New Year is traditionally a time for making changes – but we’ve been coming at them all wrong.

There is something deeply appealing about the opportunity presented by the New Year.  The passing of the old year offers us the quiet relief of drawing a line under what has gone before whilst at the same time presenting the hopeful idea of making a genuine change that might forever improve our lives.

It is a heady combination and rightly so.  It is healthy not to dwell on those things in the past that we wish to move on from, and exciting – thrilling even – to think about the endless possibility of what could be.

Why is it, then, that by February the 1st so many of these enterprises, entered into with boundless hope and optimism are to be found sadly wanting?  The ambition is either significantly reduced (Maybe we’ll go for the marathon next year; this year let’s just aim for a 5k); modified beyond all sensible reason (Instead of Dry January, I’m doing Dry Mondays in January.  Except next Monday.); or worse still, abandoned completely (that gym membership will still be debited from your account for the next 18 months though).

The problem is (perhaps obviously) an entirely human one.  Given the thrilling prospect of making a change all we want to do is MAKE A CHANGE.  Now.  Today.  January 1st.  New Life, New Me.  So we make resolutions, we make changes and we give very little thought to the underlying reasons for each change.  Why that resolution?  What result am I expecting?  How do I feel about that?  Is now really the best time to make that specific change?

When businesses want to make changes, they (hopefully) give some consideration to the outcome they want to achieve, the over-arching context, the costs vs. the benefits and the timing.  At least, successful businesses do.  And to implement those changes, they use project management.  So what can project management teach us about our own, individual – human – resolutions?

When you want to make changes in your life this year, take your lead from the world of project management and make the following resolutions first.  Let me know in the comments how you get on.

  1. I will take a moment to understand why I want to make a resolution.

Fools rush in.  Don’t be a fool.  Before you make any resolutions, just take a moment to consider why you want to make that change.  Very often the change is the thing you see on the surface but there will be something deeper behind it – the reason for the change.  What is your reason?  To give you an idea of why this is important, I present you with the following table.  In the first column is a perfectly reasonable, perfectly common New Year’s resolution (I will…) that is quite likely to be broken.  The second column gives the reason (I want…) for making that change in the first place.

Resolution Reason
I will go to the gym three times a week. I want to feel better about my health.
I will stop working late. I want more time with my family.
I will learn Japanese. I want to broaden my mind.

 

Now that you’ve understood the reason, consider if the change is the best way to achieve this because, I’m sorry to say, it often isn’t.  We’ll get back to the change in a moment, but now we’ve understood the reason, let’s hold it in our heads while we consider what it is we actually want to see.  Resolution number two…

  1. I will spend just two freaking minutes writing down what I actually want to happen as a result.

You know the reason, now what do you actually want to see?  What constitutes success for you?  Having gone from resolution to reason, work it backwards.  Start with the reason and figure out what the outcome is that you want to see.  More often than not, it’s not the resolution you originally specified.  If it is – great!  You have spent ten seconds validating your approach, rather than a year regretting it.  If we use the reason as our starting point, the outcome might look a bit different. Picture your end state (I will have…).  Most importantly: make it measurable.  If you really want to achieve it: put numbers against it.  Don’t make it vague (I will be happier).  Make it concrete.

Reason Outcome (measurable)
I want to feel better about my health. I will have lost two stone.
I want more time with my family. I will have created at least three moments that I will remember with my family.
I feel the need to broaden my mind. I will have taken one course in Japanese.

 By starting with the phrase “I will have…” you are being more specific about the outcome you intend to achieve.  This will take you closer.  Put numbers against it.  This will take you a step closer still.  Which leads us to our final point…

  1. Only then will I decide what I will DO.

Don’t make resolutions.  Decide what you will do.  Making positive, action-orientated statements about what you will do is both simple and makes it achievable.  Broad, open-ended statements like “I will be kinder to people” are NO WAY NEAR as effective as saying “I will make my elderly neighbour a meal once a month”.  How on earth do you satisfy yourself that you’ve done the first one?  How could you argue that you haven’t been kinder when you’ve completed the second?  To paraphrase the old saying: say what you’ll DO and then DO what you say.  Look at your desired outcome and think about what it is you really need to do to achieve it.

Here, then, is a table which takes the outcome and turns it into an action plan:

Outcome Action plan
I will have lost two stone. I will research diets that help me lose weight.

I will design a food plan that has food I enjoy, but reduces my fat intake.

I will exercise twice a week.

I will have created at least three moments that I will remember with my family. We will watch one movie a month as a family.

I will play four tennis matches with my daughter and take her for ice-cream afterwards.

Without my wife knowing, I will book a babysitter and surprise her with a night out.

I will have taken one course in Japanese. I will sign up to an online ‘Introduction to Japanese’ course.

Let’s take a moment to compare the Action Plans (right column) to the original Resolutions (left column) by way of the Reasons and Outcomes:

Resolution Reason Outcome (measurable) Action plan
I will go to the gym three times a week. I want to feel better about my health. I will have lost two stone. I will research diets that help me lose weight.

I will design a food plan that has food I enjoy, but reduces my fat intake.

I will exercise twice a week.

I will stop working late. I want more time with my family. I will have created at least three moments that I will remember with my family. We will watch one movie a month as a family.

I will play four tennis matches with my daughter and take her for ice-cream afterwards.

Without my wife knowing, I will book a babysitter and surprise her with a night out.

I will learn Japanese. I want to broaden my mind. I will have taken one course in Japanese. I will sign up to an online ‘Introduction to Japanese’ course.

Although the right hand column contains much more detail, all of those things are considerably more achievable and, importantly, much more likely to bring about the desired outcome.  And how much better – and more fun, and more interesting! – are the resolutions in the right hand column?  The final example is almost the same but, just by framing it slightly differently, becomes a far more considered accomplishment, and one that you’re more likely to stick to.  What’s more: because they are better and more fun, you’ll achieve them.  And isn’t that the point of resolutions?

A lot of you will be looking at the above and thinking “well, that’s not rocket science.”  No.  It isn’t.  That’s the point!  It is a simple, three-step way of actually achieving change this year.  Good luck – let me know how you get on.  Happy New Year.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *