This is the time of year when, even if you don’t make official “resolutions”, it’s difficult not to consider how you would like to shape the forthcoming year – and of course, how you fared in the previous one. Since most resolutions fail, I always try to provide some tools to buck the odds. For earlier thoughts on this, go here. But in this article, we’re taking a more analytical approach!
We are neurologically wired to view calendar beginnings and endings as opportunities to make changes or to reflect on our successes or failures. It’s seems to be built-in to our humanness. More people start a diet on Monday than any other day. Gyms are at their most full for the first few weeks of a new year and at the beginning of the week. We will grab any formal beginning: Birthdays, anniversaries, start of a new school year and yes, New Year’s Day.
Given that predisposition, maybe you could seize the cognitive oddity and use it to your benefit.
So, if you are going to attempt to make use of the new year for a new goal, habit, result, relationship or plan, how might you do it in a way that would be productive?
Usually we craft goals like “lose weight”, “go to gym”, “save more money”, etc.
This approach is a pretty weak and often fails because they’re framed as comparisons to now and to fixing a perceived problem. Now that you’ve etched a list of problems into your brain and on paper, they will loom larger than the potential benefit of any changes. Instead of crafting the resolve for a new beginning, you have built a mental monument to problems.
A different way to look at next year might be to ask yourself “who am I committed to being one year from today?”. Instead of attacking your areas of weakness or problem areas, take an imaginary time travel trip. Place yourself one year out and ask who you want to be in each of the key areas of your life or enterprise. Here’s a simple step by step approach.
Create the list of your key life/work domains. Those domains can be parsed in any way you choose. For example, my own domains include:
Yours will be unique to you. They may include family, parenting, travel, sports, perhaps specific areas of your business like product, team or customer base. Anything that works to parse your life and work into buckets.
Then, about each of these domains with respect to the last year ask yourself: What have I learned? What was my biggest accomplishment? What was my biggest failure? How much distance did I cover toward the goal (if there is one)?
Let yourself really engage with this project because it is intended to generate a sense of your own evolution through time. Each of us is evolving. It may be deliberate or unconscious, but you are not the same as you were one year ago. A year from now you will be changed. Take the time to appreciate that and catalogue it.
Once you have done that, put aside that piece of paper and begin with a new one. Make a grid. Each domain should have its own row (or several). In the next column describe yourself with respect to that domain as you imagine it one year from today. You will need to get beyond your inclination to speak in comparative terms. For example, “earning more money” is comparative. “Saving $1,000 a month” is stand-alone, and not fixative. The goal is to invent the future you one year from now as a full reality, not as a correction of problems.
Once you have created a vision of each domain, come up with at least one actual behavior, habit or action you can take to begin the process toward that reality. This may take some thought or even help, and if so, ask a friend, spouse or your coach to help you. For example, two of the domains I selected for myself are completed in the matrix below. I will need help for the fulfillment of my “Love” domain. My own brain doesn’t seem very inventive about that issue.
|Domain||The State of Affairs on Jan 1, 2021||Behavior/Habit/Other|
|Health/Fitness/Body||Uninjured and participating in all my sports||Finish physical therapy
Slowly reintroduce Cycling, running
|Novelty 2||I am a very competent pastry baker and decorator||Sign up for baking apprenticeship|
Finally, once you have created the matrix, create repeating appointments in your calendar to perform those actions, habits or behaviors on as regular a basis as it needs. In my own calendar I have already booked my physical therapy appointments and exercise time on non-therapy days. I also booked my appointment to register for the baking apprenticeship I plan to complete. Do the same with the behaviors you intend to undertake.
Keep and display the completed matrix somewhere you will see it regularly.
Most critically, seize the momentum of your brain’s relationship to the new year to be vigilant. If you can hang onto that new habit or behavior for just 45 days you will turn it into a routine. That means new neural pathways that lead to fulfilling the vision. Surrender to your calendar so your brain doesn’t override your commitment (for more on mastering using your calendar try this article!)
If you don’t trust yourself to succeed –this might be a great moment to engage a coach. If I’m the one you want to work with, reach out. But, if not, find someone to hold your feet to the fire. And set the stage for a transformative 2020.
Happy New Year!