It’s the start of a fresh, new year. The opportunity to break out of old patterns and instill new habits. For years I wrote “New Year Resolutions” and got ready to change my life when the clock struck midnight. Whether it was eating healthier, exercising more, or being a better leader, my approach was that when the calendar turned to January, I hit the reset button and dove into my new and improved self. And it rarely worked.
When I set myself up for such drastic change all at one time, I felt pressured, overwhelmed, and ultimately discouraged. The stress of living up to this “ideal self” led me down a path of giving up easily and settling for the status quo. I wasn’t all that bad, I would rationalize. But I would have a lingering feeling of disappointment that I couldn’t achieve all the “goals” I had set.
I believe the reason most of us (over 92%!) aren’t successful implementing real change each year is because we are approaching the process all wrong. The point is that change is a process. We don’t just turn the page and become a new person who magically has willpower we didn’t have the year before. The best change happens incrementally. I’m not saying don’t set yearly goals. Goals are an important piece of the roadmap to changing and improving our lives. But how we reach those goals is where most people struggle.
I have found the best approach in making big changes to be utilizing the compound effect. Small incremental changes will lead to bigger transformations. Create your list of goals for the year, then under each one, create a few actions or habits to implement one at a time.
If one of your goals is to become a better leader, you might start with some smaller actions like:
- Thank at least one employee each day for a specific contribution.
- Schedule monthly two-hour coaching sessions in my calendar with each of my employees by January 30th.
- Provide specific constructive and positive feedback to each employee in each of their coaching sessions. (Most leaders fail to give ANY feedback throughout the year, so if you do this one thing each month, you will surely improve your leadership skills).
- Recognize my top performing employee at least once a month. (Many leaders focus their efforts on struggling employees and forget to acknowledge top performers).
Changing behavior is a personal process. If you know that implementing all four of those actions at once will overwhelm you and derail your efforts, then start with number one and make that a habit before incorporating more habits or actions. If you do this consistently all year, you have a much better chance of becoming a better leader than if you decided to change all your habits on day one. This approach makes the change more manageable and sustainable.
Another important part of reaching your goals is forgiveness. You need to be open to forgiving yourself when you fail to follow through. If you are trying to eat healthier but ate a pint of ice cream last night, you need to brush it off, forgive yourself, and start new again. Beating yourself up will not change the fact that you ate the ice cream. Move on and try better tomorrow.
One of my goals this year is to be a more patient parent. Before my husband and I had kids, we talked about how calm our house would be and how we would approach parenting. Then we had kids and reality set in. It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be! We have a four-year-old, two-year-old and a newborn, and with lack of sleep, patience can be limited. Instead of setting a goal for being a perfect parent, I have small actions and habits I am working on to hopefully improve over time. For example, if I get frustrated with my daughter, instead of getting angry at myself for losing my cool (which just adds more negativity and frustration to the situation), I have started the habit of apologizing to my daughter, giving her a hug, and starting again. This small change has helped me to stay present in the moment and be more patient with my daughter. She is more willing to listen instead of throwing a tantrum.
Now I’d like to hear from you. What is one goal you have set for this year and one or two habits you are working on toward that goal? Share your comments below.