“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
Welcome to 2018. At Camp Tecumseh, we want you to be the best version of yourself. Not only is this good for you, but it’s good for your friends, your family, and your community. While most New Year’s resolutions are bound to crash and burn, a good New Year’s resolution can help you become the best version of yourself. If you’re ready to make a meaningful change, here’s how to do it.
1. Start with one
Most resolutions fail as soon as you write “2.” on your list. That’s because resolutions rely on developing good habits, and good habits are notoriously tricky to develop. While December may seem like an eternity from now, don’t let a fresh calendar entice you into biting off more than you can chew. Remember, your old habits don’t get thrown out with the 2017 calendar. If you overextend yourself, you’re likely to end up in the same place a year from now.
Instead, pick one area of your life to improve: health, family, friendships, finances, education, professional development, faith, travel, and hone in. Succeeding in just one of these areas will increase your quality of life, and give you a sense of accomplishment. Plus, you’ll learn how to develop good habits so you can achieve your goals in other areas of your life down the road.
2. Take stock of your current situation
From schedules, to families, to biological rhythms, we are all different. It makes sense then to consider our individual circumstances as we make a plan to achieve our resolution. Here are a few questions to ask to assess your situation as it relates to your resolution.
- What does your daily schedule look like?
- How much time do you have to devote to your resolution?
- How much time can you make by cutting other things out?
- What motivates you?
- When are you most productive and/or motivated?
- Who in your life may be a help or a hindrance to you achieving your goal?
- What resources do you currently have available to you?
- What resources do you need to acquire to move forward?
- How much experience in this area do you have?
3. Do your research
The internet is overflowing with bad advice, junk science, and mountains of advertising. That’s why it’s important to take a few days (or a few weeks if your resolution is complicated or expensive) surveying the landscape and learning to separate good information from bad information. Whether you’re trying to get fit, put your financial house in order, or learn a new language, it’s important to know which programs, methods, and products are available to you.
Start by taking a wide view. Do a basic Google search on your topic and take note of what comes up on the first few pages. Hop over to Reddit and find the subreddit that best fits your resolution. Head to the bookstore and pick up a book or two (skip the new releases and opt for a tried and true classic in your category). Don’t forget to skim through relevant magazines. Listen to a few podcasts. You’re not making any decisions at this point, you’re just trying to learn the vernacular, get a sense of best practices, and sift out the junk.
After that, find a few friends or family members that have some expertise or experience and have a conversation with them. Be careful with recommendations on social networks. In public, friends and family can exaggerate the benefits (or downsides if they had a bad experience) of certain programs and products to justify the investment they made in time and money.
Lastly, and most importantly, talk to an expert or a professional. If you’re trying to lose weight, talk to a nutritionist or a personal trainer. If you’re trying to save for retirement, talk to a financial planner. If you want to learn a new language, talk to a teacher. Professionals can help you separate good advice from bad advice, and help create a plan just for you.
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell
4. Create a plan tailored to your unique situation
There are many ways to achieve your goals, but many of them won’t work for you. That’s why the self-assessment and research stages are so important. At this point you should have a good understanding of your own situation. You should also have a few options lined up that have potential to work for you.
Before you begin, hack your products and programs so they work best for you, and don’t feel bad about it. If you think a language learning program will move too fast, break the lessons into smaller segments. If you don’t have time to prepare certain meals, find alternatives that use similar ingredients but require less prep. If you hate mornings, move your workout to the afternoon. Do whatever you think is necessary to maximize your chance of success, even if it diverges from the instructions or conventional wisdom.
If your plan involves the purchase of expensive subscriptions, memberships, products, or courses, make sure there is enough flexibility to adjust the program to your unique situation. Likewise, make sure there is enough benefit to justify the purchase price. Sometimes a high purchase price can provide additional motivation. You don’t want that money to go to waste after all.
5. Break your plan down into a system of habits
After laying out our general strategy, it’s time to transform that plan into a system of habits that can be repeated on a daily basis.
Let’s use an example.
“Being healthy” is our end goal, but that isn’t easy to measure. Using a system of habits, we can create behaviors that are measurable and trackable.
In this example plan, I’ve identified a few things that lead to better health: keeping a food log, eating a healthy breakfast, going on a walks, hitting the gym, and cutting out pop and late night snacks.
Here’s the plan broken down into a system of habits.
- Document every meal and snack in a food log immediately after consumption.
- Eat breakfast everyday that consists of fruit and granola.
- Go on a 10 minute walk after eating lunch.
- Spend 45 minutes at the gym after work or school.
- Don’t drink pop.
- No snacks after dinner.
Each one of these habits fits the plan, but they go one step further. Each one can be measured and tracked every single day.
6. Order your system of habits
After identifying a system of habits, order them according to difficulty. The habit you think will be easiest to develop goes first. The habit you’re most worried about goes last.
Because some habits take more time to develop than others, it’s important to start slow before jumping into activities that have a high failure rate (gym attendance drops off significantly in February). By starting with easier habits, you’ll increase your willpower over time which will increase your chances of success for more difficult habits down the line. Likewise, don’t underestimate the psychological thrill of success as a motivator. Successfully creating 2 or 3 new habits will boost your confidence when it’s time to tackle the habits at the end of your list.
“The truth is, you don’t break a bad habit; you replace it with a good one.” – Denis Waitley
7. Create an accountability system
In the beginning, the excitement of imagining an improved version of yourself provides enough motivation to get started. However, as time goes on, that thrill wanes. You might get busy. Your situation might change. In those moments, you’re more likely to quit. An effective accountability system will keep you motivated over the long term.
Jerry Seinfeld wrote at least one joke every single day. He hung up a giant wall calendar and put a red “X” on each day that he wrote a joke. His goal: Don’t break the chain. Quality came second. He had to sit down and write a new joke everyday. When you’re ready to try developing a new habit, see how long you can go without breaking the chain. If you prefer a digital method to track your chain, create a spreadsheet, or download an app.
8. Enlist somebody else
Sometimes we need a little bit of additional help. Recruit an accountability partner. You can either work towards the same goal together (going to the gym is much easier if you have somebody to go with), or your friend can check in on your progress on a schedule you set together.
If you really need extra motivation, raise the stakes with your accountability partner by creating a commitment contract. Every time you fall short of your goal, you might pay your accountability partner a small amount or perform a task you don’t enjoy. Whatever you decide. A program like Stikk can handle the logistics.
9. Get to Work
Whether you want to read more books, retire at 40, or learn to cook, a good plan only works when you get to work.
“Successful people are simply those with successful habits” -Brian Tracy