Saturday, December 31, 2011

Because resolutions are so blah

As I imagine like almost everyone else, I used to make New Year Resolutions. And, as I imagine like almost everyone else, I didn't live up to them. But I still kept making them anyway, up until a a few years ago. Resolutions by themselves just aren't effective. So instead I now draw up projects I want to complete and habits I want to gain or drop.

Projects are time-limited goals with specific and measurable steps. They work so much better than resolutions because: 1) you know where you're headed; 2) you map out how to get there; 3) you know where you are based on your map; and 4) you'll know when you've arrived. Planning projects for the year also gives you perspective on the things you want to accomplish. Some will be short-term, i.e., doable in a few months, and some will be long-term, i.e., may take the better part of a year, or even extend into the following year. You'll know beforehand what your year will look like. A good way of tracking projects is through the Getting Things Done system by David Allen.

Habits are actions you repeat so often that they become second nature to you. Of course, there are good habits and there are bad habits. Good habits you want to develop; bad habits you want to drop. They sound more like the traditional resolutions, but the difference is they are measurable. I've read somewhere that it takes 21 repetitions to establish a habit. To measure how far along you are, you can use chains of repetition. Consecutive days of doing something constitutes a chain. This is an idea I picked up from the Habit Streak app for Android.

Between habits and projects, I actually think that habits are harder. It's more challenging to do something small and almost trivial every day than it is to spend a few hours at one time on a major task. For myself, I've broken down the habits into five major categories: physical, spiritual, creative, financial, and professional.

And one last thing. Whether you think in terms of resolutions, projects, or habits, it's important to remember that these are things to aim for through the coming year, not some instantaneous change that must occur when January 1st comes around. Write them down and refer to them often and regularly throughout the year. Have major checkpoints, perhaps quarterly, to see where you are. Remember: your real project is you.