With New Years within spitting distance, I got to thinking about resolutions, and why it is that so many of us have found so little success with them. And here’s what I’ve come up with: we are thinking too big.
I’m going to get in shape/become fluent in Mandarin/launch my business/get organized/go vegan: these are all noble goals, and if I’ve named your resolution, I am in no way telling you to ditch it: I’m suggesting that the best way to actually achieve it might be to think smaller. Way smaller.
And to get achingly specific: If your goal is to launch a business, that’s all well and good, but it’s rather vague, don’t you think? Launch it by when? How much money would you need to do it? What services would you offer? Would you have employees? Do you need a website? And what, exactly, do you mean by “launch,” anyway?
If you’re aiming to make 2012 the year you “get in shape,” well, what would that look like? Precisely what does “getting in shape” mean to you? A certain number on the scale? Getting back into your favorite pair of jeans–the ones from 15 years and two kids ago? Having some kind of an exercise routine? Running a marathon? Wrapping your double-cheeseburger in lettuce instead of a bun?
Once you’ve got a specific picture of what you want, then it’s time to break it down into to-dos. And, to make those to-dos doable, make them as small as possible. In his book “Getting Things Done,” Management consultant David Allen wrote that the best way to tackle an overloaded in-box is to focus on “actionable items”–as in, items that can be done now. (For instance, putting on your shoes is not actionable until you have socks on–so getting thy tootsies into their socks is your first to-do.) A grosser expression that gets at the same idea goes something like this: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
This thinking small principle is one with which I heartily agree–and it applies not just to managing your email inbox or ingesting sizable pachyderms; it’s exceedingly helpful in terms of big personal goals, too.
Big goals are often amorphous and unwieldy: They seem too hazy, too big, too unreachable–too elephantine!–to conquer. In the absence of specificity and of manageable things we can do NOW, we become paralyzed. And the lack of progress that results from, you know, being paralyzed in turn leaves us totally unmotivated. So specific, doable, bite-size goals serve a dual purpose: they’ll keep you moving towards the bigger ones, and the constant realizations that you’re actually making progress will keep you motivated.
So what can you do right now? Maybe this week you call your friend who launched her own business a couple of years ago, and ask her to coffee so you can pick her brain? (Truly, has there ever been a more disgusting phrase? I mean, other than the one about eating elephants.) Then, once you have a date set, maybe you make a list of questions you’d like to ask her. If you want to get in shape, maybe you can do a quick google search to find out the gyms closest to you. Then tomorrow, call them and ask about rates.
And each time you take a tiny step, take the time to congratulate yourself, and cross it off your list. Then focus on the next one. Then the next and the next and the next one after that. Progress is just that: Progress. Keep at it, and one day in the not too distant future, you’ll be eating a whole new elephant.