The start of a new year has something romantic about it. It feels full of possibilities. There's something in the air in January that inspires us to set self-improvement goals and work hard on them.
Gym-goers have a name for the flock of people that crowd the weight room in January: New Year resolutioners. They fill up the gym in January, but you won't find many of them in March.
New Year resolutions have a terrible track record. They don't last long.
Here's a two-step process to help you be successful with your resolutions:
- Goals are not enough; you need systems
- Systems are only useful if they are sustainable
From Goals to Systems
Once you have a goal, reverse engineer a system to get there.
Systems, or processes, are habits and behaviors that you deploy, ideally daily, to achieve your goals. If you want to lose 10 kilos, the system to get there is to exercise daily and eat healthily. To publish your novel, you need to make progress on it every day and read other authors' work in the field.
Once you have a system, focus only on it and forget about the goal.
Goals are a powerful source of motivation, concrete milestones to visualize a better version of ourselves. They also make you live in a state of misery till you reach them. Sticking to your system gives you happiness every day.
Goals are far away in the future, sometimes so much that it's hard to find the motivation to act on them. Systems decompose lofty goals in achievable daily practices.
My reading recommendation on how to change the frame of reference from goals to systems is How to Loose at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams.
Once you identify some practices that can make you achieve your goal, it can be tempting to go all-in on them. You'll start hitting the gym every day, walking 10,000 steps, go on a strict diet.
The motivation to commit to these massive new habits disappears as the novelty wears off. They are unsustainable.
To stick to your habits and implement your systems, you need to find a way to make them sustainable.
The best way is to start small. To walk 10,000 steps a day, start by walking around the house every day. To hit the gym every day, start by doing 5 push-ups every day.
As B.J. Fogg explains in Tiny Habits, the secret is to start with processes that are so small that you cannot possibly fail at them. You can always find the time to walk around the house and do 5 push-ups; it's such low friction that you can do it before going to bed if you haven't had the time during the day.
Starting small allows you to progressively and sustainably increase your effort. Instead of going on a strict diet, which will only make you miserable and craving for what you're depriving yourself of, start by removing or replacing something every week. Get one sugar instead of two this week, then no sugar next week. Replace the doughnut with a croissant, then the croissant with a fruit.
Alongside Tiny Habits, another book to understand the mechanics of how to succeed in implementing new habits and breaking bad ones is James Clear's Atomic Habits.
This post only scratches the surface of what goes into creating successful systems to achieve your goals and New Year resolutions. Definitely check out the reading recommendations to learn more about concrete tactics to deploy and ideally find a friend to work with so you can both keep each other accountable.
I'd love to hear about your systems and daily tiny habits. Leave a comment below, or get in touch on Twitter at @mokagio.