New Year, Same Goals? A Roadmap for Developing Habits for Success in 2019
Updated: Jan 3, 2019
Here we are again, at the start of another new year.
If you’re like me, you’re feeling refreshed and grateful for the holidays, yet wishing you had more time with your family, and also hungover (physically + mentally) from all of the festivities. Pass me some vegetables and a green juice, stat.
Also, living in this sweater that my sister-in-law got me for Christmas...
Now that we’re officially in the new year, my email inbox + social media feeds are chock full of posts about goal-setting, resolutions, fresh starts, diets, fitness routines, dry January, finally losing the weight… you get the gist.
Then there’s a whole other camp of people who shun New Year’s resolutions and are all about “new year, same me.”
I’d say I’m somewhere right in the middle (as I often find myself in life).
On one hand, I love the energy of the new year. January 1st may be just another date, but it sure does feel like an opportunity for a fresh start. Particularly after the holidays when many of us are ready to dive back into a routine and leave our cookie-eating, wine-drinking, gluttonous selves behind for a little while (just me?!).
While some are, I’ve never been annoyed by the flurry of setting new goals, resetting our minds, reflecting on another year, and planning ahead — rather, I find it to be alluring and contagious. Like we’re all in this together and 2019 is going to be the best year yet.
So, how will we make it the best? How will we maintain the momentum we feel at the start of a fresh new year?
The key is coupling habit formation + goal-setting with a healthy dose of action and execution.
Easier said than done. While the prospect of success depends on the goals themselves, either way, it requires hard work, discipline, and consistency.
Often, we fill notebooks, calendars, and journals with goals and dreams, but we are not as quick to map out the actions and habits that will get us there.
That’s the REAL work, right?
As I reflect on my past goals (new year’s or otherwise), one clear theme emerges: many of my goals and aspirations get carried over, month after month and year after year.
New year, new me.
New year, same goals.
Can you relate?
The question is: why do I have some of the same goals, yet again?
Are the goals not important?
Do I lack the skills and knowledge to execute?
Am I setting myself up for failure?
For example, finishing my dissertation has been at the top of my list since I finished my qualifying exams back in 2015.
Have I made progress? Yes.
Am I where I should be, given the time that’s passed? No.
The theme that’s popped for me this year is that I keep carrying this goal over (in addition to others) without a clearer, deeper understanding of the reasons I didn't make the progress I planned for. This goal is incredibly important to me. I have the knowledge and skills to get it done. But something isn't clicking.
So, I sat down and considered the following (for each goal that has carried over):
Why have I not made the desired progress?
How am I holding myself back?
For the progress I have made, how did I do it? What was the key to success during those periods of deep work and productivity?
What elements of this are within my control? Not within my control?
I’ve done the work reflecting on those questions + thought back to the motivation literature I read in grad school — here’s what I learned.
(1) To reach a goal, we must have supporting habits and a solid foundation in place. For example, if my goal is to lose 15 pounds by March — what habits will support that? Maybe I build a habit of packing my gym bag in the evening so it’s easy to grab and go in the morning. Or, perhaps I set out my gym clothes at night so I can make my morning workouts seamless. Whatever it is, without identifying and building good habits, goal attainment is difficult, if not impossible.
(2) It’s critical to tease apart what is within our control and what is not. Sticking with the weight loss example, maybe you can control what foods you stock in your kitchen (assuming you do the grocery shopping, etc), but you can’t control what snacks show up at your office. Does anything trigger your likelihood to head to the office kitchen and grab a snack?
For example, in Charles Duhigg’s book on Habits, he describes heading to the cafeteria every afternoon to grab a cookie. When he dug deeper, he realized it wasn’t the cookie he truly wanted, but rather, the social interaction — grabbing a few minutes to chat with colleagues and catch-up while taking a break for his workload. Grabbing the cookie became the habit, but the reason/the trigger was social interaction. So, he built healthier habits that centered around the need for social interaction (e.g., a scheduled afternoon catch-up/walk with a colleague).
As he says: The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” – Charles Duhigg
(3) It’s critical to pay attention to our environment and create a space for success. When reflecting on periods of success for myself, I recognized that my environment played a critical role. There are certainly many preferences involved here — one person may love to work at a coffee shop because the hustle and bustle leads to energy and flow; another may prefer quiet, solo work time to tap into productivity. Either way, taking some time to figure out what environment is optimal for you is worth it. It’s the foundation that will set you up for success.
(4) The biggest hurdle in my way is ME. It’s easy to make all sorts of excuses about why I didn’t reach this goal or why I didn’t keep the promises I made to myself. But, ultimately, a lot of it has to do with self-control and discipline (or lack thereof). Again, there are individual differences here — personally, I tend to overload myself and take on too much, which results in difficultly prioritizing and managing my time. I often find myself focusing on the little, low value tasks in lieu of the big, high priority work, priorities, and projects. Writing about the “superwoman complex," doing a lot of self-reflection, and receiving feedback about this has been incredibly helpful for me.
Given these learnings, I’ve deemed 2019 my year of FOCUS + DISCIPLINE.
Rather than laying out resolutions, I am striving to build habits that will keep me focused and bring discipline and rigor to my life. These habits, in turn, should help me actualize my core goals this year and also continue to be successful long into the future.
In addition, I am measuring my progress. I’m not just writing my desired habits down and expecting myself to remember them. I’ve created a table where I will check off what I successfully did each day and then tally up my results at the end of the month. This will allow me to analyze my progress, over time — for example, at the end of January if I exercised 20 days but only meditated 5, I can explore why and course correct. This is how I’ll build the habits that keep me focused and disciplined.
Interested in creating a roadmap for yourself? Consider engaging in some or all of the following activities:
(1) Reflect on the goals/resolutions/[insert choice of word] that you set for 2018.
How did you feel on 1/1/2018?
How long did your energy and persistence last?
Did you achieve what you set out to do? If not, why? What held you back?
(2) Do an audit of where you spent your time in 2018 — break it down into buckets (e.g., paid work, housework, childcare, commuting, exercise, etc).
Generally, where did you spend the majority of your time?
Is that aligned with where you want to spend your time in 2019?
If not, what do you want to change? What can you let go of, outsource, or optimize to free up space for yourself?
(3) If you've set goals for 2019, what habits do you need to form to support them? Be selective in choosing the habits you want to develop.
Consider what habits may hinder your success (e.g., an afternoon snack/pressing snooze too often/etc) that you need to break as well.
(4) Create a tracking/measurement system for yourself.
Start small with just January — how will track progress toward habit development in January?
Then, at the end of each month, you can analyze and course correct. Smaller, bite-sized goals lends itself to success.
2019… we’re coming for ya!