Adapting for Success in New Year’s Resolutions

by Toby Larson

Rocky Balboa: [pointing toward Adonis’ reflection in the mirror] That’s the toughest opponent you’re ever going to have to face. – Creed (2015)

Now that the New Year is upon us, so are the “resolutions” that we hope will establish better patterns and outcomes in life. Whether or not you’ve had great success in meeting your goals in the past, I’d like to share a strategy for turning your resolutions into reality.

Change isn’t always easy, but maintaining “adaptive flexibility” vastly increases your chance of making it happen effectively and learning something along the way.

Adaptive Flexibility to The Rescue

What do I mean by “adaptive flexibility”?  

Simple. I mean understanding and accepting that barriers – both predictable and not – will arise on the path to change.

This mindset is both realistic and effective.

You go into your process knowing that at some point, you’ll need to adapt in order to overcome, and you resolve ahead of time to adapt efficiently.

One of the ways to cultivate adaptive flexibility is through simple decision training.

I work with professional fighters who, in order to succeed, need to pre-plan on dealing with many types of adversity. Maybe it’s a physical issue like an in-fight injury or a situational issue like a last-minute opponent change.

When I work with fighters, the goal isn’t to plan out every possible scenario; instead we train to adapt smoothly, thereby leaving us neither stunned nor frustrated by sudden changes in circumstances. Constantly training this, my fighters walk away feeling confident in their ability to successfully adapt and turn unforeseen situations to their advantage.

New Year’s Resolutions Require Adaptive Flexibility

In the case of a New Year’s resolution, or any change to the patterns and habits in your life, you need to develop this adaptive flexibility too.

Prepare yourself mentally to adjust when distractions or roadblocks interfere with your plans.

Reflect on past experiences and/or scenarios that interfered with your ability to achieve your goal.

Were you able to adjust your approach in the past?

How did it work?

Did you reach your goal?

What would have made your adjustment more effective?

Even before you adjust, you can increase your likelihood of success by thinking through your goals and listing what you’ll need to do support a change in pattern.

What are some likely distractions or problems that will stand in your way?

How can you minimize or eliminate the effect of these distractions?

Eating Healthy and Wanting to Run Are Not Enough


Let’s say you’re resolving to “eat healthier” and you know that work lunches are your biggest roadblock. With stress and fatigue, it’s easy to find your willpower lacking when you see that super carnitas burrito staring at you from across the room.  

A couple contingencies could be to order a healthy option ahead of time or have a colleague order for you. This will prevent the menu from tempting you to make a high-calorie decision and thus steering you of course you from your goal.  

Fighter tip: the majority of professional fighters I work with choose to prep and pack their lunch. If it’s good enough for professional fighters, it’s good enough for you.


Another form of adaptive flexibility is to know your own roadblocks – the ones you consistently create and the ones that have kept you from your goals in the past.

Your task today: make contingency plans and reminders that will help you defeat those roadblocks.

I recently worked with a boxer who wanted to do more “roadwork.” (That’s just a fancy term for “running.”)

The first adjustment we made was to ensure he developed a habit of running before worrying about mileage goals. This in itself served as a contingency, because he knew that if he could just get out the door to run “a little,” he would most likely run more often (and farther) each week than he would if he was required to run a certain number of miles each day.

rocky &

One step at a time. One punch at a time. One round at a time.

How did we get him out the house and on the road?

Simple: we just made sure his running shoes were next to the door, staring at him all the time, reminding him of his goal – run with me.

The effect of this adaptation, along with the reminder, was that he began running more regularly and achieving distances that he’d never achieved before.

Again, change isn’t always easy; these planned adaptations will require a little extra effort – that’s why they’re called “resolutions!” They require you to be resolute, both in your initial goal setting and in your response to adversity.

the matrix

Making contingency plans will make it easier for you to engage your behavior effectively, because you’ve given yourself positive options for dealing with the struggles you will face.

“First believe, then achieve.”



– Toby Larson

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