Statistically, many (if not most) of the people who made new years’ resolutions will have already failed in maintaining them, or will shortly give up.
One of a few things will probably then happen:
- they will consider themselves a failure, and their self-esteem will drop lower than it already was in connection with whatever issue was important enough to warrant making a resolution about in the first place;
- they will tell themselves that they didn’t really set the goals in the first place, and were just playing around;
- they will “knuckle down” and continue to try and achieve the goal through sheer willpower. This might involve getting some apps to help, enlisting some form of coach or trainer, putting space in their diary to do the thing, or other forms of external bandaid that people use when in these situations.
It’s all bogus.
So let’s take a look at some steps to maximise achievement, rather than getting stuck in the bog of planning.
When Planning Defeats Achievement – Step 1
It should be self-evident, but just in case it wasn’t: just planning do something isn’t very useful unless you actually go on to do the thing.
Reading a book on weight loss will not help you lose weight.
Creating a budget will not, of itself, help you spend less money.
Producing a marketing plan will not help you get more clients.
The list could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.
I’m actually not against planning things, despite what many people might think. But I think we’ve reversed the necessary amount of time each gets allocated to it: we spend far too much time planning, and not enough time executing.
There is also a sinister underlying factor that many people don’t know about. What some studies suggest is that people who tell the whole world about their plans to do good stuff actually get as much pleasure from the back pats and handshakes as actually doing the thing would get – which means they lose motivation to actually get on with the thing.
So what’s step 1? It’s that you need to stop telling everyone about your plans. Just stop it. It’s both a waste of time and it’s self defeating.
Make Habits, Not Resolutions – Step 2
I’ve been on this wagon for a while now, but resolutions aren’t good – you need to change your habits.
Making a resolution is often code for “I am determined this year to do this thing”. And for a few people, that will suffice. But for many others it will not be enough to get them into the tiny percentage that actually achieve their desired goals each year.
If you want to effect change in your life then you need to break into your existing habits and change them.
One example: habits often come with a trigger. You get home (trigger), you turn on the television (habit). You get on the bus (trigger) and you log in to Facebook (habit). If you can interrupt the trigger or render it impossible for that trigger to give rise to hte habit, then you will also disrupt the habit. Perhaps you can move your TV to another room which isn’t accessible? Perhaps unplug your TV each morning so that you can’t turn it on with such ease? Perhaps delete Facebook from your phone? After around 21 to 30 days, the habit will be effectively rewired and you might (MIGHT) be able to restore the previous situation… but you might also find that you don’t care to.
It works in a positive way too – create a trigger for your new habit. If you want to be more present and effective on LinkedIn, start a habit of doing it at the start of each day – make LinkedIn your home page, rather than the intranet or some news site that distracts you for hours. That can then trigger you doing something on LinkedIn first up, and at least be the start of your new habit. Over time, you will change both the trigger and the habit to get to the next stage of achieving your goal.
You can see the difference, right? On the one hand you say “I’ve just got to do it”. Habits, though, can be given affect to more methodically than simply relying on your finite amount of willpower.
Actionable Tasks – Step 3
In a sense, “more present and effective on LinkedIn” that I mention above is a terrible goal. It is ill-defined, and cannot be broken down into component steps. Your actions need to be targeted towards and overarching achievement. So perhaps your goal on LinkedIn is to “make 1000 connections in [field] and have personal contact with at least 100 of them”. Now that is an actionable goal, that you can break down into methodical and achievable steps. Along the way you will turn each step into a habit, and before the end of the year they will become second nature to you.
Let’s take that example and look at what we could do:
- Change our homepage to LinkedIn;
- Get the LinkedIn mobile app and put it on our primary menu on our phone;
- Spend the first 15 minute of each work day on LinkedIn;
- Find and join 15 relevant groups (5 per week for 3 weeks)
- Leave 3 comments each day on articles relevant to my area;
- Send personalised messages to 3 of my connections each week with items of interest for their attention.
Each of these actionable tasks might require a different trigger, a different sequence, or a different habit to start to make them second nature. However, once they are ingrained you will spend less time, less energy on each of them and build up the ease with which you incorporate them into your day.
Is Planning Dead?
Planning isn’t dead, but we can easily overemphasise it. With our example above, I’m sure there are many people who have done marketing plans including a presence on LinkedIn. However I’m just as sure that most of them stay in a drawer for the whole year, and only get rolled out at strategic planning meetings, retreats and marketing events. Other than that – no change occurs.
So go ahead and plan, but once you know what you need to do next, go and do it. If it’s a big change then perhaps a new habit is needed (or an old one needs to go) – if so, interrupt your triggers and find a way to make it easier for your brain to catch up with your desired outcome.
What’s your next action step going to be? What habits do you need to create in your professional life?\