Every year I used to write down these big brave new year’s resolutions. A few things that I wanted to achieve or some habits I wanted to change before the end of the year. No tactics, just a goal.
Sure enough, come the end of the year, I was no closer to achieving them.
I then thought I’d make it a bit more tactical. I’d break it into weeks and have smaller goals I wanted to do before the end of the week. There’d be about 10 of them. Still no progress. This continued until it was daily goals (still over 5).
Very rarely did I ever do even half of them, or significantly change any habits.
The problem was twofold. Firstly I had way too many goals to concentrate on. Sure I might achieve the top couple that I’m really excited about but because I had those to go to the others got forgotten. Secondly I hadn’t broken those goals or habit changes down into tactical actionable steps.
After years of frustration I’ve now found a way that works.
Big goals and habit changes are great, I love coming up with these. But I need to eat the elephant one bite at a time.
These are the steps I take for each behavioural or habit change:
1. Write down the change I want to see.
I write it in a journal or something I regularly refer back to.
E.g. It might be to become more confident in public.
2. Identify habits or behaviours that the change would exhibit.
It sometimes helps to identify someone who I think displays the particular behaviour I want to have, and then see what habits they have.
E.g. Confident people seem to initiate conversations, be the first to say something when meeting new people, be comfortable and relaxed in public etc.
3. Identify individual practices or challenges that would support that change.
They don’t have to make the change on their own, they can be the tiniest change that pushes me slightly towards the goal. In fact, the smaller and simpler the better.
E.g. Small challenges that would train me to be more confident in public would be:
-Be the first to smile at people on the street
-Be the first to greet someone (checkout operators etc.)
-Go into a very public spot (like the middle or a public square) and do something that makes me feel relaxed like stretch or sit down
-When waiting for something (lifts, public transport) pick one person I haven’t ever spoken to and say something to them, it doesn’t have to be a full conversation, it could just be a casual remark
4. Pick one of these challenges and do it at least once a day (more if I can) for a week.
It’s very important to pick only one. The moment I have more than one is the moment I lose focus.
5. Next week I concentrate on the next challenge.
Remember, the point is to become more confident, not just to create a habit of stretching in a public square every day. So while it may take 21-66 days to form an individual habit (depending on which theory you go with), shorter challenges can work together to change a larger behaviour over that time.
So instead of having these lofty goals with no real way to attain them, I have these very small and relatively easy steps to take on the way to the goal.
The stakes are low. Each challenge is just a stepping stone or a single brick in the behaviour I’m building. If a particular challenge is too difficult for the moment I can either revisit it or break it down even further.
If I’m consistent with these daily/weekly challenges it’s amazing how much I can achieve over time.
As I’ve heard someone say (no one knows who actually came up with it):
“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year”.