Off to a slow start with your New Year’s Resolutions? Maybe that’s a good thing. So many people profit from selling you instant (but rarely lasting) results that we often forget the virtue in taking the long way.
The other day, an old friend emailed me a list of his goals for the new year. There were thirteen of them. Most were vague and imprecise, and I told him so. But the truth is most of us do this in one way or another. Figuring out how to not fall into this trap is the secret to setting goals and actually obtaining them.
I should begin by saying that I’m not the best person to pay attention to when it comes to setting goals. See my friend Michael Hyatt if you want a Type-A roadmap to getting everything you want in life. I, however, am more of a “let’s throw it against the wall and see what sticks” kind of guy. But as a driven individual, I do like achieving things. I just struggle with the discipline of it all and, quite frankly, with even knowing what I want in the first place.
So what’s a guy like me to do, when for so long I set goals and never achieved them? Well, I think it comes down to practice. As a musician, writer, and mediocre runner, I get practice. I understand why it’s important to get up every day and do the same thing over and over. But for a short while, I forgot this.
Recently, my new friend Chris came across a quote of mine on Twitter or Instagram, and in his words, it changed his year. The quote was this:
When the passion goes away, it’s the practice that sustains us.
He told me these few simple words were some of the most impactful ones he had read in the past year. He told me how, in the previous year, his business had gotten out of control and he’d experienced some failures that were the result of broken promises and over-committing.
But one thing saved him:
“The practice,” Chris told me, which he defines as: “a set of habits, rituals and plans that are scheduled to support the pursuit of a goal.” For him, this meant having a seven figure business. One million dollars. He gave up nearly everything — relationships, integrity, even his health — in pursuit of this goal. And in the end, he realized it wasn’t worth it, at least not the way he was doing it.
“The practices,” he wrote in a blog post, “are meaningless without the virtues.”
I love that. In fact, Chris taught me more about my own quote than I knew myself. So, here’s what I’m doing as someone who has struggled with setting and attaining goals most of my life. Maybe it makes sense for you, too:
- Focus on the habit, not the result. With most things frequency matters more than quantity. Make it a habit to go to the gym every day even if you only spend a few minutes there.
- Make the habit small, easy, and repeatable. Then make it more difficult over time. Don’t binge. Nibble. Don’t write a book. Write 500 words per day. Don’t get into shape. Walk 10,000 steps a day. Or start even smaller with one push up before bedtime.
- Don’t do something big and audacious. This year, do something small and consistent. That’s the secret to breakthrough with any goal, resolution, or change you want to make.
It’s not the big things that change our lives, or our world. It’s the small things that add up over time. Drip by drip, as Seth Godin likes to say. It’s not the passion, but the practice that sustains us.
If you need help, here are a few resources worth checking out:
- For writers: The My 500 Words a Day Challenge. This is a 31-day writing challenge that’s completely free. You get an email prompt a day plus access to a 5000-member community. Every year, I start off my January writing 500-1000 words per day to jumpstart my creativity and help me create the next project I want to work on. Usually, this continues through the rest of the year. If you’ve always said you’d write a book some day, this is a great place to start.
- For people wanting clarity: The Art of Work Video Course and Workbook. This is a free resource for anyone who buys my latest book, The Art of Work. You can get it in any format, including audio, which is my preferred way to read books these days. Once you buy the book, you are eligible for the free bonuses. Find out more at artofworkbook.com.
- For goal setters: Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever. This once-a-year course is a great resource for figuring out what you want out of every area of life and how to create a plan to get there. I use this system every year, in spite of being averse to goal-setting, and it works.
And if that’s not enough for you, then there’s a smattering of pieces I’ve written on resolutions here:
- 17 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers
- How to Not Set Yourself up for Failure with New Year’s Resolutions
- The Secret to Setting Goals that Actually Get Done
- The New Years Resolution You’ve Already Broken
- Don’t Bother with Resolutions This Year
Which goals are you setting for this year? What habits do you need to practice to support them? Share in the comments.