Reality Check: A New Year; A New System

It’s understandable that New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. The inevitable February stories of people who’ve abandoned their resolutions sends a message of, “Why bother?”
Regardless of the time of year, however, it’s worthwhile to think about what you want and then do the work required to achieve it. Accomplishment feels good. It helps to give us a sense of purpose and autonomy. We’re more satisfied if we have some control over our destiny rather than believing we are at the mercy of events and other people.
Plus, a goal (or resolution, if you prefer) is usually something positive. Few people set resolutions of, “I resolve to be a less healthy, lazier and more unpleasant person.” Goals tend to be something to aspire to; they build rather than tear down.
However, it’s hard to maintain enthusiasm for goals if we don’t see progress. We need feedback—signals that tell us that we are on the right track. Ask anyone who has struggled with a strict diet how motivated they are if, despite all efforts, they’ve gained a few pounds. Without positive feedback, motivation can slip away.
So this year, I have a suggestion for you. Don’t make a resolution. Instead, set up a system that will help you progress in whatever direction is important to you.
For example, instead of “I will lose 10 pounds” (goal) try “I will eat a healthy breakfast daily” (system). Then, make the system work by having healthy breakfast foods available.
Here are a few more examples to give you the idea. Instead of, “I’ll finish my family tree” try “Five days a week, I’ll spend one hour a day working on genealogy.”
Instead of “I’ll get a better job” try “Every week, I will reach out to one person who can help me make progress.” Instead of “I’ll save x number of dollars by year’s end” try “Each day, I will keep track and record every dollar I spend.”
This approach could even be effective for improving relationships. For example, instead of, “I resolve to have a better relationship with my spouse, children, etc.” you could try, “Each day, I will do one thing to bring a smile to the face of a person I care about.”
The details of your system depend on you: what you are able to do and what you are prepared to repeat. The idea is simply to choose activities that you are prepared to do consistently and that lead you in the right direction.
Grand gestures and dramatic efforts can feel great when you do them. However, real progress often follows smaller, persistent efforts. Whether you’re a musician or a mathematician, accomplishment comes from consistently doing the work, one day after another.
Setting goals works for some people. If that doesn’t work for you, then try creating a system. Determine what you want, take that first step, and then persistently put one foot in front of the other. It’s not flashy. But doing the work of continuing in one direction will get you there and will help prevent you from getting distracted, side-tracked, or discouraged into giving up.
What do you think of setting up a system to get you where you want to go? Is it worth a try?

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