Focus on bite-sized goals, routines, and an accountability structure.
As the year draws to a close, our thoughts naturally turn towards the year ahead. It is an opportunity to take stock of what I call the “portfolio of life”.
How do I design the life I want to live? What do I want to accomplish professionally and personally? What actions do I need to take to meet these objectives?
Right… New Year’s resolutions… I hear some of you mutter under your breath. Well, not really.
The most common New Year’s resolutions include perennial favourites such as exercising more, eating healthy, learning a new skill, managing finances, strengthening relationships, and pursuing an aspiration.
Yet, studies show that an astounding 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail, with most losing steam by February.
Whether it’s yoga or cross-fit training, statistics show a sharp increase in gym attendance every January, followed by a precipitous decline the month after.
With such dismal odds, I’m much less interested in New Year’s resolutions per se. Rather, it’s about putting in place systems that enable change.
Here are three life hacks that have worked for me over the years.
1. Reach for bite-sized goals
Lofty goals are wonderfully aspirational, but can be daunting - or downright discouraging - as progress on a day-to-day basis seems positively glacial.
But remember, even the largest mountains are moved one rock at a time.
Looking to transition into a new field? Deconstruct the process.
For example, reach out to two people a week who may be able to provide insights about industries, companies, or roles you are interested in.
Identify gaps in your experience and develop a plan to close those gaps one at a time.
The first time I climbed 28 flights of stairs, as part of a training regimen for Everest Base Camp, I was completely wiped out.
By gradually increasing the number of flights each week, I eventually was able to climb 250 flights of stairs carrying 10% of my body weight.
Today, stairs no longer intimidate me.
When we reach a goal, however insignificant it may seem in the grand scheme of things, the brain’s reward system releases a dopamine hit. This in turn motivates us to reach for the next goal, and so on. Set yourself simple challenges and keep inching the bar forward.
2. Develop routines
Habits are essentially behaviours that are so ingrained, they require little if any thought. For example, you may habitually have a cup of coffee every morning, or traverse the same route between your home and the supermarket.
Since we as humans are hardwired to fall back on old habits, how does one actually go about building a new habit?
Start by developing routines, which are often uncomfortable and require intentional effort.
Learning a new instrument? Set aside dedicated time to practise on a regular basis rather than leaving it to serendipity.
Speaking from experience as a musician earlier in my life, I can attest that your day will run away from you if you do not block time in your calendar to practise.
As time passes, routines turn into habits. Our brains develop stronger and stronger neuronal circuits that support the new behaviour.
And that is how new habits are formed.
3. Establish accountability mechanisms
Big changes require sustained change. The trouble is, it is exceedingly difficult to stay the course, particularly when nothing material seems to be happening in the near-term.
It is easy to give up, and to fall back into our comfort zone. An accountability structure helps nudge us towards our goals, especially when we do not feel like it.
Want to eat healthy? Get your entire family on board (they will thank you later).
Pursuing a degree? Find a study buddy and keep each other motivated.
Reinventing yourself? Join a community of like-minded individuals who can be a source of strength and support.
Keen to read more books? Share your goal on social media to make it public and post regular book reviews.
Reinvention requires intentional effort. Let go of the temptation to make New Year’s resolutions that likely will not be kept.
Instead, focus on bite-sized goals, routines, and an accountability structure.
You can do it.
A version of this article was originally published in The Business Times on Dec 13, 2021.
*If you are interested in moving into a new chapter in your career, you might find joining a community of like-minded people useful. The Remarkable Reinventors Community is a safe space geared towards experts who are ready to grow and explore a new chapter of their life.