This time of year, everyone seems to be talking about goals and resolutions. Change is in the air. Motivation is up and we start to evaluate what we want to improve in the next few months.
While this can be a good time to boost our self-improvement, it can also form a cycle of start and failure. Many of the goals we set are uncomfortable so we wait until January to attack them.
The reality is that this causes short-term thinking. We think, “ok I just need to stick with eating salads for a few months and by summer will be in shape.”
Looking at statistics of New Years Resolutions we can quickly find that they don’t work in the long term. We attack them solely with a newfound motivation and effort and hope a few months of discomfort will result in a lifetime of success.
The systems and habits approach to improvement is very different. Instead of assuming motivation and effort can start, sustain, and build, we assume motivation and effort are actually fleeting. They don’t last so we need other strategies to accomplish our goals.
Instead of starting by trying to work harder and hope that remains, systems thinkers start with very small first steps. Starting small helps to keep going but the key is that we keep going long enough to start to form new habits.
The new habits then start to become automatic behaviors that don’t require such focus and effort. They happen naturally and without even thinking about them. Then, after a long time (potentially months or possibly even years) we have a strong enough habit formed that we can add more and more until we start to see the results we crave.
The New Years Resolution structure goes against this. If we can’t say we reached out goal by spring, we judge it to be a failure. So we sacrifice the chance for long-term success by focusing too much on a short-term win.
Just as we can sacrifice long-term for short-term, we can actually do the exact opposite by using systems and habits techniques. We can work slowly, and focus more on progress than on perfection. We can set minimums to help build the right habits and use motivation and effort to continue doing the small behavior rather than expecting some huge amount of effort to suddenly appear.