Ah, the New Years’ Resolution…
It’s that time of year where many of us decide to improve ourselves. With a loud proclamation of intention, we take several steps forward and, just as often, fall on our collective faces somewhere in the coming weeks or months.
Our resolutions often tower high. They can be hard to keep up with and easy to forget. Failures to climb them demoralize, defeat, and derail future attempts.
Whoops, did I remember to practice guitar yesterday? Ahh, I’ll just do it tomorrow.
That lovely brownie won’t be eaten by itself either. Someone will have to make the sacrifice. I will do it. I will eat the brownie so no one else will have to.
To really address resolutions, we need to understand them. Resolutions are about desires and intentions to change ourselves and our lifestyles. They are fundamentally about guiding habits.
But, too often, we rely on will in our attempts. And will is not infinite. Every solid decision involves effort: a depth of focus and reflection. We must hold ourselves still in fields of emotion swirling within us and a chaos of people around us. Bracing ourselves within this sea of forces, we choose some course of action, and then act.
Decisions take work. Without taking that work into account, we cannot plan and affect the nuance necessary to ease that effort.
Adding & Taking Away
Let’s look at the quite common resolution examples of diet and exercise. It would seem they go together. Want to lose weight? A common refrain is to diet and exercise.
But these are two very different habits. Exercise focuses more on creating a habit where one didn’t exist before. Diet is more about reducing old ones. Of course, I am oversimplifying. But the generalities stand.
Example in Diet
Let’s look at exercise first. One of the most important aspects of a project, as silly as it sounds, is to just show up. Just be there. You don’t necessarily need to do anything. Secondly, do this regularly, preferably daily.
Technically, you could just show up to the gym every day and not do a thing. But I highly doubt you would end up doing nothing. Somewhere along the way, you might just happen to nudge a piece of equipment o start moving a bit faster on the track. Sometimes these turn into real exercise sessions. Sometimes they don’t. That’s fine too. Because really what you’re doing is focusing on the habit more so than the work itself.
When you do that, it becomes much easier to show up to the gym. You don’t have to focus on grueling effort. You instead just show up. And, when you do engage in a work out, it often becomes more invigorating than dreadful.
Meanwhile, make things as frictionless as possible. Keep gym clothes at the ready. Consider a time that honors the day’s current rhythms, perhaps before or after work. In general, try to minimize the number of decisions that need to be made during the day. The goal would be to make it more difficult to avoid going to the gym.
Support the habit with a simple task that reflects habit building. For example:
“Visit the gym” @errands repeating daily and flagged.
Again, “Visit” reinforces that this is about building habit more than the work itself.
As with all of these ideas, the suggestion of daily is only a suggestion. But, daily is a strong and simple way of reinforcing habit. Less frequently is more prone to forgetting, procrastination, and more.
Example in Diet
Let’s return to the other habit: dieting. Dieting is a lot about restriction. Without care, changing diet can be an exercise in futility. One is in a constant state of decision, trying to use will power to avoid a “wrong” decision. Such a state is prone to failure, exhaustion, and is hardly a path to success.
Much like the path of exercise, it is useful to spend time minimizing the number of decisions that need to be made during the day. If you can make it more difficult to eat poorly, you set yourself up for success.
However, this takes planning. Find a way to dedicate several sessions of study, planning, and consideration of the day. For example, consider:
- What unhealthy foods are in the home?
- How can I get rid of them?
- What healthy foods can I eat? How can have them at arms reach?
- How can I make them affordable?
- How can I best batch trips to the grocery store?
- What do I do when I’m hungry?
- Where will I likely be when I’m hungry?
- What do I do about walking by my favorite pastry shop every morning?
Answers to any of these can lead into useful next actions and projects.
Much of productivity is about separating planning from doing. While certainly there can be overlap, the practice of separating these actions can be quite beneficial. Planning is about consideration, reflection, and review. It is about front loading our decisions so that our days are easier to navigate. It helps us break out of habits we don’t want and create ones that we do.
Consider Being Productive – Simple Steps to Calm Focus for a full course on finding success in the habits and projects you desire. In the course, you choose your own project to practice these simple but powerful exercises to move your work forward. You could choose setting up diet, exercise, among many other possibilities as projects to take on. Want to read more? Want to learn a language? How about an instrument? Want to write a book, a program, build a website? Consider supporting your New Year’s Resolution with a course on learning to be productive throughout your life’s work and play.