January tends to mean a fresh start and a new chance to reach goals. It means resolutions and closing last year’s books. It means we are past the holidays and time off and getting back to our routines.
This year, instead of setting new goals or trying to come up with a new resolution, take a different approach. I’ve written in the past about why resolutions don’t seem to stick and why setting goals isn’t as effective as people assume.
So this year try to look at yourself and identify trends. What trends are you seeing? Has your health been improving over the years? Have your finances gotten better? Have you been making strides in areas that are important to you? Or have you slowly gone the opposite direction?
If you find yourself improving, then continue to do what you are doing. Focus on small routine changes that you can add in and then solidify the new routines as habit. Don’t worry about coming up with new resolutions, instead, just keep improving.
But if there are areas that you can’t seem to make progress in, take a step back and look at the various aspects of the overall system that controls that area of your life. Start to think about your behaviors as a series of processes.
Businesses have separate departments for marketing, sales, customer service, legal, product development, project management, senior leadership etc. Our bodies are made up of various systems too – respiratory system, digestive system, skeletal system, nervous system, immune system etc. Even project managers look at different phases of a project to better understand how to achieve their overall objectives.
Look similarly at your routines and habits and start to realize that there are various systems going on at the same time. We have routines for getting up in the morning and getting to work. We have habits that we use to decide what lunch to get or what movie to watch.
Now instead of setting a goal and hoping effort will help you achieve that goal, try to find small routines changes that could lead to improvement. The key is to look for small incremental improvement, not massive overhaul.
Hopefully you can find a few smaller things that you can change. If you have a hard time getting to work on time evaluate your morning routine and your nighttime routine. Maybe you can try to wake up 2 minutes earlier each day. This may not seem like much and may not reach the goal right away but after a few days or a few weeks get up 4 minutes earlier. Do this for as long as it takes to make it feel natural. After a while you can get up early enough so you can get to work on time. Or maybe you set your alarm for 20 minutes earlier but you go to bed before that last episode of a show you watch at night.
Whatever it is make sure it is small and moving you towards your goal. It shouldn’t get you there immediately but it should be somewhat easy to do. The easier it is to do the better because it is more likely that you will continue to do it long enough for it to form a new routine.
This may seem like a very long process and it is. If reaching goals could be done quickly, easily and effectively everyone would always reach their goals. The reality is that we can only choose 2 of those. It can be quick and effective with hard work. It can be quick and easy but certainly won’t be effective. Or it can be easy and effective but will take a long time.
Stop forcing yourself to make drastic habit and lifestyle changes immediately. It took years and years to develop your habits and routines so changing them will likely take long as well.
Resist the temptation to set a goal or resolution that involves major change in a short amount of time. Instead find small systematic changes that can lead you towards your ultimate goal. Where do you ultimately want to be? Start there but keep your focus on the process and making progress.