It’s that time of year again.
You’re sick of turkey sandwiches, the festivities have died down, hopefully you’ve made some good memories with those you care about most and it’s time to look forward to the New Year.
And a New Year means new resolutions, new goals, new hopes and dreams.
Always a daunting task.
However, it’s important to remember that the New Year isn’t meant to bring about a completely new you in an instant. The truth is that people don’t change that much or that quickly. That’s just a fact of life. So knowing that the pressure is off a bit, you can use the New Year to reflect on your past year and decide what went well, what you would like to do better going forward and most importantly, how you are going to do it.
When you do eventually sit down and write out your resolutions for the New Year, keep these following reminders out in front of you. They will help to make resolutions that you are more likely to keep and help make the following year your best one yet.
It’s incredibly important to start with something small, and then build on it each and every time you revisit it. When making your resolution, make sure that it is something that you WILL do at least initially that will help to create a snowball effect and eventually roll you to where you want to be. For example, if you haven’t exercised a day in your life, it probably isn’t a good idea to start with a 5km run or jumping into 5 classes of aerobics a week. Or if you want to learn a new language, set aside 10 minutes every day and then build it up as you see fit.
10 minutes a day consistently beats a one-off 4-week intensive course that you forget most of within a month.
Change one big thing at a time
It’s important to start small but have those small steps moving you towards a bigger thing. As I mentioned earlier, change isn’t something that comes very naturally to us humans. So when we do want to change, it is always best to focus on one big thing at a time.
Sure, you should definitely try and change a few things if they all fall under the same big umbrella. For example, if your big one is to stop stressing over the little things, then it certainly isn’t unreasonable to try and change your perspective on life too and maybe also take up meditation. These are all parts of a bigger puzzle.
The problems arise when someone who is a heavy smoker, drinker and has anger management issues pledges to fix them all by March 1st. You can guess how that one turns out.
You can’t always make forward progress
It’s incredibly cliché but that’s because it’s true. Consistent forward progress is a myth, forget it. This is the mistake that I make all of the time. The path that you are on, the resolution that you have chosen, if it’s worthwhile, then it’s going to be a bumpy path. Sometimes you are going to move 3 steps forward, other times you will be driving forward but find yourself 2 steps back. That is just the nature of the beast.
As is the case in a game of chess, you need to move backwards as well as forward in order to eventually put yourself in a winning position. The sooner you accept that there will be bumps in the road, the more likely you are to emerge from the bumps at the other side, triumphant.
Goals are important, but systems are more important
You’re planning on losing weight this year? That’s great! You’re going to start a blog? Fantastic! You’re going to find yourself a partner? Go for it!
Goals are important for giving us a direction, something to aim for. But without a system, they are pretty useless.
The system part gives you the how. How you are going to achieve the goal. And a good system will always prevail, no matter the individual results in the process.
If you are going to the gym 3 times a week and eating reasonably well and consistently, then a day or two when the scales don’t reflect your effort don’t matter, because a good system is in place.
If you are starting a blog and providing value to who you seek to serve every week, then low pageviews here or a few unsubscribers there don’t matter, because a good system is in place.
If you plan on finding yourself a partner and make an effort to go on a date with someone every week or two, then rejection after rejection doesn’t matter, because a good system is in place.
Of course, the systems can and should be tweaked every so often, but they are key to achieving your New Year goals and resolutions.
Highlight possible obstacles and how you can combat them
This links quite closely with point number 2. Knowing that you can’t always make forward progress to achieving your resolutions means that inevitably, there are going to be a number of obstacles lying in the way.
Rather than simply knowing that there will be obstacles, if you can, you should also identify what they might be and how you will work to get around them.
You won’t be able to foresee all obstacles but that’s okay. You only need to be able to see and plan for the main ones. And if you do manage to conquer them, then maybe consider rewarding yourself too.
For example, the big obstacles for losing weight are most likely to be procrastination and feeling unmotivated. How would you make sure you navigated those?
The big obstacles for trying to read more books might be your Netflix subscription and your late nights. What needs to change?
Make yourself accountable
Accountability is an often overlooked aspect when it comes to realising resolutions in the New Year. Many people find it easier to be motivated, myself included, when others are brought into the equation. When someone needs something from us by a certain time, when a family member is relying on us to do them a favour, when somebody else knows about that project we’re working on, it’s more likely to get done.
So grab yourself a gym partner, tell someone about the ambitious project you’re working on and if you really want to take it to the extremes, you can use the website stickK which brings real money and real stakes into the equation. You can set it up so that if you promised to shave off that awful beard by April, your friend, worst enemy or anti-charity will be paid a set amount of money if you don’t complete it – and there are people involved to check! So to really commit and avoid becoming a donor to the Nazi party or any other cause that you detest, best get cracking on those resolutions!
Make your resolution specific
This is one of the main reasons that I have either failed or only partially completed resolutions in the past. I just wasn’t specific enough.
‘I want to eat healthier this year’. Okay great, but what does that even mean? Healthier than what? If I ate around 4 carrots last year, can I tick it off if I eat 5 today?
Change ‘I will eat healthier’ to something like ‘I will cook at least 3 meals myself each week’.
Change ‘I will learn Spanish’ to something like ‘I will learn 5 new words every day/ listen to Spanish radio for 20 minutes twice a week/ meet up and converse with a native speaker for 1 hour every week’.
I fully understand why we aren’t specific. I get it. Being specific is being committed. It’s a hell of a lot easier to say I’m going to learn guitar than actually putting aside an hour every single week to practice.
If you don’t want to / can’t be specific, then change the resolution to something that would be more meaningful and life-changing for you. Something that you want to be specific about.
Apply the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, is a nifty little thing to remember and something that you can use for any situation where you might need to be productive. If you aren’t familiar with it, it refers to the fact that in almost all instances across all facets of life, 20% of the input results in 80% of the output. 20% of the causes give 80% of the effects.
You wear 20% (often less) of your wardrobe 80% of the time.
You listen to 20% (often less) of the music on your playlist 80% of the time.
20% of your clients are causing you 80% of your headaches.
So how to apply this New Year resolutions? Simply be aware of it and how it can be applied to your goal.
If you want to be a happier person next year (far too vague but we’ll roll with it for now), a good starting point would be to determine the 20% of activities or people in your life that produce 80% of your peak positive emotional states and then work from there.
Or if you want to grow your podcast subscribers by 5% each month, what 20% of things can you do in order to get you 80% or most of that figure, and then work from there.
I hope that these tactics will help you make and stick to all of the great New Year’s resolutions that you are planning. We can’t wait to see what you become in the next year and beyond.
P.S. If you want a nifty, structured and practical version of what I have spoken about in this post, you can get access to a printable New Year’s Resolution Checklist below. It is perfect for sticking on your wall, bathroom mirror or anywhere else that will remind you of what you are working towards.
Love the Pareto Principle. So useful in every area of life, especially work. Keep up the good work, Dan!
Thank you, Allen! I appreciate the kind words and it’s a great principle to remember!