I wanted to end the year on a particularly practical note: how to succeed at New Year’s resolutions. There can be a lot said about how best to succeed, but I think that the most powerful approach can be boiled down to only two simple steps.
Step 1: Schedule Your New Activity
Most resolutions involve activities that take some amount of time, including working out, starting a new hobby, spending more time with your kids, cooking healthy meals for yourself or your family, or writing that book you have within you. (Some resolutions don’t take more time, such as being kinder, not swearing, or being more productive within the time you have. I’ll discuss these no-extra-time-resolutions another week.)
Back to resolutions that require time. Let me ask you to imagine your daily schedule as a horizontal line, with waking up on one end and going to bed on the other. Now imagine all your already scheduled activities. On your horizontal schedule line, place imaginary boulders over the time of day your activities are scheduled. You’ll likely have a large boulder representing your morning work and another one for your afternoon. You may or may not have a little free space in between for lunch, but of course you likely will use a lot of that time to eat. Continue to fill up your daily timeline with boulders representing your other activities. Now, step back and see where you have swaths of boulder-free time.
How does your daily schedule look? Probably not great. You may even have boulders on top of boulders at times you’re double booked. I hope you don’t have piles of three boulders because a landslide awaits.
So, in the heat of wanting to make a positive change in one’s life, it’s easy to say boldly to oneself, “Yes, I’m going to do it! I’m finally ready to commit to it!” Sounds great. Feels good.
The problem is when “the Will” comes in contact with “the Boulders” that are your already scheduled activities.
The only way that a new activity that requires time to complete can have a hope of becoming part of your routine is if it has its own place in your already boulder-full schedule.
If you see that there is not enough free time to devote to your new resolution, then you have these options: 1) don’t commit to your new resolution because it likely won’t work out anyway, 2) make the difficult decision to cut out existing activities, 3) find ways of squeezing the time spent on existing activities, or 4) sleep less.
My advice is to choose option 2 (cutting out existing activities). I think that option 3 (squeezing existing activities) also can be viable. The caution is to avoid being overly optimistic about your ability to squeeze out time from existing activities. If that were easy to do, you would have done it already. For example, you can save time on completing paperwork at work – which I encourage – but that requires a focused effort and potential reconfiguration of your work-flow and even patient treatment contract – such as, for example, starting to charge for completing certain forms. This change may itself require its own resolution. Or, you may think you can cut back on some quiet time before bed, which may include some more-or-less mindless watching of shows or videos. But this may be counterproductive if you cut too deeply. We all need a transition from engaged daytime activity to the quieting of activity conducive to sleep. And I strongly advise against option 4 (decreasing sleep). Many adults already sleep too little, which can have deleterious effects on your happiness, health, and longevity.
Whichever way you can accomplish it, you must ensure your new activity has its own boulder – a big red not-to-be-denied boulder – planted firmly in your daily or weekly schedule. If, on further reflection, you can’t find a spot for it, that means it is not high enough priority to displace existing boulders. That’s ok. I am pointing that you are judging your priorities. Sometimes resolutions reflect activities that are nice to have but not crucial. Sometimes they have to wait until your schedule changes, or you judge your priorities differently.
Step 2: Follow Your Schedule
Not much more to say other than once you’ve scheduled time for your new activity, then spend that time engaging in that activity and no other.
Of course, emergencies arise, and sometimes even priorities get pushed aside. But if your new activity is being consistently pushed aside in favor of still another emergency, then it may be that your emergencies are so predictable that they should have their own time scheduled. Be realistic. Don’t beat up on yourself. Accept reality as it is. Own your priorities. Learn to say No so you can succeed at a more important Yes.
Happy New Year. May your new year be as good as or better than the current one.
“Action expresses priorities.”
“A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first.”
“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”
“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.”
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