New Year’s Resolutions are a vicious cycle. Every year, the holidays come and go, and suddenly we’re faced with another milestone passing us by. Most of us start the year with one or two ambitious New Year’s resolutions – writing a book, learning to code, starting a side project, or losing 20 pounds.

Most of us genuinely try to change our habits at the beginning. Then life starts to get in the way, and we wait around for the motivation to strike, or for there to magically be more hours in the day. In most cases, that doesn’t happen and we soon start to feel frustrated. We run out of willpower in a week or two and soon we go back doing absolutely nothing to achieve our goals until the next New Year rolls around.

Motivation isn’t the key – action is. You need action to get motivated, not the other way around. If you wait for that perfect moment of motivation to work towards your goals, you will often end up doing nothing. Sitting around and waiting for something to happen never got any of us anywhere.

How do we solve this problem? What is it that keeps us from starting or maintaining a lifestyle change for the better? We all want to change things about ourselves to become better people, so why is it so difficult to do this? As a champion of setting up different new year resolutions and then not doing any of them, I needed some answers. In my search, I stumbled upon a concept called ‘No Zero Days’.

I first came across this concept in a comment by Reddit user ryan01.

A zero day is a day where you accomplished absolutely nothing toward your goal. The idea of a non-zero day is to do something every day to move toward your goal. Most of the time, we set ourselves some pretty lofty goals and then quickly become discouraged when things don’t immediately change. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you have to lose one pound before you can lose 20. If you want to write a book, you have to write a sentence first.
In a lot of cases, when something puts a wrinkle in our day and we can’t make it to the gym or we’re feeling too tired to write, we just give up. Once we have one or two days where we do nothing, it makes it much easier to quit entirely. We begin to rationalize it to ourselves. “Well, there’s no point in going to the gym if I can’t go every day” or “There’s no point in trying to write for only 10 minutes, I’ll never finish my book”.

The way to make a real change is to ensure that you never have a zero day. Strive for a non-zero day at all costs. Make yourself a goal that is always attainable, even if it’s not the “big goal” that you want to achieve. Just make sure you don’t let a single day pass without doing something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, towards the goals you have in your life.

If you can’t make it to the gym, go for a walk around the block. If you’re too tired to write, work on a chapter outline instead. If you don’t have time to read a book on code writing, find audiobooks or podcasts to listen to on your drive to and from work each day. Find a way to have consistent non-zero days, and you will find your motivation increases as you go.

On many occasions, when I started doing something, I found myself continuing the action for a longer period, which strengthens my belief that the action is the key to motivation. The feeling of satisfaction that you get from completing an action toward your goal will help you stay motivated for the long-term.

I combine this with Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” method of forming habits. If I am not able to complete the goal each day, I try to do at least something rather than having a “Zero Day”.

You may not be able to make a big leap towards your goal today, but you can take a tiny little step. It may not be much but hey, it is not zero. That is progress.

So write one sentence, write one line of code, do one pushup, read one page. Because 1 is much better than zero.