Some Ideas for a new approach to Personal Planning (a.k.a. New Years’ Resolutions)

New Year’s Resolutions are a funny thing. Most of us make them, but almost all of us fail to keep them.

And we do so without a definite conscience, really. We pretty much have perfected the art of walking away from our New Year’s Resolutions with hardly a backward glance. It’s as if we are just following some kind of formula – “it’s January 1, so I better make my New Years Resolutions”, or maybe its just a  crowd mentality – “Everyone else is doing it, and I will feel like a loser if I can’t show them I am also aiming at something this year, so I should”.

Or maybe it really a reflection of something deeper that we desire but somewhere in the transition from wishes to reality, it all gets lost. Am I good at keeping New Year’s Resolutions? No, not as good as I’d like to be. So am I qualified to shell out advice about them? No, not really :-).

But can I – can we – do something different this year? In the past I have made radical commitments that were pretty much doomed from the start. I think more than a few of us can agree we have done that on occasion. We aim high and far, without changing the fundamentals, and come up short. It hardly ever works, except in the rarest of cases. And if you are reading this and you managed to do that one year, or every year, you have my respect. Because it is not easy.

So if there is a real desire inside us for “this year” to be different to “last year”, and we really want to get something significant done about it, what can we do? More specifically, what can we do DIFFERENTLY? I have been thinking about this, because I am really really tired of wanting something and not achieving it.

Stephen MR Covey, the son of the late Stephen Covey, wrote a book on trust called “The Speed of Trust”. In it he talks about the 5 different levels of trust, and the book contains a really insightful, useful and revealing self test. It is about measuring our level of self-trust. In keeping with his fathers powerful principle that “private victory precedes public victory”, he says that establishing self-trust is key to becoming a person of high trust. It is the fundamental level of trust that underpins all others. If we are seeking to be someone who is trustworthy, and is seen as trustworthy (who does NOT want that???); we have to first become someone who trusts themselves. If we desire to have a trustworthy reputation but have not established and consistently achieved our own internal trustworthiness, then we are simply hypocrites – seeking to put on an act and performing public behaviours for other’s approval, that we do not replicate in private.

Integrity, he says, is key to trustworthiness. And hypocrisy is a complete lack of integrity.

New Years Resolutions are usually private individual commitments, and integrity and trust are all about keeping commitments. So… lets face facts. If we don’t keep our personal commitments, we lack integrity towards ourselves! If we fail to keep them to others, we gain a reputation of untrustworthiness. and that is humiliating, and embarrassing. Nobody wants to be seen as lacking integrity or lacking trustworthiness. So we put real effort into NOT APPEARING to lack integrity, often going the extra mile to avoid letting someone else down. But privately we seem to have a different standard. We are not embarrassed as much, or humiliated as much, by our failure to keep our promises to ourselves. Maybe its that old adage “We judge others by their actions, but ourselves by our intentions”. That mindset is a very subtle but devastating one. We really need to stop that subtle lie that we allow, to ourselves. If we really want to change, then failure is failure and success is success.

Maybe if we are really serious about making changes, its time to judge ourselves ONLY by our actions, and not by our intentions.

But there is another issue for the average Joe or Jane underachiever – habits. Unhelpful habits. We are in the habit of letting go of our commitments. In the habit of excusing failure. In the habit of procrastinating. In the habit of instant gratification over delayed gratification. In the habit of allowing small, almost indiscernable lapses in discipline that quickly build up into failure. These habits are destructive to any personal plan. How can we change that?

Again, the book “The Speed of Trust” makes the point that these cannot be changed overnight, but they CAN be changed. So we should start small, and drive the habit to be re-formed, but to do so in achievable instalments. The level of these depends on where we are at on our own personal journeys. For an absolute layabout, the steps and the goals would be very different to an athlete seeking to break through a ceiling and achieve new heights. “Achievable” for a couch potato might be not snoozing the alarm clock, and actually getting up at 06h30 like they said they would. “Achievable” for an athlete, might be an extra 30 minutes of exercise every day.

We are all different, and we need to individually own where we are at if we are going to get something done; and work from there to a better place.

I read a great blog this past month on that talked not so much about setting goals, but building SYSTEMS. Read it here: other words, instead of setting a goal, rather set a process, a system, for achieving that goal, and then focus on keeping the system going. If the system is right, the goal will take care of itself simply by keeping the system going solidly 🙂 Sounds interesting – and achievable! So it’s what I am going to do differently this year.

They say it takes 28 days to break an old habit and build a new behaviour in its place. So, one month. What I am going to do is focus on one thing per month. So I am going to have 12 goals for this year, each achievable in a month of consistent behaviour. They won’t be wildly different each month – in fact some of them will build on the success of the previous month to effectively achieve something in two months, or three months, that if I had tried it in one go I would likely have failed :-/

But here is the rub. It seems that if we are going to succeed, we need to be building something we really believe in. Not just anything. The key to success is to be building something we are passionate about, not just doing for the sake of it. This is very important. Failure is almost guaranteed if we are chasing a “good idea” that is not also a core value for us personally. Something that we will strive for even if it costs us. Especially, if it costs us.

So setting and keeping effective New Year’s resolutions seems to be the same as setting and keeping any goal, really. Let’s take the mystery out of it!

1. Make the goal something that is really special and important to us, so that we have real skin in the game and a real desire to see it through.  read this:
2. Figure out the process, the daily behaviour, that will get you to that goal.
3. Don’t aim too big out of the starting blocks – make it achievable. Grow it in coming months.
4. Don’t make excuses – judge ourselves by our behaviours, and our actions; not our intentions.
5. Don’t let minor setbacks prevent recommitment.
6. Focus on the daily behaviour (the system) not the final goal.
7. Stick to it, and when you look up, you will already be there 🙂
8. One last idea – accountability. Let someone know what you re doing, and give them the right to kick your butt if they see you falling off the pace. 🙂

Some simple, practical examples, for clarity:

Here’s an idea for better exercise. If you want to go to a gym 5 days a week (a big ask from couch potato stage) , try this:
First month: 2 days a week, Tuesday and Thursday for 4 weeks.
Second month: 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 4 weeks.
Third month: Success!

If you want to spend more time in personal reflection (a big ask for a habitual TV watcher, for example):

First month: Consistently get up with your alarm clock.
Second month: Consistently go to bed 30 minutes earlier
Third month: Set your alarm clock 30 mins earlier, and Success!

So, I am going to do everything I have talked about here, in principle, to push myself to another level this year. I deserve it. My family deserves it. And my colleagues deserve it.

What about you?


About Vaughan Granier

Just Thinking...
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