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Why direction is better than perfection (A resolution reframe!)

New Year's Resolutions are designed to fail. Willpower is not enough. Here's how to make incremental progress on your goals.

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Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels
Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

It’s 2021! Finally.

And you’re ready for a change! (Aren’t we all?)

You’ve likely been thinking about the new year, and perhaps you’ve got a resolution or two up your sleeve. As I write this, it’s January 4th. So, you’re probably feeling good. You’re highly motivated. This year, despite all the odds, you’re going to crush those resolutions, right?!

Well, I hope so. But I’m going to propose a more realistic approach than simply “resolving”.

What if instead of making resolutions, you defined an intention, and backed it up with a plan. I’m calling this approach: “Direction is better than perfection”

Why?

Resolutions are often vague: “Read more”, “get healthy”, etc. But what do those mean? How do you put that into action? In order to build habits, we need to be specific about what we’re trying to achieve. We need a goal post.

Resolutions are often inflexible: If they aren’t vague, they are inflexible: “Eat 15 vegetables per week” (no matter the circumstances), “read 37 books” (no matter how long). You’re able to get specific, but you’re gonna feel like you failed as soon as life gets in the way.

Resolutions are often unrealistic: If you haven’t been meditating AT ALL, when what are the chances that come January first you’ll be consistently meditating 30 minutes a day? Virtually none. When you make a resolution, you’re looking for big change. But usually, big change doesn’t arrive overnight. To be sustainable, change needs to be incremental.

When we simply “resolve” to do something, we are relying on willpower. And willpower is just not enough for effective habit change. And when we slip up, we assume failure. In fact, most people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions before the end of January. Don’t let that be you.

So, if you’d like to be a little kinder to yourself, and actually achieve your goals, give the “Direction over Perfection” plan a try. Here’s how:

AIM FOR INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENT

You want to start meditating daily? How about starting with just 1 minute per day? When you’ve achieved that, move on to 2 minutes a day. By starting incrementally, you’ll be collecting small wins, you’ll bolster your confidence and you’re more likely to achieve your end goal.

MAKE A (REALISTIC) PLAN

You want to start running? Great. Now spend a little time thinking through the obstacles.

  • When will you do it? (Block it on your calendar to ensure you have time.)
  • It’s cold out; do you have appropriate attire? If not, start by acquiring it.
  • Does your family know, and support, your plan? Who will watch the kids (or will you take them with you)?

PREPARE TO PIVOT WITH NEW INFORMATION

Know that your plan will likely need to change. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the old adage, “the only constant is change” is 100% true.

  • In-person school is cancelled again; how does that change your plan?
  • You got the flu; how will that change your plan?
  • You are achieving your goal faster than you thought; do you need a new goal?

Pivoting is not failing; it’s how you succeed.

BUILD IN FLEXIBLE RULES

A long time ago one of my (brilliant) friends told me how she sticks with her exercise regimen. She has a simple rule that she never misses more than 1 workout.

If she’s feeling tired, lazy, or simply strapped for time she doesn’t need to beat herself up about skipping the gym. But her rule that she never skips twice ensures that one slip up doesn’t result in a downward spiral.

Think about where you can apply your own flexible rules that allow you to be human, to make progress and to get back on track.

Stay tuned!

Over the next several weeks I’ll be writing a series about habit building and diving deep on practical strategies you can use to change habits over time in a sustainable way.

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