Around this time each year, we commonly hear people making New Year’s Resolutions. The beginning of a new year can be a great time to start fresh and improve areas of your life.
But resolutions are often half-baked pledges that revolve around small ideas. People make resolutions because the pledge itself is easy to say and creates a false sense of productivity. Too often we make these resolutions without taking a deeper look at the bigger picture of what we really want our lives to look like. This is why so many New Year’s Resolutions tend to fall flat by about February.
So this New Year’s, ditch the resolutions. Instead, design your life.
The end of the year is the perfect time to do it. The holidays afford many people additional time off work, which provides the mental space needed to think critically about life and goals. While everyone else slacks off over the holidays and makes half-hearted resolutions, you’ll be ready to rock the new year with a proactive and well-designed plan.
1. Start with an audit of the past year.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
To understand where you want to go, it helps to start with a full understanding of where you’ve been. Blogger and New York Times bestselling author Chris Guillebeau advocates for an Annual Review each year. He first wrote about this in 2008, in How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. He starts with a pen, notebook, and two essential questions: What went well this year? What did not go well?
Take the time to celebrate your accomplishments. Humans are hard-wired to dwell on the negative, so you might be surprised to see how much you actually did in the past year.
2. Turn your aspirations into an actionable plan.
Most people never plan beyond their aspirations, but this step is essential. Simply saying that you want to accomplish something and telling yourself you’ll figure it out later is a guarantee that you’ll never get there. Life and all its distractions and short-term interruptions will always get in the way.
Take your three to four most important goals for 2015 and write out a detailed, step by step list for what would need to happen for each of those goals to be achieved. Be as specific as possible and make sure each step is measurable. If your goal is to write a book in 2015, then your list should read, “Write 500 words every day,” not simply, “Write more.” Agreeing to walk 10,000 steps every day is better than simply saying you’ll work out more next year.
Jen Dziura’s Design Your 2015 downloadable workbook is great for both the audit of your past year and helping you map out the individual steps needed to accomplish your goals. I used it last year and will be using it for my own review again this year.
3. Schedule your plan.
If you don’t actually schedule each step as an event on your calendar, you’ll never get around to it. Once you’ve mapped out what needs to happen, figure out when it needs to happen. If you typically use a digital calendar, try doing this on paper instead. We usually underestimate how long it takes to get things done, but seeing it written out will help you plan more realistically.
4. Plan the habits you’ll need to develop.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”- Aristotle
Changing our behavior starts with our habits. In addition to outlining specific goals and steps to achieve them, examine your habits. Habits are small behaviors we do automatically, without thinking, and each one has a trigger.
Studies show that willpower is a limited resource. The answer to getting more done isn’t simply having more motivation or willpower. If you want to change something about yourself, break the goal down into the smallest of daily habits, and then practice implementing those into your life. Once those are second nature, you no longer require as much willpower to achieve your goal.
Behavior design researcher BJ Fogg runs a workshop I highly recommend called Tiny Habits that is free to join. For more information about building habits, read Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year and How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide by James Clear.
5. Keep yourself accountable.
Every time I fail to achieve one of my goals, it’s because I kept them to myself and didn’t set up any kind of accountability. Finding some way to hold yourself accountable is key. Consider reaching out to friends and family for help. This doesn’t mean assigning someone to check in with you and nag you. Trying asking someone for something very small and packaging it within the work you need to do. Let’s say you’re an artist and you want to find more time to work on your art in 2015. You could ask a friend with art world connections to introduce you to a gallery owner after you complete 10 pieces by a certain date. You’re now accountable to that friend to make your art on a set schedule, and you gain a professional connection from it.
Schedule regular check-ins with yourself as well. Every three months, review your progress. If you got stuck somewhere along the way, figure out why and adjust your plan if necessary.
Remember that unless you take the reins, life will continue to happen to you. Wouldn’t you rather be the one in charge? The process of designing your life and making a plan of attack should be fun and inspiring. After all, it’s your life and your dreams! So this year, instead of wishing for the life you want in 2015, go make it happen.
See also: How to Design Your Own Career.
Photo credit: Getty Creative