Making New Year's resolutions is easy but sticking to them isn't. It's not much different with goals either. Setting them is easy but summoning up the discipline is arguably much harder.
Initial success followed by a string of failures is all it takes for resolutions to come undone. It gets all too familiar when the cynicism sets in and well-intentioned goals are pushed back to the next year.
When the cycle repeats...
I've fallen off the wagon so many times that I've inadvertently discovered some techniques to make incremental progress month after month rather than repeating a failed pattern year after year.
- Pick an arbitrary start date rather than new year’s and commit to do something only for one month : Really. That’s all there is to it. The problem with yearly resolutions or yearly goals is that even before they start there’s this vague pressure that’s building up inside. There’s also a creeping feeling of pessimism that accompanies it — a tiny voice that says, “Who are you kidding? You won’t last for more than 10 days”, or something equally discouraging. One way to break that up is to modify simple aspects of the pattern. Start on an odd, insignificant date like 13 Jan for example and say your goal time frame is 13 Jan - 12 Feb, and you’re free to drop the commitment after this date if it doesn’t add any value to your life. No guilt. No judgment. 30 days sounds far less daunting than 366 days plus sticking to smaller timeframes and meeting your goals will boost confidence. I used to put off things simply because they were long projects and just the idea of having to commit for a year made the whole idea so unpalatable that I would refuse to even make a start until I was absolutely sure I could maintain the same level of commitment across the entire time frame, which I knew would never happen. Compared to that, 30 days is nothing. I could commit to 30 days without worrying about getting it perfect. And repeating the 30 day pattern for 3 months made me realise that I’d made a lot of progress. Suddenly, the huge project didn’t seem insurmountable anymore.
- Do barest minimum of your goal but do it every day : James Clear, author of Atomic habits recommends tying a new habit to an existing cue and reducing your new habit to a routine that’s 30 seconds or less and rewarding yourself for doing it each time. For instance, do a jumping jack just before you take a sip of water from your water bottle when you’re at home, and fist pump the air every time you do it to celebrate. As ridiculous as that sounds, the momentum of these small efforts builds up really quickly. Every time you reinforce a good habit, your desire to do more of that behaviour increases. Pretty soon, you’d think nothing of doing 3 jumping jacks each time you sipped some water just to get a rush of happiness from having accomplished something more than you’re required to do. Pretty soon, three jumping jacks will turn into 10 and will also boost self esteem. I’m due course, you may start to notice that you’re doing a lot better in other areas of life too. That’s the power of momentum for you!
- Use the 2 day rule : This is a rule that seeks to gamify your goal achievement. It relies on your mind’s desire to keep an unbroken streak going for as long as possible. For example, if your goal is to read every day, and you record it with a tick mark on your calendar every day you’ve stuck to your goal, the idea is to keep that streak of ticks unbroken for as long as possible. However, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes the streak may break due to unavoidable reasons and that doesn’t feel so great. That’s when the 2 day rule comes in. With the 2 day rule, even if you miss your streak on one day, for example, a Saturday, though you’ve got a straight row of tick marks from Monday till Friday, you are still allowed a bonus tick mark for the Saturday if you stick to your goal on Sunday, i.e, you’re saved if you can make sure that you don’t go two continuous days without meeting the goal. This helps you stay in the game even if you slip up. It’s a small psychological shift that works fantastically because with the two day rule, you always have a chance to get back in the game, you just have to be careful to recover quickly which is so much easier than having to deal with a dented self confidence for having missed your streak.
Even if you try all these techniques and fail know that it's okay. What matters is what you do after that. Making the effort and failing is better than giving up too soon and letting yourself believe you won't ever get it right. You can use these techniques to build tenacity and even if nothing sticks, you'll have started turning the gears inside your mind to keep at it and eventually stabilise your path to reaching your goals.
Remember, it's just one step at a time. Even if that step is a little hop, a big leap or a dramatic fall, you're still moving forward!