Start small and smart for a successful 2019 | by Nikolai Viedge

Nikolai Viedge Dec 2017The turning of the year inevitably brings about the intention to do “better” this year than you have in previous years. Nearly everyone I know makes some New Year’s resolution, aimed at self-improvement or better job performance. However, according to Peter Economy, writing for, “research on the topic, [shows that while] about 60 percent of us admit that we make New Year’s resolutions … only about 8 percent of us are successful in achieving them”.

Intention, retention, perception
Eight percent is dismally low, and it’s not just a failed goal at stake, but our broader attitudes and feelings about ourselves. The failure to meet these goals means always being a little disappointed in ourselves, which can leave us with the nagging feeling of failure throughout the year. A low mindset means low energy and perhaps even more missed goals.

So how do we go about sticking to our resolutions? Intent is the first step – decide not just what you want to cut out or replace, but what you want to include, and picture yourself at the end of the year with your resolutions met: Will you be a
more efficient worker? A fitter runner? A nurturing and inspiring team leader? This is about ‘setting your intentions’, and framing them in a positive light (see point three below).

Next, here are seven tips to get hooked on good habits and to ensure that we create the right mindset to meet our intended goals both at the workplace and at home.

1. Commit to a month
Scott H Young recommends that you begin by committing to a month of your new habit. According to Young, if you manage to stick to the first month of healthy habit formation, the habit becomes “automatic … [and] becomes much easier to sustain”.

For the next month will you be patient with your peers? Will you be more attentive in meetings? Will you meet your twice weekly study goal?

2. Start small
According to Patrik Edblad, perhaps the most common mistake people make is trying to do too much too quickly: “[t]hey want to go from zero to four gym sessions every week, switch to a healthy diet overnight, and meditate for 20 minutes every day even though they’ve barely managed five minutes in the past. The problem, of course, is that this requires a tremendous amount of willpower. And research has shown that willpower works a lot like a muscle. If you use it a lot, it will get tired. And when it does, you’ll be very likely to quit”.

This doesn’t just apply to exercise and diet goals. If you want to be better informed, commit to reading the paper everyday. Don’t promise to transform into an expert overnight and then quit when you can’t get that right immediately. 2019start

3. Invest in your habit
As both Edblad and Young write, it is important to invest money, time and energy into your habit, so that failing to engage in the new habit feels like failure. In other words, you must have skin in the game. If you invest in a data analytics online course for example, it would feel like a waste of money if you then failed to learn at least the basics of data analysis.

However, not all investment needs to be financial to be successful. A nice example comes from Edblad. When comedian Jerry Seinfeld was working on becoming a better comic, he would write a new joke every day. “Each time he completed his writing for the day, he put a big red X on that day on his calendar. Within a few days, he had a chain he didn’t want to break”.

4. Have a plan
According to Zorka Hereford, Edblad, and Young, too often we fail to take up a good habit, because our intention is vague. As mentioned above, Wanting to be a trusted advisor in your business or to have better time management sounds great, but is too vague to motivate you to do anything about it. If you want to start a new healthier habit, have a detailed plan of what you want and how you plan to get there. 

5. Identify your obstacles
Imagine you have decided to give up smoking. When are you most likely to smoke? If you want to be a better manager to your team, in what situations do you find yourself frazzled and failing? Identifying and being mindful of your potential obstacles puts you in a better position to make real change. As Hereford puts it, “If you don’t know what your triggers are, or if you are unprepared for the inevitable obstacles, you will set yourself up for failure. In order to develop good habits, we must be aware of what our habits are”.

6. Reward yourself for achieving your goals
Forming a new habit, or breaking a bad habit is hard work and comes with increased demands on your willpower. Reward yourself for your successes, no matter how small. Of course, as Hereford puts it, these must be healthy rewards. Rewarding yourself for dieting by eating a whole cheesecake, for example, is self-defeating.

7. Surround yourself with the right people
All three writers highlight the importance of having the right people around you. This is threefold. One, have someone who can motivate you when your will is weak. Two, avoid people who are likely to cause you to go back to your bad habits. According to Edblad, “[o]ne study showed that if you have a friend who becomes obese, your risk of obesity increases by 57 percent — even if your friend lives hundreds of miles away”. Three, have your family and friends support you in your journey. A key tactic herein could be identifying a mentor to help you develop your strategic thinking and interpersonal skills. It will both motivate you and keep you accountable to someone outside of yourself.

Nikolai Viedge is an academic and regular writer for Bespoke CfSD's Bulletin -

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Posted on January 17, 2019