New Year’s Reflections: Resolutions, Motivation, and Planning

Last week, Scott Coulter shared how self-judgment affects the outcome of your New Year’s resolutions. This week, he concludes the series by addressing how motivation and planning play a roleā€¦

Motivation and planning
So, now that the big one is covered (that is, self-judgment), let’s move on to the other “resolution killers” on the list, motivation and practical implementation of goals. Obviously, neither one is likely to happen if you go into a goal convinced you’re not good enough to accomplish it, so get that untangling step down first. Then, with a clear head, it’s time for a plan of action.


This is an area I’ve got a fair amount of expertise in, both because I’ve spent thousands of hours of my life practicing the piano, and because I’ve lived with diabetes for the past 22 years (yikes, has it been that long?!?). In fact, when I was newly diagnosed, I remember actively applying the lessons I had learned from my piano practice to the way I dealt with diabetes. What were the lessons I applied? First, I broke everything down into smaller units. That’s a big one for music practice where we’re often taking very large, complex concepts or pieces of music and working through them at a slow, methodical pace. You don’t go into a practice session with the aim of mastering an entire new concept — you go into it with a realistic goal of maybe running that concept through 6 out of the 12 key centers, and getting the metronome speed up from 60 beats per minute (BPM) to 68 beats per minute. Your ultimate goal would be understanding and playing the concept in all 12 key centers at every speed (for non-musicians, 60 BPM is a very slow tempo), and being able to rapidly cycle through key centers without pausing.

Applying that lesson to diabetes, we might decide that we want our next HbA1c to be one point lower. Well, that’s a big, long-range goal. To put it into daily practice, we need daily goals that are manageable. So we might say we’ll test more consistently to start. Don’t even think about changing the results of the testing yet, just commit to testing more consistently. Once that’s in place, maybe we notice that we spike after our morning meal consistently. What are we eating? Maybe we can limit our carbs with breakfast a bit more. Leave the other meals alone, but just drop the breakfast carbs a bit and see what happens next. Or maybe we need to increase our morning ratio. If exercise helps (and we know it does), maybe a morning walk every other day for 30 minutes is a possibility (being a musician, I have an odd schedule, so I apologize for suggesting all of these late-morning activities that probably won’t work for you 9-to-5ers out there, but you get basic idea).

The point is, break it all down into daily activities, and a series of short-term, manageable goals, and you’ll have a plan that can actually work. So now we’ve covered emotional entanglement and concrete planning. Finally, what can we do to keep our motivation going? All of the untangling and planning in the world won’t do us any good if we can’t keep our motivation up.

Well, a feeling of self-worth and a concrete plan certainly helps with motivation. But motivation can still fade. In fact, I would say motivation is pretty much GUARANTEED to fade in and out. And that’s perhaps the real key here — stop expecting motivation to be constant. You simply will NOT be motivated everyday. And you will not manage to work on your goal every day. I am a dedicated musician who earns a living this way, and I miss practice days sometimes. But on the whole I keep it going even when I don’t “feel like” practicing. And I do it by taking the decision OUT of my hands.

Here’s what I mean. I have a practice schedule. I break my practice down into 20–30 minute blocks, usually stacked four or five in a row, to give myself a 2–3 hour practice session. Each block is predetermined and follows a schedule. When I sit down to practice, I’m simply following the schedule, not creating it as I go. I’m not asking myself for the motivation to create my practice, just the willingness to follow what’s already neatly laid out for me. And that takes a lot of the decisions OUT of my hands and lets me simply “go with the plan.”

I also realized long ago that if I write those 2–3 blocks into my calendar as if they were everyday appointments, I tend to treat them that way. I’m going to see the dentist on Wednesday to begin a root canal. I don’t want to go, but I will. Because it’s an appointment, and because I know it has to get done. I view my practice the same way. And when I have goals as a Diabetian, I take the same tactic. I write down my daily goals in a checklist, and I treat it the same way I would treat the list of bills that have to be paid on a given day. I give myself a schedule to follow on paper, and so all I have to do is follow what’s laid out in front of me.

I hope some of this is useful for readers as you reflect on your year and plan for the year to come. None of us is flawless with this stuff, and it’s never easy. But with the right plan and the right understanding, we really can accomplish some amazing things. So good luck to all of you, and happy 2016!

Can the diabetes drug metformin slow aging? That’s the premise of a new study recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to learn more.