First of all, Happy New Year! Hope you had a great new year’s weekend, whether you were out partying or just staying home and taking advantage of some down-time from work.
My 2016 was off to a great start, until I read this statistic: 92% of New Year’s Resolutions will fail. That is just straight up depressing…
But I’m not telling you this to be a Debbie Downer. No, I’m telling you this so that you can do something about it before your ambitious plans for 2016 crash and burn like everyone else..
But first, a quick story.
I used to make New Year’s Resolutions every year. Each December I’d get out a fresh piece of paper and brainstorm big audacious goals for the year ahead. This was going to be the year that I finally took control of my life and fulfilled my potential!
I was never satisfied with something simple like “floss everyday”, so I’d set these ridiculous goals aimed at perfection in every part of my life:
- Host a dinner party once a month.
- Read 20 books and take detailed notes on all of them.
- Workout 5 times a week.
- Eat healthy every single day.
- Etc., etc.
On January 1st, I’d come flying out the gates. My to-do list would be jam-packed with actions items and I’d schedule my life down to the minute.
The first few weeks would be tough, but I’d make it through. I was still feeling that beginners motivation we all get when starting a new and exciting challenge. And so I’d drag myself to the gym everyday and compete over weights and mirror space.
But after the first month or so, the cracks in my plan would start to show.
My busy life would start to get in the way of my perfect plans. Work would blow up and I’d skip a few workouts. I’d go on a weekend trip and cheat on my diet. Or I’d just lose focus and forget why I was so committed to my resolutions in the first place.
Slowly I’d let it slide further and further, until I eventually dropped my new habits completely.
It was only the following year when I went to make new resolutions that I’d find my scrawled plans from the year before and get depressed about how little I’d accomplished.
Any of this sound familiar?
For most of us, each New Year’s is like a depressing version of ‘Groundhog Day’. We make the same resolutions as last year, and promise ourselves that somehow ‘this year will be different’. No wonder so many people feel like they’re not making progress in their lives. Think about it — how many years have you made the same resolution? To “lose weight” or “get fit”, or to “be more social”. Have you ever followed through and truly succeeded? Why do you keep failing to make simple changes that you know will improve your life?
This year, I didn’t make any resolutions. Why? Because I didn’t need to. I’m already on track to accomplish my biggest goals at work. I’m already taking action every day to build the life I want. January 1, 2016 was just another day for me — I went to the gym, wrote for my blog for a few hours, read a book, and ate healthy all-day.
I feel in control of my life, and I have a system for turning my visions into reality.
I don’t say this to impress you. I say this to impress upon you that most New Year’s Resolutions are a waste of time.
If there is something you want in life, don’t want for a special number to change on your calendar before you do something about it. This isn’t Cinderella. You’re not going to magically change into a different person at the stroke of midnight. Numbers change on your calendar every single day, so why not start making some “New Day Resolutions” instead?
Most people that set resolutions really do want to succeed, but are stalled by the fact that they don’t know where to start or worry about whether they’re doing the right thing. And even if you did know exactly what to do to achieve your goal, most of us don’t go all-in and commit 100%. We set vague guidelines to “workout more” or “see friends more”, and it doesn’t take long to start making exceptions and rationalizing that we’ll skip it ‘just this once’. And in the end it’s a lot easier to stay in your comfort zone than to make the leap into uncertainty, so you settle back into your routine and forget about your big dreams.
This was the story of my life for years, until I completely changed how I approached “resolutions” and goals. New Year’s Resolutions fail because we try to make ambitious, sudden changes to our lives without coming up with a plan or addressing the underlying causes of failure. I learned this the hard way, and failed my way to a better approach of setting and achieving goals.
What follows is the no-bullshit template that I use for turning the dreams and visions for my life into a reality. It’s a 3 step system that borrows from people much smarter than me.
Since one of the most common goals is to “get fit / lose weight / eat healthy”, I’ll include a few examples on this topic to illustrate the process (it’s also the area I know best as a certified exercise and nutrition coach).
1) Find Your ONE Thing
How many resolutions do you usually set? 3? 5? More?
I used to set at least 5, and sometimes more.
One of the primary reasons that only 8% of people succeed with resolutions is that we try and make too many changes at once. We try and make a complete 180 on our life, and take an all-or-nothing approach. Unsurprisingly, our chance of success drops drastically with every new habit we try to change.
Instead of doing an entire home renovation on your life, let’s just start small with the downstairs bathroom and focus on your ONE Thing.
‘The ONE Thing‘ is a book written by Gary Keller. In essence, the book talks about how to achieve your goals by thinking BIG and focusing on ONE SPECIFIC thing at a time. The key is to identify the one goal you have in life that will produce disproportionately high results when compared to everything else, and then focus your time and energy on that ONE Thing while ignoring everything else.
So, the first step is to take your list of resolutions and cross off everything except for ONE Thing.
If you feel anxious about this or think you’re accomplishing less or moving slower, then here’s what to do. Just remember that the chances that you would actually achieve all 5 – 10 resolutions is basically zero. People tend to overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a year. Try this: focus on your ONE Thing for a minimum of one-month before adding in a second goal. By the end of the year you’ll have accomplished 12 goals instead of zero if you’d have tried to do them all at once.
Ok, that was the easy part. Most of us are really good at identifying big ambitious visions for our lives like ‘I want to be fit and healthy’, ‘I want a fulfilling and happy life’, or ‘I want to be stress-free and enjoy my work’. The challenge is that very few people can figure out how to get there.
“We are A-to-Z thinkers, fretting about A, obsessing over Z, yet forgetting all about B through Y” — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way
The next thing to do is turn your long-term dream into something tangible you can do today, right now. The ONE Thing book outlines this with a concept called “Goal Setting in the Now”:
- Someday Goal: What’s the ONE Thing I want to do someday?
- Five-Year Goal: Based on my Someday Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do in the next five years?
- One-Year Goal: Based on my Five-Year Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this year?
- Monthly Goal: Based on my One-Year Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this month?
- Weekly Goal: Based on my Monthly Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do this week?
- Daily Goal: Based on my Weekly Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do today?
- RIGHT NOW: Based on my Daily Goal, what’s the ONE Thing I can do right now?
“By thinking through the filter of Goal Setting to the Now, you set a future goal and then methodically drill down to what you should be doing right now. It can be a little like a Russian matryoshka doll in that your ONE Thing “right now” is nested inside your ONE Thing TODAY, which is nested inside your ONE Thing this WEEK, which is nested inside your ONE Thing this MONTH… it’s how a small thing can actually build up to a big one… You’re lining up your dominoes.“
At this point you’ve got the ONE Thing you need to do right now to achieve your most important goal. But how many times have you made ambitious plans and then not followed through? I sure have. The next step is to build a bulletproof system to make sure you stay on track and actually follow through.
2) Use Systems, Not Willpower
In the past year, how many times have you skipped brushing your teeth? You can probably count the number on one hand. Most of us brush our teeth everyday, twice a day. It’s automatic.
Compare that to flossing. How many times have you skipped flossing? I’m guessing every single day (like me). I hate flossing, and have to use all of my inner strength to force myself to do it. Why is that? Why do most of us have to force ourselves to floss everyday, but we don’t even think twice about brushing our teeth? It’s not like one is much harder than the other — they both take two minutes max and involve rubbing things on your teeth.
That’s because brushing your teeth is a habit. You don’t think about it; you just do it. Whether you know it or not, it’s because you’ve built a system for brushing your teeth everyday.
The reason systems are so important is because of something called willpower.
Willpower is known by many different names: determination, drive, resolve, self-discipline. It’s a limited resource, and we use up a little willpower every time we make a decision or exhibit self-control. Starting a New Year’s Resolution requires a huge amount of willpower. Each day you need to have the same inner dialogue convincing yourself that working out is good for you, or that you shouldn’t have that after dinner snack. You expend a huge amount of willpower defending against the endless excuses and rationalizations thrown up by your self-defeating inner mind.
And once we run out of willpower, we’re at the mercy of our impulses.
That’s why instead of relying on willpower, systems are so important. Systems help to automate your actions so that you don’t need to expend any willpower making decisions — you just do it by default.
I love this excerpt from a Lifehacker article called Stop Relying on Motivation and Make Change by Creating Systems. The quote is from Ramit Sethi, who runs a personal finance blog called iwillteachyoutoberich.com.
“One of my mentors, BJ Fogg, who runs the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, says we should assume that our “future self” is going to be lazy with no motivation. We need to set up systems to make achieving our goals as easy as possible — even when our motivation is low. In other words: Motivation DOESN’T work. Systems do.”
Anytime I’m setting a new goal, I try to build a bulletproof system that makes my actions as automatic as brushing my teeth.
For example, if I’m trying to workout each morning I’ll put my workout clothes next to my bed so I just get up and put them on without thinking. Or if I’m trying to lose weight, I’ll stock my desk and briefcase with healthy snacks and avoid having to head to the food court and make a decision.
3) Build Accountability
But even with bulletproof systems, most of us will still fail. Sometimes, no matter how good your system is, it’s just not good enough. Your weaker self will get the better of you, and next thing you know you’re looking at the bottom of an empty Häagen-Dazs tub realizing that you’ve made a huge mistake.
That’s why I use a third line-of-defence: accountability.
I define accountability is an outside source other than yourself that keeps you on track when your willpower and systems fail. Everyone has moments of weakness when work and life get crazy, and accountability is designed for those moments. Maybe a deal you’re working on blows up at work, or maybe you’ve got some travel coming up and you’re not sure how to stick to your workout goals.
By far, the most effective form of accountability is a coach. Pay someone to keep you accountable. A good example of this is the online coaching I do for my clients. Not only does the financial investment keep you motivated, but your coach will also make things easy for you by doing all the thinking and planning for you so you just have to focus on one thing: action.
The second cheaper but less effective option I use is a checklist. I use a template called ‘The Life Checklist’.
I put each of my daily habits on a checklist with a box for each day, and I put a big ‘X’ on days I complete my ONE Thing.
The technique is loosely based on a productivity method attributed to Jerry Seinfeld. The story goes that Jerry gave some sage advice to a young comic about how to get better by writing everyday. Here’s how it works:
- Print out a big calendar and put it on the wall
- Put an ‘X’ on the calendar for every day that you write
- After a few days, you’ll start to build a ‘chain’ of X’s
- Your focus is now ‘don’t break the chain’
It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many days I’ve dragged myself to the gym just to keep the chain going for one more day.
- Step 1: Identify your ONE Thing / Resolution / Goal, and figure out the ONE action you can take right now.
- Step 2: Build a system to make it happen by default.
- Step 3: Get a Coach or use a Checklist to keep you accountable.
We all have things we want to change in our lives, but most of us never succeed.
Imagine how different your life could be by next year if you started actually working towards some of those dream resolutions you write down each year.
What if you finally lost that extra weight you’ve been carrying around? What if you finally seeing your friends more and making the most of your weekends? What if you finally landed that job or promotion you’ve been dreaming about?
Don’t let 2016 be another failed year. Make 2016 the year you finally start fulfilling your potential and building the life you want.
Now it’s your turn.
Leave a comment below with your ONE Thing that you’re focusing on, and the system you’re going to use to make it happen.