It’s that season again when people dream of getting fit, learning a new skill, or accomplishing something grand in their personal or professional lives. After all, looking toward the new year is a good time to hit the restart button on one’s aspirations. Except (uh oh, there’s an “except”), it’s also when you remember all the things you talked about last year that you never – or just marginally – made happen. Bummer.
Are there ways for a person to stay more on course? This is the question that frames the following top tips. In no particular order:
- Ask yourself, “Who do I have to become?” To do something new, become someone new. If your old self was ready to achieve that hope of yours, it would’ve. But it hasn’t. Would you like to run a marathon? Marathoners run three days a week for six months straight, adding a few miles every week until getting to the full 26.2 on the big day. Are you the kind of person who would do that? Whatever the goal, the answer has to be a definitive “Yes, I am the kind of person who would do that!” If you don’t identify with the aim, you won’t see yourself doing it, and not surprisingly, you won’t do it. You must reinvent your profile and own it.
- Write it down. When you think it, it’s an idea. When you write it down, it’s a plan. According to a University of Arizona study, people speak an average of 16,000 words a day. Talking just doesn’t have the grativas that it used to. The chasm between saying versus doing is quite the leap. I mean, hey, what’s a few words worth amid a collection of thousands per day! Nearly half a million a month. Write down your goal. In a notebook, on a post-it note, in your calendar. Get it out of your head and onto some paper where you can see it, spend time with it, and properly obsess over it.
- Take it apart. How often have you had a seemingly simple task drag on for months? You wanted to paint a wall. Easy, right? You even wrote it down. And yet, you never got to it. Why? Sometimes, “Paint wall” just doesn’t capture all that’s needed to make the job happen. Break it down into tinier, more manageable tasks: 1. Research paint store hours, 2. Borrow car, 3. Buy paint supplies, 4. Move furniture, 5. Drop tarp, and then 6. Paint wall. See how many little steps are needed before getting to that last one and give each its due.
- Befriend your calendar. To do lists are great for capturing initial ideas. Additionally, however, move those line items to your calendar and give each a proper day and time allotment. You can’t just say, “Spend time with family.” You have to tell yourself and those that need to know, when.
- Use a verb. Nouns are static and don’t quite activate the mind the way a verb can. If you want to put studio time in your schedule, don’t just enter the word Studio. Label the event Go to Studio, or Rehearse at Studio, or Practice Awesome at Studio. You’ll be more likely to stick to the plan when you see and read the action word.
- Set the bar low. Yep, you read that correctly. We live in a culture that credits its wins on hard work. It’s a value I believe in. Although, when training a new skill, you have to set the bar low. Too often, people expect to be rock stars out of the gate, then suffer a simple defeat, get discouraged, and consequently, quit prematurely. You wouldn’t mock a baby for taking a spill after a few steps, would you? Those lil guys probably have hundreds of falls and near-falls before acquiring walking proficiency. We cheer them on for the smallest of advances. So, similarly, remember to have fun, go light, and take it easy on yourself. Set the bar low and be happy with any progress you make.
- Ask the right questions. A lot of us have heard “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Cute. It encourages curiosity which I’m an advocate for. But, I’m sorry, there are dumb questions. They’re usually marked with Why. Complainers just love to ask Why. Why me? Why can’t I catch a break? The problem here is these questions can’t possibly produce any good answers. Only justifications. Instead, ask How. How can I find a good mentor? How can I develop my chops? These are the questions effective problem solvers ask.
- Commit. Do what you have to so you can do what you want to. You will have lots of distractions. Perfectly sensible (at the time anyway) reasons why you can go back on your word. Don’t! You and I already know what those are. Promises of fun — The one drink that turns into a weekend hangover. Or the beckoning of laziness — “I’ll skip today and just put in twice the time tomorrow.” Yeah, right. An acting coach once told me, “When you feel yourself falling out of a scene, try leaning in.” It’s a great tip, whether physically or metaphorically. The next time you’re about to tumble out of your good rhythm, take a breath to refocus and lean in.