian before you take a trip, learn 10 words a day. When you’ve got a good vocabulary, work on a new tense.

Know Why

OK, back to losing weight. Or gaining muscle. Those are good “what’s” to focus on.

You’ll do a better job at it, though, if you add a “why.”

Why do you want more muscle? Research shows that falling and not being able to live alone is one of older people’s huge fears. So, add muscle for stability, to avoid falls, to stay self-sufficient. This is a “why” that you can check for progress.

You could want upper arms that don’t flop and wobble like a turkey’s neck. Maybe you’d just like to lift that 5-gallon jug of water onto the dispenser like you used to.

Or maybe the real motivator to lose weight is so that you won’t be embarrassed when you sit down and want to cover your stomach. Or you want to lose weight so your energy will improve or your knees will feel better.

Build In Wins

The Post article I hope you will read about Tom Brady also shows how much he keeps wins in mind. He changed his diet in his 20s so he could play at a high level in his 30s. He runs sprints in March with the thought of winning the Super Bowl next February.

Brady has a highly developed ability to delay gratification. Most of us would do better to plan some regular wins along the way.  

Research has found that a large reward far in the future is not very good at motivating anyone—except perhaps Tom Brady. Numerous small rewards as you achieve milestones is much more effective.

Think of the things you really enjoy. This is personal. For me, a couple of hours at the desk and computer means I can take a break to stretch out and read another chapter in a good book. Or play a game of bridge—on my tablet, not at my desk. Or take a short walk. Or doodle at the piano a bit. In other words, “goofing off” motivates me. I’ll even add an hour to my workday gladly to accommodate those breaks.

Maybe you’d rather have a square of dark chocolate, and if your goal is not weight loss, that works for you. A friend of mine treats herself to 15-minute chair massages when she meets here exercise goals for the week.

Being disciplined and long-term focused is not innately simple or easy. But you can make it that way with these four tactics. So build your chain, set your sights close, figure out your why and then make sure you have plenty of wins and rewards along the way.


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