Applying Agile to New Year’s Resolutions

The advent of a New Year brings with it a wave of resolutions, aspirations, and ambition. Individuals adroitly strut their new workout gear at their new gym, gleefully interact with their peers in an attempt to enhance their relationships, and stock their bookshelves with new literature to expand their knowledge base. Simply put, January is a month where people make a conscious effort to, as my friend Faiza would say, live their best life. Yet despite all the buzz around this time, a staggering 92% of people will not succeed with their New Year’s resolutions.

Put it in Writing

There’s an abundance of research corroborating the relationship between writing down goals and successfully seeing them through. One that particularly stands out, is a study that followed a group of Harvard Business School graduates over the course of 5 years where annual income was used as a metric for success. Within the participant pool, 84% had no goals at all, 13% had a hazy sense of their ambitions but left them to marinate in thought, and the remaining 3% had concrete, written aspirations. The outcome of the study found that participants with unwritten goals were earning double the amount of their goalless counterparts. Moreover, those who wrote down their goals were earning ten times as much; that would be the difference between earning $50,000 Vs. half a million dollars annually.

Delving into the Psychophysiology

A factor in the relationship between written goals and success lies in the way our brains operate. From a structural perspective, and based on psychological theory, our brains are composed of two hemispheres that manage different types of cognition. The right hemisphere is emotional, creative, and imaginative, whereas the left brain is logical, conducive to language, and analytical. Therefore, when we aspire to ambitions without committing to them with pen and paper, they remain dreams, imagination, and fantasy that only invoke the prowess of our left brains. It’s only until that vision is married to a form of right brain activity, an analytical framework that invokes language and logic, where a greater likelihood of fulfilling the aspiration will be achieved.

Learning from the Devs

Even if you’re not in the tech industry, you’ve likely heard the terms “Lean” and “Agile” at some point or another. Lean is a concept that simply refers to maximizing results by taking up the smallest amount of resources possible. Agile, is a framework of Lean wherein a project is grouped into small work cycles, called sprints, allowing for feedback to direct the trajectory of the project and is, therefore, iterative in nature.

For example, rather than launching an app after spending 10 weeks developing 50 features, the first 5 would be researched, developed, and deployed within a week, allowing for feedback to guide the next feature set launch the following week. With this approach, resources – usually in the form of time and money – are only used when they are required and can actually be sparred pending the insights gained sprint to sprint.

The former situation in the example above is referred to as Waterfall development and is the typical way New Year’s resolutions are approached; a grande aspiration is set, a roadmap is developed, and is rigid to change. The reality is personal priorities, unforeseen circumstances, or even mood can impact an objective and therefore, a system that can adapt to these changes, permits iteration, and is dynamic in nature, should be adopted.

I’m Like Totally Going to the Gym

January is the bane of any regular gym goer’s existence due to the influx of new members. The Waterfall approach typically exhibited by fitness rookies includes an overzealous commitment to signing up for an illustrious gym membership, buying a whack load of supplements for the year, and dropping an exorbitant amount of money on new workout attire.

Conversely, an Agile approach would shape up in the following way:

Sprint 1: Take on a trial membership and commit to “X” number of workouts a week.
Sprint 2: If Sprint 1 is successfully completed, sign up for a membership that allows cancellation on a monthly basis and continue with the same frequency of workouts.
Sprint 3: If Sprint 2 is successfully completed, time to swag out. Buy some new workout gear while continuing the frequency of exercise.
Sprint 4: If Sprint 3 is successfully completed, you’ve earned the right to indulge in some decadent cookies and cream protein powder to aid in recovery.

If a sprint is not successfully completed, it needs to carry over into the subsequent cycle. In addition, at the end of each sprint, it’s important to have a retrospective reflection to see what went well, what didn’t, and how things can be improved. This is your chance to iterate the roadmap of your goal to ensure success.

Dopamine Trumps All

The best part of this method, specifically as it relates to new years resolutions is that it abolishes the all or none approach in favor of mini victories. Thanks to our visually oriented nature, every time we come one step closer to a goal – cross something off our To-Do list, complete a sprint, or see a status bar shorten –  we get a shot of Dopamine. This lovely neurotransmitter serves as an innate mechanism that focuses us on our goals, rewards us when we accomplish them, and thereby reinforces behavior in a virtuous cycle.

Therefore, not only does the Lean-Agile methodology for goal setting save you time and money, but it also serves as a conduit for taking advantage of our psychology and physiology which will ultimately help you be in the premier echelon of the 8% of folks who see out their New Year’s resolutions.

Key Takeaway: Take on a Lean-Agile approach when setting goals for yourself to save money, allow for dynamism in tackling the goal, and to fully take advantage of your built-in psychophysiology.



5 thoughts on “Applying Agile to New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Salman, this was my first read of one of your posts and I’m hooked! Loved the research and also the concrete examples of the Agile framework. Especially as someone who keeps a lot of unwritten goals those examples were a great way to make the concept much more tangible!


    1. Welcome to the Blog Farah! I’m glad you enjoyed the read and found it useful. Try the method out, let me know how it goes, and if you find a more effective method, be sure to share! Be sure to check out some of the other posts 🙂


  2. Haha, so I have never see the agile approach applied to starting to work out again! Haha! Good one! I loved it! So this was a good kick, that I didn’t actually write my goals down January 1st…. they are in my head….. time to get them out of my head and on paper! Thanks for the kick! 🙂


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