This year I’m hopping off the New Year’s Resolution bandwagon.
I’m even flirting with the idea of not setting any goals for 2018. (For anyone who knows me, this is a biiiig step. I’m goal addicted. I collect goals like Richard Branson collects tropical islands.
Why am I dissing New Year’s resolutions and letting go of my grip on the goal?
Simply put, resolutions don’t work. They can even be damaging to your self-confidence. According to research from the Statistic Brain Research Institute fewer than 10% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions actually feel they’ve been successful in achieving them. According to Michael Hyatt a quarter bomb out in the first week, a third don’t make it past the first month, and fewer than half are still plugging away after six months!
It seems that when it comes to goals, we often become overambitious. As Greek poet Archilochus said, “we don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”
We tend to place too much weight on aspects of goal attainment that are beyond our control and for those perfectionists amongst us, we can self-flagellate like a Lutheran monk if we don’t achieve them, no matter how unrealistic they might have been in the first place.
But a curious thing happened to me this year (almost by default). I learnt that there’s something way more effective than all this New Year’s Resolution-ing and goal-setting malarkey.
I know. They’re not as sexy. In fact, habits and systems are downright boring. Iterative is repetitive…and well, a bit beige.
But I’m learning that a little thing, done often, over time, gets you where you want to go – far more effectively than setting a lofty goal and paying little attention to how you’ll get here.
Here are just a couple of examples of where I’ve focused on habits not goals and it’s paid off:
- I’ve made it a habit to do exercise every day when I first get up. Of course, I never make it 7 days. But my daily habit gets me exercising usually at least 5 times a week. This has had a hugely positive impact on my life. In fact, I think it was one of the most powerful things I did to cope with being in my “cave” this year.
- I have a goal to write a book. I’ve had that goal for several years now. When I wasn’t making progress, I changed tack. Now I’ve turned to a habit to help. I just commit to the practice of doing at least a few hours each week. And I have a great accountability coach Wally Bock who I report to each week on my progress. I’ve made more headway in the last month since I started this habit than I have previously.
- I’ve committed to a daily meditative practice, whether it’s just a few minutes of deep breathing or my new favourite Kundalini meditation. I didn’t have a goal or a New Year’s Resolution of doing it every day, but when I cut myself some slack and just tuned into the fact I just feel better when I do it, it’s turned into something I do every day. And I’m reaping the rewards.
- Another daily habit I’ve formed is completing a ‘to do’ list including my top 3 priorities for the next day before I close my computer (obvious I know, but super effective for lowering my anxiety and you’d be surprised how few people actually undertake this priority based list making exercise on a daily basis).
- I’ve made a habit in the last 6 months of practising gratitude. Every day, I find at least three things that I’m grateful for. They don’t have to be big things. In fact, it’s often the smallest things that have increased my happiness – a walk along the river, appreciating my family, a delicious cup of coffee on my deck with the sun shining on my face.
In a nutshell, I’ve focused on systems and habits and let go of my previously myopic attention on the end result. The irony is that the goal attainment seems to be taking care of itself.
Sidebar: You can apply this approach to leading your team too. One team I work with has introduced a habit of adopting a positive view any time they come across a problem or challenge. The habit they have introduced is to ask, “What’s the opportunity that this constraint offers?” And they’ve adopted the practices espoused in A Beautiful Constraint: How to turn your limitations into advantages, and why it’s everyone’s business. They’ve had more breakthroughs than ever. But it’s not a goal. It’s just an approach that they’ve adopted as a team towards inevitable problems that crop up in business.
Here are 3 reasons why I prefer the habit to the New Year’s Resolution (or even the goal):
- Doing the same thing over and over ensures that after a while (they say around 60 days) your muscle memory or brain chemistry kicks in and it becomes…well, habit. Like cleaning your teeth. The less emotional energy I have to invest in something, the better. It just makes me more efficient. I’m all for that! Sure, there are days when I don’t want to turn up to a session with my trainer but these days, I just don’t think about it. And honestly, not exercising feels worse than doing it.
- Habits are who you are. They set the foundation for who you want to be. If you have a habit of thanking your team members when it’s warranted, you’ll get a reputation as a generous leader who values people. You might have that goal, but unless you make it a daily practice to put in the relevant habit, it won’t work.
- They’re a great antidote to time wasting. I’m a big time waster so if I just commit to a habit, it makes me more productive.
And it seems I’m joining a growing list of people singing the praises of the humble habit. Here’s just one example of many people extolling the virtues of habits – I dig Mark Manson, so it was great to read this post. And the habits of Tim Ferriss (a hero of mine) include meditation, journaling, and fashioning a prioritised ‘to do’ list.
This New Year, rather than asking yourself, “what are my New Year’s Resolutions or what are my big audacious goals for 2018?” ask yourself, “What are the several habits I’m going to commit to this year?” Set up a system such as Way of Life or ask someone to be your accountability coach. And then read this New York Times article on how to train your brain to crave GOOD habits.
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