According to the federal government’s website, among the most popular New Year’s resolutions made by Americans each year are commitments to improving their health. Every January, millions of us resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more (or at all), eat better, and change other behaviors in order to become healthier.
And of course, this makes perfect sense. Obesity is not only closely linked to the epidemic 29 million American diabetics, it’s also associated with heart disease and a growing list of cancers. And no one enjoys being overweight. Nor is living with smoking-induced emphysema, bronchitis, heart disease, and peripheral vascular disease a picnic. Plus, cigarette smoking is the cause of one in every five deaths in the United States, and close to half-a-million of us will die in the New Year as a result of smoking.
All right, enough of the medical lecture. It’s obvious to each and every one of us that improving our health is all upside. That’s why so many of us have health resolutions at the very top of our New Year’s list year after year. Unfortunately, they’re often the same resolutions year after year.
Why? Because more often than not, we abandon our health resolutions, failing to achieve our goals and leading us to re-resolve (and likely fail) again the following year (or years).
But if we turn to the “start-up” business world of Silicon Valley, we can learn three key strategies that translate well into achieving our major, long-term health resolutions. Whether the goal is to raise $85 million to finance a company from concept to commercialization or to lose 45 pounds over twelve months, these guidelines dramatically increase the likelihood of success.
Health Resolution Guideline #1: Have a Clearly Defined Goal
Having worked in and led start-up companies, I learned early on the need for a concrete goal. The same clarity is very helpful when making a health resolution for the New Year. Thus, “smoking less” is too vague, too ill defined, allowing you to achieve your goal simply by occasionally smoking fewer cigarettes but also preventing you from experiencing any real achievement, since the achievement hasn’t been defined. Dropping from two packs per day on January 1st to a half-a-pack per day by December 31st is a clear goal. Going from whatever you currently smoke to not smoking by year’s end is a clear goal. So don’t resolve to “lose weight.” Commit to “losing 40 pounds” by the end of the year. Instead of the ambiguous “eat healthier,” resolve to have at least “two servings of fresh vegetables or fruit each day.” What do you mean, “exercise more?” Do you mean walk to the fridge at the end of each quarter rather than just at halftime? How about by the end of the year resolving to be “exercising for at least thirty minutes five days a week.” Whatever your goal, clearly define it.
Health Resolution Guideline #2: Create Clearly Defined Milestones
When my Silicon Valley companies sought tens of millions of dollars in private financing, we understood that no competent potential investor was going to fully fund our companies’ on day one based solely on our visions and goals. Start-ups are financed in stages (called “Series”) on achieving “milestones.” Strung together over time, these milestones represent the start-up’s complete long-term plan. The milestone approach is critical if you want to truly keep this New Year’s health resolutions from topping your list again next January. Dropping 40 or 50 pounds, or going from two packs of smokes a day to none…these are big, big goals. And they take a long, long time to achieve. This all-or-nothing strategy is one of the major sources of New Year’s resolution failures. By March, you’re likely still far from achieving your ultimate goal, and thus with nothing to celebrate and the light at the end of the tunnel still not visible, you cave (understandably). But by breaking your health goals down into smaller sequential milestones which can be achieved and celebrated much more frequently (say, monthly), you build momentum, and your confidence in eventually achieving your overall goal, and your resolve, grow. For example, if your goal is to lose 45 pounds in 2015, commit to losing at least four pounds by the end of each month. Thus by the end of March, instead of seeing how far you have to go to drop 45 pounds (and giving up), you’ll be on your third celebration for successfully losing another four pounds (and 12 total so far). Want to go from a pack-a-day (140 cigarettes a week) to no longer smoking? Every week, cut down by three sticks, and celebrate at the end of each month when you’re down another 12 cigarettes. If you’re currently a non-exerciser, start out in January by taking 15 minute walks in your neighborhood twice weekly. In February, make it three times a week, and increase the pace so that you’re a little bit winded by the time you walk back through your front door. In March, make it 25 minutes thrice weekly. And so on. And don’t forget to celebrate and give yourself a pat on the back at the achievement of each and every milestone.
Health Resolution Guideline #3: Don’t Go It Alone
Trust me when I say (based on personal experience) that in driving toward the ultimate goal, every start-up company hits bumps in the road and experiences set-backs. The best business approach to addressing these challenges and getting back to achieving milestones and, eventually, the ultimate goal, start-ups depend on board members, advisors, consultants, and business friends. That is, start-up companies can best achieve when they have the support of others. Same for you. Some weeks it may be hard to lose weight (parties, events, holidays) or to smoke less (stress) or to exercise (illness, bad weather). In these times, going it alone is exactly the wrong strategy. Many of us don’t share our health resolutions with our loved ones because at some level we think it likely (or expect) to fail, and we don’t want the shame of failing in front of our family and friends. But one of the reasons we routinely fail is because we don’t’ share our resolutions with our loved ones. Not only should you share your resolutions with your family and friends, you should seek their support (particularly when you hit bumps in your road), and include them in your milestone celebrations. Yes, you may still fail, but if your loved ones are supporting you, encouraging you, and celebrating your milestone victories with you, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of success. (Ask anyone who had a gym membership how long it was before they stopped regularly going to that gym at six in the morning. Then ask someone who committed to regularly meeting a friend at the gym at six in the morning…support makes a big difference.)
The start-up world of Silicon Valley has evolved through the harsh reality of financial natural selection. Success requires start-up companies to create clearly defined big goals, divide those goals into clearly defined milestones, celebrate the achievement of milestones, and seek significant support in achieving these goals. These strategic guidelines, when applied to your New Year’s health resolutions, will give you a real opportunity to succeed in achieving your long-term goals. I’m not saying it will be easy…it won’t. It only sounds easy when you read it, but it is real work to drop the pounds, throw out the cigarettes, get off the couch. But no resolution of any value is easy to achieve. And I assure you, you’ll feel so much better, and you may live longer.
Have a Happy & Healthy New Year!