How to make 2021 the year you find your best reasons to thrive
Forget those hard-to-fulfil resolutions. Set yourself small, meaningful goals, and you’ll have a better chance of a brighter year.
Forget those hard-to-fulfil resolutions. Set yourself small, meaningful goals, and you’ll have a better chance of a brighter year
There you were in January 2020, ready to face the new decade, armed with hope, optimism and a list of new year resolutions.
By March that list was long forgotten, as the pandemic wiped out all those well-laid plans.
After the upheavals of 2020, is there any point to setting resolutions for 2021?
Well, yes. People who set goals tend to be more comfortable with risk and more energised by change, explains Bryan Tracy in his bestselling book, Goals!
Unfortunately, many goals are never met because failure breeds the belief that you cannot change, and by extension, that you shouldn’t bother trying. But you should. Just do it differently.
Instead of setting big, ambitious goals, start thinking small. Instead of pledging to hit the gym, go on a diet, and lose 10kg, look at the little things you could do better.
According to a 2013 Australian study, it may be more feasible for most people to make small changes, rather than large short-term changes in diet and activity.
Meg Baker, Director of Employee Wellness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, underlined this in a 2014 report. She identified three stages of change: Precontemplation (unwilling to make a change); contemplation (considering lifestyle change); and action.
Baker offered three tips to help you prepare for a lifestyle change. One is considering the benefits of the change.
Two is getting a loved one to help you stay accountable. Three is developing small, realistic, short-term goals.
Author James Clear builds on the idea of small changes in Atomic Habits: An Easy And Proven Way To Build Good Habits And Break Bad Ones.
“Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action,” he writes. “Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about.”
Improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable, but it can be more meaningful, especially in the long run.
Clear calls habits “the compound interest of self-improvement”. In the same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.
They seem to make little difference on any given day, and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. “It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”
That imprecise timeline lines up with what science tells us about how habits form and lead to lasting change. A University College London study found that the amount of time it takes for a habit to become entrenched could range from a few weeks to a few months.
The good news is, a single slip-up isn’t the end of the world. “Missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process,” the authors noted.
The behavioural change that comes from new year resolutions and goal-setting depends on the goals you are setting.
While it’s good to know what your goal is, are you clear on how – and, more importantly, why – you’re hoping to achieve it?
If you’d started 2020 focussing on the How (“I’ll go to gym five times a week!” “I’ll spend more time with my colleagues!” “I’ll travel overseas!”), your plans would have been derailed by the hard lockdown and the seismic shifts in our lifestyles.
But if you’d focused on the Why (“I’ll lose weight to improve my health!” “I’ll connect with colleagues to build a stronger team!” “I’ll discover more of the world around me!”), the changing environment wouldn’t have had much of an impact at all.
As Bryan Tracy puts it, “Reasons are the fuel in the furnace of achievement. The more reasons you have, the more persistent and determined you will be.”
People succeed because they have big, exciting reasons that propel them forward. What are yours?