How You and Your Business Can Thrive in the New Year by Building Sticky HabitsJan 24, 2023
New year, new you, right? Have you stuck with your resolutions, or have you let them slip?
January brings a big boost of motivation, and that's good! But it's not enough on its own. Motivation fades quickly. What doesn't is discipline. So use that extra pool of energy over the next few weeks to establish systems that will keep you on the path toward your goal long after the motivation to reach your resolution has faded.
Here's the bottom line: a resolution is only the first step. It's setting up the target at the end of the range. You still need to pick up the bow, knock the arrow, take aim, and let loose. And before even that, you have to learn how to shoot.
So what if this year you learned how? Try on a different approach to New Year's resolutions, one that sets you up for success every day with an easy-to-follow system for achieving your goals. Over the last few years, I've learned a ton about habits and how we can use them to achieve our goals; I want to break down a few essential tips to help you get off to a good start this year.
Whatever your resolutions for this year are – business and personal – here's a proven system for getting them done. Some of this might seem painfully obvious – that's the point. Stick with me. Effective habits aren't as complicated as you think.
There Are Levels to This Shit
I called your resolution the target you're shooting at. It's a goal. Goals are valuable because they give us direction. Still, without actionable steps for us to take, they don't get us where we want to be. That's why we need to look at the journey from where we are now to where we want to be on three separate levels: goals, systems, and habits.
By using the goal as a foundation to create a system and letting that system inform your habits, you can discover the simple actions to undertake every day that, step by step, bring you closer to your goal.
Here's a personal example:
Like many writers, I dream of being a professional novelist. I've written one book, but I know I have a better one in me. So this year's goal is to write the first draft of that novel. An important part of this process is making that goal concrete and quantifiable so you know when you've achieved it. Ask yourself, "what is the signal that I have achieved my goal?" For me, it would be writing The End in the last chapter.
#1: Make a concrete and quantifiable goal out of your resolution.
With that goal in mind, you begin outlining the steps you need to take to reach it. Taking the lessons from the last novel I wrote, I think mine should look something like this:
- Character and thematic work
- Actually writing the damn thing
Those four steps have a hundred smaller steps inside of them, but it gives me a framework.
#2: Broadly outline the steps you need to take to reach that goal
None of this may seem revolutionary, but the process is critical to ensure we're aiming at the right target. Aiming precisely is vital – James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, makes this point like this:
"The impact created by a change in your habits is similar to the effect of shifting the route of an airplane by just a few degrees. Imagine you are flying from Los Angeles to New York City. If a pilot leaving from LAX adjusts the heading just 3.5 degrees south, you will land in Washington, D.C., instead of New York. Such a small change is barely noticeable at takeoff – the nose of the airplane moves just a few feet – but when magnified across the entire United States you end up hundreds of miles apart."
And now we reach the level of habits. Starting with the first step of your system, define what single, small action you can take daily to accomplish that.
We've all set out to build better habits at one point or another – which means we also know how hard it can be to get them to stick. We meditate for a few days or weeks, then suddenly, it's been months since we've sat down to watch our breath. We go to the gym religiously, then drop it overnight.
It comes back to the difference between motivation and discipline. Motivation shouldn't be the fuel that keeps your habits burning. Instead, look at it as the temporary boost in energy you need to create disciplined adherence to a new habit. The trick of that is starting small, slow, and easy.
#3 Make the habit as small and as easy as possible
A habit that feels like a big step toward your goal every day might feel good in the moment, but it's relying on willpower and motivation – two things you can't count on to be there day after day. A ridiculously easy habit gets done even on those days you don't want to. Sure, running a mile every day before you go to work makes you feel accomplished, like you're literally running towards your goal of a healthier body. But then it rains one day. Or you didn't sleep well, and you feel too tired. "I've been good about it this week," you tell yourself. "I deserve to take a day off."
And we all know how that ends.
Instead, you choose a small and easy habit. Every day, you put on your running shoes and walk to the end of the driveway. No matter what, you can do that. Sure it feels silly, like you're not getting anything real done. But that's the magic. Motivated or not, you're putting those shoes on and getting out there. Now you want to go for a run? Get after it! If not, you go back inside, knowing you put another brick into the habit wall today (do that enough times, and eventually, you'll be saying to yourself, "Hell, I'm already out here. Might as well go for a jog around the block." Boom. Good habits are being built the easy way.)
Every day, little by little, you set yourself up for long-term success. Every day you get just a little bit better.
I'm itching to get started on this novel, right? Part of me wants to sit down and spend all week diving into the research, brainstorming, outlining, and drafting chapters (the other part doesn't because art is scary and hard, but resistance is a topic for another time). But I'm not doing that. Instead, I'm going slow and small, doing a little bit every day to create a habit that sticks well after that swell of motivation has gone. So it's ten minutes of research every evening. That's it. Slowly I build the habit of sitting down at my desk daily to do the work – that's the cornerstone of being a writer. As that gets easier and easier, I'll bump that ten minutes up, but for now, the key is repetition.
Make it small and easy.
What Gets Measured Gets Managed
Another important aspect of making your habits stick, particularly in this early phase, is tracking. There's an inherent reward in seeing physical proof of your progress – three days in a row, a week, two weeks, or a month of doing this habit every day.
One of the simplest ways to do this is the Jerry Seinfeld method. When a young comic asked him how he could improve, Seinfeld famously told him to write one joke every day, then put a big red X on his calendar for that day until he had a long, unbroken chain of Xs. "Don't break the chain," Seinfeld said.
There's another good reason to keep your habits easy and small. No matter how busy you were that day or what came up to shake you out of your routine, you can do that easy little habit and add another X to your chain. Then, take a moment to celebrate your success every time you do.
Habit-tracking apps can be great for this, too, with automated reminders that notify you when it's time to do the thing. I enjoy Fabulous for the way I can cross off habits in my morning, afternoon, and evening routines.
#4 Track your habits and don't break the chain
If you start to feel like a racehorse on the track but stuck in the pen, chomping at the bit and ready to get out there and run, that's good. Stay bridled. Let that energy push you through each day, doing just a little more each time. You'll naturally want to race towards your goal as fast as possible, and it might be frustrating to feel like you're only making tiny steps towards it. That's why, if you've aimed true, outlined a system, and chosen habits that will accomplish those steps, I encourage you to forget about the goal and focus on the system. For example, suppose I only focus on the goal of finishing my novel. In that case, I get exactly one day out of potentially years to celebrate that accomplishment. But if I focus only on my daily habit, then every day is an accomplishment. And then, one afternoon, I'll look up and say, "Hey, I did it. The book is done."
#5 Focus on the system, not the goal
We've discussed how to decide on the proper habits and how to make them stick. So what does that look like when you outline your business goals for the year?
As a solo entrepreneur, say I'm aiming to generate an extra $3,000 in monthly revenue this year. That's concrete and quantifiable. To do that, I need to connect with new potential clients, which means spending time marketing and networking. Because I don't like social media, I decide to write blogs and articles to reach new people. So my initial habit is to spend 10 minutes every day working on a new piece. That could be research, outlines, writing, editing, etc. That equates to a few new pieces of content marketing every month that could connect me with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people who could use my help. If even a tiny percent of those are interested in learning more about what I do, I'm on my way to achieving my goal with ten minutes a day.
Small steps that lead to significant changes.
I hope you've picked up some helpful tips for creating habits that stick and that you're beginning to realize the power that even the smallest actions have to create meaningful positive change in your life.
If you're interested in the science of habit formation, I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear. Much of the basis of this blog came from that book, which provides insights into why habits work the way they do, as well as a deeper look at creating systems and habits than I can hear. It's one of the books that has had the most profound impact on my life, and I encourage anyone to pick it up.
Kite + Dart is also hosting a free workshop on January 31 to help you with your 2023 business planning. You'll learn more about creating concrete goals for your business and outlining the steps to reach them. Coupled with the strategies for building better habits found here, you'll be on your way to your most successful year yet.
Register here. Hope to see you there!
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