It’s January, so the internet is flooded with posts and articles about New Year’s Resolutions. We are all works in progress, and identifying opportunities for self-improvement is worthy of our attention. The problem is, we’re human and making changes can be hard. Instead of citing various studies, let me give you four practical tips that I have learned through experience.
One of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits” is “Begin with the end in mind”. We often focus more time on what we intend to do, or how we intend to do something, rather than why it’s worthy. When we connect our goals to a deeper sense of purpose we are more likely to view the objective as worthy of our sacrifice and attention. I have a personal mission statement that I review each January. That statement makes it easier for me to identify what goals matter most.
Small Goals, Small Segments
I’ve written before about the importance of starting small and building a pattern of success. We too often pick huge goals (“lose 50 pounds”, “drink 8 glasses of water daily”) and too seldom pick more achievable goals and build upon success (“lose five pounds this month”, “drink 2 glasses of water at least five days each week this month”). Success, and failure, are patterns. If you’re seeking to make a change in your life, I can’t over-emphasize how important it is to start small and establish a pattern.
Secondly, I recommend you drop the idea of a year as your time horizon and instead think in terms of a month at a time. While making your “New Month’s Resolutions” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “New Year’s Resolutions”, it is much more powerful. I’ve written about the 12 Week Year – a planning process I’ve been using recently. You know the feeling you have on December 31st when you realize that the previous year’s resolutions were forgotten by mid-February? It’s not a good feeling. Well, the advantage of thinking in months is that you can recommit to a new time period each month.
This puts some burden on you to actually do a retrospective each month, where you evaluate your progress during the previous time period and plan for the next one, but we humans are not good at holding our attention for long periods of time and making resolutions for a whole year is really at odds with our inability to sustain attention.
Instead of fighting it, work with it. What are you going to get done this month?
Most New Year’s resolutions are secretive. We think about them but don’t really tell anyone else – and it’s easy to understand why: who wants to look like a failure when they don’t even come close to meeting them?
But identifying your achievable resolutions with an accountability partner has been proven to be a better way to get ‘er done. An “accountability partner” is someone you trust who you regularly meet with on the subject of your progress. Your accountability partner will help you, support you, and help you overcome obstacles. The simple act of having an accountability partner you’re going to “report” to make you less likely to blow off tasks. Ideally, you might serve as an accountability partner to your friend at the same time. Get better together!
Most resolutions have one grader – you. The problem is, we tend to be easy graders, or we skip the grades entirely when we know we won’t like the answer – sort of like not stepping on the scale because we know we won’t like the number.
When it comes to big tasks, there’s an old saying that the “best way to eat an elephant sandwich is one bite at a time”. Break your goals down to scheduled activities you’ll do this week and then document at the end of the week how you did and what you’ll focus on next week. This is how lasting change happens – incrementally, slowly, and intentionally.
For more reading on this subject, I enjoyed this post from Michael Hyatt on the Evernote blog.