Yet another primer on New Year’s resolutions

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Goal-setting is of lttle use on its own, if you don’t have a well-considered strategy/plan/formula for negotiating the pitfalls along the way and enhancing your chances of staying on course for as long as it takes.

Achieving a goal is a matter of self-analysis. Perseverance gets you there only if your path is charted intelligently.

2018 was a particularly good year for me, considering that I accomplished all three of my goals for the year. From being the person who would get excited about a new start on the New Year and then give up on the resolutions by March, it felt good to commit to my goals and actually getting them done. The more I think about how different my approach to 2018 was, compared to the other years — the more I realise how I’d ignored all the obvious tips.

After a long string of incomplete goals I had accumulated year after year, I wanted to set things right in 2018. In January 2018  I read many articles on productivity and getting work done. Initially, I got annoyed as they all stated the most obvious pointers, but later realised I wasn't following any of them. Everything looked good on paper. So, I decided to test all those theories because I was desperate to break the jinx. I wrote down everything I’ve been wanting to do and picked three from the list. I tested every theory that was applicable to my goals, found what worked for me and then held on to them for dear life.

Here are a few pointers that helped me with my goals for the year:

 

#1: Start slow

 

 

Don’t try to change every aspect of your life completely in a day. The more you try to do that, the faster you’ll get back to where you started. This was one of the most important lessons for me. I’d be motivated to do something new for the New Year’s occasion and I’d sign up for a whole bunch of tasks. The first week would be fine and then when the motivation wanes, I’d drop them all. So it’s important to take it a step at a time. I started with three goals that I’d badly wanted to accomplish. The first week involved spending 30 minutes a day writing. I figured out flor myself the best time I could get this done every day, and once I was comfortable with this, I introduced the next task, which required another 30 minutes every day. By making incremental changes, you avoid overwhelming yourself with too many things, and it becomes easy to establish a routine.

 

#2: Do it for the long term

 

 

There is no point in doing anything if you know you’re going to have to stop doing it after a while. Goal-setting works only if you make the process an integral part of your lifestyle. That way you would be able to gauge what is sustainable for the long term and what isn’t. If something is not sustainable, there’s no point even attempting it. This is particularly true when it comes to health-related goals. It’s important not to make too many changes to your lifestyle that you cannot follow all your life. Time-bound short-term goals apart, for the amount of effort and time you’re investing, you might as well plan it for the long term.

 

#3: Always, always, always have a plan!

 

One of the biggest takeaways for me from my profession is to always set out with a plan (thank you Jira!). For the uninitiated, Jira is an ‘agile’ project management tool. It provides you with the big picture and goes all the way down to the minute details of a project. You can break down the project outcomes or goals into ‘Epics’, ‘Stories’/‘Tasks’ and ‘Sub-Tasks’ with a clear definition of completion in each. ‘Epics’ are the overall goal (for example, building an app) which are then broken down into ‘Stories’/‘Tasks’, which go a level deeper in terms of details and constitute the tasks which make the epic functional. Similarly, ‘Stories’ and ‘Tasks’ are ramified into ‘Sub-Tasks’, which are activities that make the ‘Story’ functional.

In this way, by breaking down a big piece of work into small chunks, you make it easier to identify all the activities that need to be worked on and track them. I used this framework to plan my goals, broke them down into the many tasks that would be required to complete them and then broke them down into the tasks that I would need to do on a daily basis. Worked like a charm.

Never underestimate the power of clear, actionable tasks.

 

#4: If you want to be good at something, do it every day

 

Consistency is everything. Long-term plans will work only when you incorporate them into your daily schedule. If there are actions that you cannot perform every day, you need to define the frequency at which they should be done to meet your goals. The more consistent you are, the less challenging it becomes to find the motivation to follow your plan. It becomes a habit. And those are the kinds of habits you should be working towards building. We overestimate the effort it takes to be consistent at something and underestimate the efforts it takes to get back on track after a break. I remember the words of a popular fitness trainer who said, ‘You will not become skinny by eating one salad. You will not get fat if you have one ‘bad’ meal. Progress, both forward and backward, takes time & consistency’. What matters is the cumulative effort over many days. A little obsession with your goals goes a long way in helping you tackle them.

 

#5: Pay attention to details

 

Planning well is half the job done. That’s why it’s important to have two plans — a long-term plan (say for a year) and then the everyday routine you need to follow. Naturally, the effectiveness of your routine determines whether you will meet your goals or give up part way. This is where you realise the importance of defining clear, specific and measurable tasks. Your life will be easier if you step into something knowing exactly what you need to do and what the expected outcome is. Try to be as specific as possible when writing your tasks. Also, ensure your tasks are measurable so that you know for sure if you’ve completed your tasks.

For example, let’s consider two of the most common goals — fitness and reading. Instead of simply stating that you need to work out every day, you can be specific and state that you need to swim/workout at the gym/run for 60 minutes at 6 p.m. every day. You know what you’re expected to do during and for the duration of a workout. If you like to mix up your workouts, allocate days for swimming, running and the gym so that you don’t have to decide every single day. Make decisions ahead of time and follow through.

Let’s take the other example — reading. Instead of saying I need to read more every day, you could either say you need to read 1 book every 10 days or 50 pages a day.

By breaking down everything into the smallest fragment possible, you make it easy for you to plan, measure and track your progress.

 

#6: Make Changes to your environment

 

Even if you have a foolproof plan, you need a trigger to get started. If you don’t pay attention to the triggers and find ways to make them work for you, you will have to pray that your plans magically work out by themselves. Take advantage of visual cues to train your mind to take a decision. If you want to do something, make it easier to do. If you want to stop doing something, make it difficult for yourself.

For example, if you want to reduce the time spent on social media, delete all apps from the phone and try using them only on your desktop. If you want to remind yourself to run every day, keep your running gear in a place where you can see them every day. Track your progress in a place where you can see them. My favourite way to track progress is to mark green circles on the dates I work out on in the calendar in my hall so that it always stares at me. And the satisfaction of seeing continuous green circles is so motivating. If you’re snacking a lot right after you get home, ensure that the first thing you see is a bowl of fruits/nuts and place the other snacks where you can’t reach them easily. Designing your environment to make conscious decisions makes a huge impact on helping you form habits. And the best part is, these are small changes which will influence your behaviour in a big way.

 

#7: Be driven by strong intentions, not purely by motivation

 

If you’re going to wait for motivation to strike you every time, you’re in for some bad news. Motivation is extremely hard to come by. The factor which motivates you to embark on an adventure may never return with the same intensity. It might, but you never know. Charting a course of action based on variables you can’t control isn’t going to make your plan effective. That’s why you should set out with strong intentions.

When you take up a goal, define your intentions. Understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Give yourself a strong reason for taking up the goal. Understand the benefits of accomplishing it and what you would miss if you gave it up. Take up goals which make a difference in your life and give you a sense of purpose. If you take care of all these factors, you won’t need motivation to help you. Your intentions will give you the drive you need to work towards your goals.

When I looked back at the year and the pointers that helped me achieve my goals, I realised that all these pointers were really obvious; yet it took me quite a long time to figure it out. At least all those years of reading articles on productivity, planning and organising work didn’t go waste. After a long time, my efforts were finally rewarded.

So, the next time you take up a resolution, have a strategy that will help us work towards the goals. A feasible plan that you will be able to work on even after the initial motivation subsides. You need a strong intention and a stronger plan to see you through.

Is this a lot of work? Yes. Nothing comes easy. But, is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

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