Realistic advice for a better 2021
New Year’s is a time for reflection. Not many of us will be looking back on the year that was 2020 with much positivity but taking the time to absorb and accept what transpired over the last 365 days is important for facing the next year head on.
You can find a quote to support your view whether you think mulling over the past is a advisable or not, but the reason I recommend spending a short time doing so is so that you can accept where you are now.
The present place in which each of us stand as an individual can be colored by the lens through which we view it and in a world of constant change and unpredictability we often use a lens that makes our lives look better than the reality.
Harsh as this may sound, taking full accountability for where you are currently standing is the first step to taking control of your life and being able to steer it in the direction you want.
It might have felt like more outside forces than usual have taken the steering wheel this year but now is the perfect time for you to take back control and kick them out of your car (and your life).
1. Decide Today
When I say the perfect time, you probably think I mean New Year’s Day. An annual line in the sand for you to cross with new intentions. But what happens when you seem to be crossing this line year on year with exactly the same intentions?
Last year you wanted to lose weight and get in shape but work or kids or life prevented you. But this year it will be different, right?
The problem with this mentality is that life is naturally unpredictable (2020 anyone?) so there will always be outside forces pulling your attention away from any new habits you’re trying to cultivate.
So is the perfect time to make life changing promises to yourself New Year’s Day? Yes — if you are reading this on January 1st.
If you’re reading on January 2nd and you’ve already eaten more cheese than you said you would all year, today is the perfect day to set yourself some new goals.
What if you’re a little early and reading on December 31st? Perfect timing. Go for a run today while you have the time, why do you need to wait until tomorrow?
The point of this is to say that you can make big changes at any time in your life, not just New Year’s! I believe that New Year’s is the time most people choose to make changes because it is one of the only times in the year they consciously look back on their life and decide on how they can make it better.
But nothing is stopping you doing this on 5th January, 26th June or 15th August. Your willpower is not magically higher on New Year’s Day than any other day of the year.
Here’s a short video of Gary Vaynerchuck explaining this simple concept in an amazing way (if you are looking for advice on mindset and achieving your goals this guy is a great place to start):
All you need to do is slow down, find a quiet place and reflect. What are you happy with in your life? What are you unhappy with? What small change could you make that would improve your life?
If you have been making the same New Year’s resolution for multiple years, perhaps this year you should make the resolution to take 1 hour every week to stop, be with yourself and honestly reflect on where you are in life. That way you could make a New Year’s resolution every week.
52 shots are better than 1.
2. Get Real
Making 52 big life changes in 1 year is not realistic. But numbers don’t lie and you are much more likely to achieve at least 1 life change in a year if you try 52 times instead of 1. Heck, 365 tries gives you even more at-bats and chances of making a change that you are going to stick to!
The problem with only making 1 change per year is that it hypes up this change into something that contains a huge amount of pressure and ultimately leads to an unrealistic goal.
When everyone shares their New Year’s resolutions of dropping 50lbs, running a marathon or finding their new wife by the end of the year, if yours is to go for a walk outside 4 times a week it might sound small in comparison.
But who do you think is more likely to achieve their resolution?
“As little as 8% of people actually follow through and achieve their New Year’s Resolutions¹”
And it’s no wonder when they set themselves such audacious goals without any track record of actions that can match up.
Another thing that needs to be said is that going for a walk 4 times a week can look like a small goal, but it might be huge for you! If you are being realistic with your fitness levels and making a resolution that you know you can stick to versus your friend who wants to run a marathon but doesn’t even own a pair of running shoes because they haven’t worked out in over 5 years, I know who I’d bet on.
They might look good on January 1st when they set their goal, but you’re going to look and feel better on December 31st a year later when you have actually stuck to your resolution and they haven’t. In all likelihood, you will have surpassed your initial goal and you might be the one closer to running a marathon than your friend!
This point creates an interesting psychological discussion with regards to setting goals. Many people do advocate setting massive goals because the thought of achieving them will pull you through to the finish but often the percentage of people who actually follow through is incredibly small.
Starting small and realistic is the best way to ensure consistency and this is what will eventually lead to big changes over time with the snowball effect. This has to do with willpower, as Christine Carter, Ph.D. says:
“We can’t consciously pursue too many goals at once, or goals that are too ambitious at the outset, because our willpower muscle isn’t strong enough yet.”²
Small wins built up over time creates a strong muscle of willpower and can lead to achievements down the road that you could only dream about today.
“Greatness is a lot of small things done well every day.”
3. Paradigm Shift
This article so far has been to do with the psychology of making changes rather than which specific changes to make and if you are still reading then this last point gets to the heart of the matter.
Most of us have heard the phrase ‘Paradigm Shift’ before but I first came across it in detail through reading Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (Catchy title).
In the beginning he talks about “Primary and Secondary Greatness” — another set of buzz words for you — but their meaning goes to a depth that, if it resonates with you, could lead to you making profound changes in your life whether it’s New Year’s Day or a Wednesday.
Secondary Greatness refers to traits we associate with the success of our social image, such as attitudes, skills and things that help us to climb the ladder of human interaction in a way that benefits us even if it means squashing others down in the process. This could be anything from your new flashy car, the fact you earn more than your brother or the way you talk to someone that makes yourself look like a big shot in front of your mates (or so you think).
Primary Greatness is the collection of traits that relate to our true character, such as integrity, humility, patience and courage. These may sound wishy-washy to some and vague in how they relate to setting new life goals but they are key. So key, in fact, that if you have an abundance of Secondary Greatness traits whilst lacking Primary Greatness traits, you will naturally come across an incongruent to others and eventually to yourself in the mirror too.
You know the kind of people who look like they have everything in life but you’ve heard they’re being treated for severe depression? They have more “things” than most but they have no solid foundation for their core beliefs and so their whole house shakes.
So, how does this relate to setting New Year’s resolutions?
Before you decide on a goal for your next year, month, day or hour it is important to assess the motivation behind that goal.
Do you want to get in shape so that you can look good to other people or do you actually want to become healthier for yourself?
You could work out daily and starve yourself for a year to get a beach body but what’s the point if it makes you miserable on the inside? Will you just give up after a month of trying this unsustainable lifestyle anyway and go back to your current way of living for the next 11 months?
Or do you want to make the decision to work out so you can be healthier and happier in a sustainable way, and know that getting a better body is likely an added side product?
Do you want to earn more money?
Maybe you want a higher pay check so that you can buy a fancy house, drive a flashy car and be the new man about town?
Or would you rather have a house that you can make into a home and save some money so that your kids will be able to go to College in the future without any financial worries?
There are no wrong answers to these questions but you can see that the motivations behind these goals are very different. If you only eat salads to get a bikini body when you really would rather have some pizza without feeling guilty, or if you spend your money on a new car so you can be like your mates when you don’t actually need or want one, you are going to hit a mental block sooner or later.
This comes from a conflict between your Primary and Secondary Greatness traits and cannot be ignored forever.
Whether you’re making a new resolution on January 1st or not, taking these factors into consideration will allow you to make more realistic goals that are both achievable and align with what you actually want, leading you towards the life you want to have.
Here’s to 2021 being a year of positive change for you and your loved ones!