Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Original post on Linkedin.
I will preface this with the fact that I don't fully support New Year's resolutions. I am as guilty as the rest of us for setting resolutions like eating better or working out, then barely make it to mid-January before I have officially “fallen off the bandwagon”.
However, since learning about how to set powerful goals and deliver on them, I do set a New Year’s intention for myself. The reason is that when we start the new year it does often bring new energy - a new sense of commitment, a new perspective, or re-prioritisation. We check back in with ourselves and we're ready to do something a little bit different into 2021. So I want to harness that new energy, without setting myself up for failure and disappointment.
Grab a journal, 30 minutes, and try this 5-step process. The great thing about this process is that even if you do nothing else beyond the exercise, you will already have started to think differently, by being intentional with designing a part of your life.
Step 1: Set a shorter term intention
Think about an ideal day in one month's time. Picture that ideal day, and write it out in long form in a journal.
How does your day start?
How would you like to be managing your tasks?
Interacting with your colleagues?
Looking after your health?
Making time for yourself?
Advancing your career?
Step 2: Look back to 2020
Now that you have your ideal day laid out, think back on an average work day in 2020. Not a terrible day (although these are very understandable given the year it was), but just… average.
Write out how that day unfolded, from waking up until going to bed.
Step 3: Compare the differences
Here we want to pinpoint what is different between your ideal day, and your average day from 2020. Write out as many as you can think of. This will give you have a comparison between your ideal day in one month and your average work day. For example:
Are there differences in what time you woke up?
What your morning routine looked like?
How you started your day?
How you managed your emails?
How you had meetings?
How you interacted with colleagues?
How you ended the day?
Step 4: Focus
There is potentially a big gap here. That is OKAY, and very normal. It is also normal for your brain to start making excuses about why that ideal day isn’t possible. We experience cognitive dissonance - a form of mental disruption that occurs when you think about yourself in a way that doesn’t match your current behaviour. When we experience this, our brains want to immediately close the gap and bring us back to a state where our thinking and behaviour match.
We can use this in our favour. Instead of using excuses to close the gap, we can use FOCUS.
So, what is one thing that you want to experiment with shifting first?
This could be your morning routine, email or meeting habits, taking a walk or lunch break. Look at the gaps you identified and select one that you could 1) shift within a month, and 2) feel really proud at having made that change. The language of experiment is also important. It helps bypass the cognitive dissonance - instead of trying to reconcile a whole new behaviour or habit, we are just committing to “try it on” for 30 days. From there it is much easier to integrate as part of who we are and how we do life.
Once you have your one focus, make it real. Go back and picture that perfect day. If you really got this one thing right, what would that feel like? How would your day be different? Write it down. You can use a template like:
For the next 30 days, I am going to experiment with ______ (your one thing).
In my ideal day that is one month away, that means I will ________ (experience / feel / do).
Step 5: Obstacles and strategies
This is the step that most people miss when they set a new year’s resolution. They have a goal they want to achieve, but they do not look at their life and make it real. We rarely pause and figure out what might get in the way of us achieving that resolution, and develop clear strategies. I will be the first to put my hand up and say that I have set the “This year, I’m finally going to go to gym” resolution. Only to have been consistent for 2 weeks, then skip it for 2 months.
Figuring out our strategies may sound like it is hard to do, but in fact it is quite simple. You may be surprised at how well your brain can come up with solutions when you are clear on the obstacles. This is the most simple but effective process I have found, borrowed from Brooke Castillo at The Life Coach School. You can check out a more detailed podcast here, but here is a short version:
Part 1: Give your complainer brain its opportunity to object. Write out all of the different obstacles you have for making that focus area real. Write them out on paper, and leave a spare line underneath each obstacle.
Part 2: for each obstacle, think of one strategy or something you can try in order to overcome that obstacle.
For example, if making time to exercise is your focus, you may have the obstacle: I don’t have time. Your strategy could be: treat workouts like meetings - schedule them at the start of each week, and do not cancel them (This is the strategy I have used to successfully gym twice a week, after years of sporadic commitments and self-letdowns).
The beauty of this approach is the advice is just for you. Our obstacles are unique and special for us (read: our complainer brains), and generic advice doesn’t help. For example you probably already know that you will get more done if you “wake up earlier” or “turn off your notifications”. But they don’t often stick. So here is your opportunity to give yourself tailored advice for what YOU need to do. This is how you can overcome the specific obstacles you are facing, to achieve your one specific focus and move the needle in this next month.
My own focus for the next 30 days - start my work day with 15 mins of meditation and gratitude to prime my “state”.
What is yours?