It’s that time of year again – the time when we sincerely promise ourselves to change our lives for the better. We vow to finally learn that new language, to stop procrastinating and to take control of our lives and careers again – basically, we vow to become the person we’ve always aspired to be.
If only it were so easy! We probably don’t need to tell you that resolutions rarely ever make it past February (at best!) Life happens, old habits kick back in, and we find ourselves right back where we started – frustrated at the concept of resolutions as a whole.
Don’t let your New Year’s resolutions remain empty promises
What if we told you that we’re 99.9% sure that you’re not the reason your goals aren’t being reached. And nope – it’s nothing to do with the reality of your goal either. It’s how you’re approaching them and what systems you have in place to ensure you reach your resolutions. Yes, you read that right. It is nearly impossible to wing the process of accomplishing a goal, and the ‘practice makes perfect’ method falls flat pretty quickly. After failing once, anyone can be tempted to label New Year’s resolutions as useless altogether.
Without a structure of when, where and how you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure. What you need is a clear system to follow and we have just the right thing.
So for you lovely resolution go-getters, we’ve picked out some of our favourite techniques from our tried, tested and honed workshop strategy to get you in the fast-lane towards that new and improved you.
Achieve your New Year’s resolutions by trying smarter tactics, not harder work
The reason your resolutions fail year after year is NOT your lack of persistence, or poorly set goals, or an ancient curse plaguing all resolutions altogether. Let that sink in for a moment. The reason your resolutions fail lies in the strategies you put in place.
Rethink the approach not the goal.
We’ve helped companies put their best work forward and follow through with projects of every size – big, small, creative and corporate. And the way we’ve done it every time? Strategy, strategy, strategy.
Step 1: Take time to reflect
Ok determined this time to make your resolutions work. Now what?
While it might be tempting to dive straight into crafting your newfound goals, we’d strongly recommend you take a step back and take some time to reflect and learn from your past. Clean, fresh starts are exciting, we know, but failure to learn from the past can result in the same mistakes repeating themselves over and over. Doing a year in review often reveals some accomplishments that you haven’t yet given yourself credit for – and celebrating wins is one of the crucial steps in achieving goals (but we’ll get to that later
Reviewing your year doesn’t have to be difficult, lengthy or complex. In fact, our all-time favourite year in review techniques will take just 10 minutes of your time. One of our favourite techniques comes from Marie Forleo, a life coach, philanthropist and host of Marie TV. Her technique is simple, effective, and cuts right to the chase. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and jot down the answers to these questions:
- What did I create, do, or experience this year that I’m proud of?
- What mistakes did I make that taught me something? What lessons did I learn that I can leverage?
- What am I willing to let go of?
We can guarantee that going through these simple questions will make your resolutions stick and boost your chances of success dramatically.
Pro tip: Change and tweak the year in review technique to fit you! Feeling a bit more reflective? Then try out this framework by Tim Ferris.
Step 2: Define your why
Let’s get real for a moment. What are the true intentions behind the resolutions you want to achieve? Is getting promoted something that you want, or something that you think you should want?
Truth is, if you’re striving after someone else’s visions and desires, the minute the first obstacles pops up, it’ll be very easy to abandon your newfound goals.
Unfinished goals can create a nagging feeling of frustration and failure. Dealing with this can really drain your energy. So why don’t you save yourself the time and trouble by going after the goals that you truly want?
A simple, yet effective way to unearth the underlying motivations for your resolutions is to run a quick exercise called “The 5 Whys’. This exercise comes from the realm of Design Thinking and is perfect for understanding the cause and effect relationship of issues at hand.
Is your resolution something that you want, or something that you think you should want?
For example, one of your resolutions is to get promoted to a manager role. Start with the most obvious reason as to why you might want it, and keep asking the question until you feel you’ve gotten to the ultimate cause of it.
Why do I want a manager role? – Because I want a new role on my CV.
Why do I want that role particularly? – Because I want to make progress in my career.
Why do I want to make progress in my career? – Because I enjoy being hands-on in the work that I do.
Why do I enjoy what I do? – Because I’m skilled at it.
Why am I good at it? – Because I’m genuinely interested in what I do!
For this specific example, the resolution to get a promotion to a manager role is driven by interest in the hands-on, nit and grit of the job itself, not the managerial aspects of the new role. While striving for progression is admirable, it’s not always tied with assuming a managerial role. If what you’re after is getting better at the hands-on job that you do, becoming a manager might actually take you further away from your goal!
If you build this foundation with every resolution then you’ve taken one of the most important steps to paving the way to accomplishing it. It’s substantially easier to ace goals once you’ve given them sentimental value. After you work out how it’s important to you – the drive to reach the final target will be deeper-routed.
Step 3: Understand what works for you
While the advice we share here is about the strategy of crafting and defining your resolutions in a way that will make them easier for you to achieve, you will eventually have to go out into the real world and…well, execute on these resolutions.
This is where the tactics come into play and it’s crucial you know which ones will work for you and which won’t.
Early birds will do great with early wake-ups to complete a new habit they decided to adopt, night owls will struggle and most likely abandon their goal if any productivity has to happen before 10 am. Some people will need an accountability buddy to follow through with their resolutions, others will resent the idea.
Don’t sway on your strategy, but adapt your tactics to fit into your lifestyle. A great way to find out what will work for you is to follow the 4 tendencies framework by Gretchen Rubin.
Gretchen argues that the way we respond to inner and outer expectations defines how we should frame and approach a challenge – and we couldn’t agree more!
Step 4: Write it out
It’s back to the good ol’ pen and paper, baby! Yes, we really mean it.
Ditch the keyboard, close the Notes app on your phone, and write your resolutions out. This might seem insignificant, but research shows that our brains work and process information better when we write it out as opposed to typing.
Writing by hand has proven to be more effective for understanding and retaining new information. It’s a mighty neurosensory exercise that involves different parts of the brain firing together at the same time. This allows your brain to slow down, so you can express your ideas more clearly and access your feelings more deeply. This sharpens your critical thinking process and strengthens conceptual understanding.
Don’t sway on your strategy, but adapt your tactics to fit into your lifestyle.
Now that we’ve covered the groundwork, let’s dive into how to actually craft your resolutions for maximum efficiency.
Step 5: Set realistic expectations & stop over-committing
OK, so you’re ready to get going – you’re excited AND determined to make your resolutions work. It’s a fresh start, a clean slate, and it feels like you can take over the world!
You decide to dream BIG and go after audacious goals. This is going to be your year.
Being excited and ambitious about your resolutions is not a bad thing….Unless you’re setting the bar too high and over-committing yourself to fully turning your life around as soon as the clock strikes midnight.
Spreading yourself too thin and aiming for too many things at once is a perfect recipe for burnout. And we don’t want that, do we? So instead of trying to excel at 10 things at once, master the skill of forced prioritization and ask yourself this question:
If you could only change one thing this year, what would it be?
It might be a tough call to make, but “I want to get a raise AND become an expert on Design Thinking’ MIGHT not be so realistic. Remember that setting priorities doesn’t mean that you are discarding your other goals altogether. You can go after them, but after you achieve your initial target.
Prioritization also forces you to look at your goals critically: “Will doing X require more effort, but bring in fewer results than Y?” To make the decision easier, we recommend you do a little exercise that we love, called the “Effort/Impact” scale.
Check out a neat carousel on how to do this exercise below:
Place all of your resolutions according to the effort level that they will require from your side and the impact that they will have on your overall well-being. Visualizing your resolutions on this scale will help you gain a clearer understanding of what you should be focusing on.
The Workshopper Playbook is out now!
Step 6: Leverage the power of 1% improvements
If you’re reading this article chances are you’ve already attempted achieving New Year’s resolutions…and failed. Often, after failing at forming a new habit people think, “If only I had tried harder, I would’ve accomplished my goal.”
Ahhh, the guilty willpower talk. While it might work for some people and situations, in the grand scheme of things, willpower is rarely enough (some even go as far as to say it doesn’t work at all!)
We humans are sensitive to change, and inconvenience. Dramatic changes naturally cause us stress and signal danger, which makes our reptilian brains want to revert back to the safe, old ways of doing things.
But who said you need to make drastic changes to achieve grand results?
In 2003, Dave Brailsford, general manager and performance director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), began a process of tweaking every area related to cycling by just 1%. He then made sure these 1% improvements were implemented consistently, day after day.
Long story short: Within just 3 years, the team won the Tour De France, two years ahead of Brailsford’s 5-year goal!
Humans tend to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.
As James Clear, bestselling author of Atomic Habits, puts it: Humans tend to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.
So how can you find your 1% gains? We’re glad you asked.
Under each of your resolutions, write out every “Barrier” you can think of that is stopping you from achieving your goal. No matter how big, small, significant or silly these things might be – write them all down!
If your resolution is to become an expert on Design Thinking, your barriers might look something like this:
I don’t have enough time
I have no training budget
I’m intimidated by more experienced team members
After you’ve jotted down every single barrier you should write “1% Solutions” for each of them. For example:
I don’t have enough time → Limit study sessions to 15 minutes a day OR listen to audio training on my commute to work
I have no training budget → Look for an in-house specialist who could help me out OR look for free info on the internet
Intimidated by more experienced team members → Study at home OR reach out to more experienced colleagues and ask for their help
After you do the exercise for every resolution you want to achieve, you’ll have a clear idea of what barriers might stand in your way and what marginal 1% improvements you can do to make achieving your goals easier. The best thing is, you’re much more likely to follow through with your resolutions since you’re not relying on willpower or not placing too much hope in dramatic changes.
Step 7: Deadline Everything
Ahh, where do we start with this one? Deadlines might be one of the most under-appreciated tools for achieving your targets. Why?
Because a smartly set deadline will force you to think about the necessary steps to achieve the goal and push you to actually get sh*t done. Unless you’re a highly organized super-human with a developed sense of self-accountability, you need an end date to strive towards, otherwise, nothing will get done, ever.
Deadlines help us allocate time for our goals before starting which in turn helps with burn-out, and they give us a reason to work toward our goal every day (not just when we feel like it)
The most common pitfall of setting deadlines is that nearly all people fall prey to what psychologists call planning fallacy: underestimating how long the task will take us and being overly ambitious with the scope of it all. So when you’re setting the deadlines for your resolutions, be real with yourself.
Remember: nothing will magically change about your life circumstances when the calendar changes to the next year. So if you have a full-time job, a family, a hobby, and a side-hustle you run in your free time don’t aim to learn a new language in just one month.
Step 8: Clear the clutter
Whether you’re a Marie Kondo believer or not, decluttering your life of useless things, as well as useless thought patterns will pave the way for new things in your life. And what other time of the year is more suitable for a major clean up than the new year? So out with the old, and in with the new!
Remember the questions from your year retrospective? Look over the answers for the things you’re willing to let go of and clear them out of your life.
Ask yourself, what are the projects, the goals, or the things that have been hanging around on your to-do list for years that you just never get around to finishing? Get rid of any commitment that is not aligned with your goals. Unfinished tasks drain the energy out of everyone, so the sooner you can let go of them, the better.
Once you do that, we guarantee you, you will experience a sense of relief from not having to carry all of that extra weight of outdated commitment around.
Step 9: Rephrase your resolutions for success
The problem with many of our resolutions is that we’re not specific about what we want to accomplish. “I want to become an expert in Design Thinking” and “I want to learn a new language” are great plans but they are not measurable.
Avoid the pitfalls of vague, broad goals. While the aforementioned goals themselves might be motivating to you, they have one critical flaw: they focus on the outcomes, instead of the process.
If you want to become an expert on something, think of what it is directly that you have to do. If you want to master a new language, think about the easiest route to getting there and what that looks like. Crafting your goals to be behaviour specific helps you to visualize both the route to achieving what you want and the end goal.
Craft your goals to be behaviour specific to help you visualize both the route to achieving what you want and the end goal.
So your rephrased resolutions might look something like this:
I want to become an expert in Design Thinking → I’ll read at least 10 pages of “Creative Confidence” every day, and go to at least one Design Thinking meetup a month.
I want to learn a new language → I’ll go to my language class every Tuesday and Thursday, and I’ll go to at least 2 language exchange gatherings per month.
Including daily actions that will bring you closer to your resolution puts a system in place for you and makes it that much easier to act on achieving your goals.
Step 10: Aim for progress, not perfection
Are you the type of person who keeps tweaking, polishing, reiterating, and delaying the start of a project/habit/initiative just because everything has to be perfect? Then oh boy do we have somethin’ to tell ya…
Ditch the habit of over tweaking and assume the mindset of starting before you’re ready. Yep, even when your work is objectively not the best.
There, we said it. Holding yourself to a high standard in everything you do is admirable, and there’s nothing wrong with striving to be the best… Unless your perfectionism stops you from getting started (and it almost ALWAYS does.)
There’s a fine line between a sane desire to put out good work, and procrastination disguised as perfectionism. If you let the latter take over, it will kill your goals before you even get started.
So as you approach your New Year’s resolutions this time around, don’t let perfectionism stop you from attempting to achieve your goals. ‘Getting started is more important than being right’ is the mantra we live and breath by, and we’re not the only ones! We love the advice Chris Do, one of the most sought-after designers in the world, recently shared with his audience:
Rather than spending your time thinking about how to go about accomplishing work – just throw yourself into it. Jump straight in at the deep end and get going. You can only reach those goals if you’re working towards them – even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.
It’s more important to be making progress and completing things than being perfect. Don’t let insecurity derail you, and always try to keep yourself in the growth mindset: Focus on learning and experimenting, rather than getting everything right the first time around.
Gain control over your time
This might be a hard pill to swallow for many, but, you can’t ace your goals or resolutions unless you master the art of time management.
There are a ton of frameworks out there aimed at helping people manage their time better, so you can pick and choose whichever suits you and works best for you. Here are some time management tips and resources we LOVE:
- Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. This book is all about creating time for the things that are important to you. If you’re not the type for over-optimizing every hour of your time and giving up sleep in favour of productivity, this one’s for you.
- Productivity Planner by Intelligent Challenge. If you’re into written to-do lists, then this planner will be your best buddy on the quest to smarter time management. Built on basic principles of productivity, such as the Pomodoro Technique and prioritization, it will help you focus on what’s important and shut out the busywork.
- Gary Vee’s Time Management Techniques. Who’s the better person to ask for time management advice, than the guy who seems to be everywhere at the same time, and whose productivity machine never stops? Gary Vaynerchuk doesn’t beat around the bush and he doesn’t sugarcoat things, and that’s just why we love him! Practical, to the point advice on how to squeeze every minute out of your day.
- If you’re an iPhone user, take advantage of the Screen Time feature on your phone. You might be in for a harsh wake-up call when you see how much time you spend browsing on Instagram, and that’s exactly the point. Minimise your distractions by setting a defined time limit for apps that demand your attention.
- What if you HAVE TO use Facebook and co. for your job and there’s no way around it? Minimise the damage with neat browser extensions just like this one, that will eradicate distracting bottomless feeds.
- Make your smartphone distraction-free. Smartphones are distracting and attention-grabbing by design. If you’ve ever reached for your phone to check on that one message, only to find yourself in the sinkhole of mindless scrolling hours later, you know what we’re talking about. Good news is: there are ways to minimise how distracting smartphones can be, and we strongly urge you to try them.
Step 11: Celebrate the milestones along the way!
Nothing is quite as effective in making people abandon their goals as a lack of feeling of achievement and progress. If all you EVER do is work away on your goals and resolutions, without taking time to celebrate how far you’ve come, it won’t be long before this rat race gets the best of you.
Getting started is more important than being right!
The thing is, if you set out to achieve a major goal in your life, chances are you have to wait for quite some time before you can celebrate the win. And celebrating wins is one of the most essential ways to wire your brain to be excited about goal-setting and achieving! Here at Workshopper, we celebrate even the smallest wins, and the effect it’s had on our team morale, motivation and productivity is amazing.
Milestones are important because they are the most visible indicators of progress, and growth is nourished by encouragement.
So create smaller milestones for your bigger goal and make sure to celebrate when you hit them!
And that concludes our definitive guide to acing your New Year’s resolutions this year!
We are confident that following these tips will set you on the right track to achieving your max potential, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
As cheesy and corny as it might sound, the journey to the goal is at least as fun, as achieving the goal itself. You learn along the way; discovering things about your work and yourself that you didn’t know before; you grow and evolve– and isn’t that ultimately the goal of all our resolutions?
So get excited about the coming challenges, celebrate them, own them! And now that you have the bullet-proof system for goal achievement, we’re 100% sure that you will get there!
Now, we’d love to hear from you! What are your New Year’s resolutions, and which steps are you going to try out first? Let us know in the comments below!
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