New year, new goals. What did you set out to accomplish this year? By now, the new workout clothes and healthy eating cookbooks may be gathering dust. (If they're not, congrats! Keep that streak going.)
The goals themselves aren't the problem, says CEO coach Sabina Nawaz. It's how we set about achieving them. You can achieve big goals if you set the right strategy, she explains in a recent piece for Harvard Business Review. Here's the approach that's worked for her clients.
You should absolutely still dream big.
Nawaz works with high-performing executives. They're ambitious, whip-smart, and often way too stressed out.
Her clients make no small plans. They set huge, audacious goals; then inevitably, because they are human, they're not able to work out for 60 minutes every morning or read 100 books in a year. Cue never-ending cycle of despair.
Nawaz encourages her clients to still dream big. It would be against their nature to do otherwise. Re-commit to that New Year's resolution, even if you feel like you failed miserably.
Then, think smaller. 8 times smaller.
At this stage, Nawaz will have her clients think of the smallest possible baby step they can take to achieving that goal. She calls these micro habits.
What's the teeniest, tiniest thing you can do every day that scoots you a millimeter closer to that goal? For high-performers, this is difficult to do. They want to commit a chunk of their day towards making progress. But you've got to think small. Then slash your daily habit even smaller. Keep scaling it down.
"It usually takes my workshop participants between three and eight tries before they come up with something sufficiently small enough to be considered a micro habit," Nawaz explains.
She says your micro habit should feel so small, that it feels like it's not even worth doing. Past clients have started by doing two pushups a day or reading a single paragraph before bed.
Introduce a new ritual: the 20-second daily checklist.
To track progress, Nawaz has her clients use a dead-simple checklist. Grab a calendar or planner, and write down the task you're committing on every day. Every day, write a Y or N to represent if you completed the task.
She calls this the Yes list. This daily ritual is hugely beneficial for tracking your progress and seeing where patterns might emerge. And it only takes 20 seconds, so it's easy to keep up.
Keep the course with the 10 percent rule.
It may feel so easy to tick off your micro-habit every day that you feel ready to scale up quickly. You've successfully completed so many days of your five-minute workout in a row, why not make it 10? Then a few days later, why not 20?
Careful, Nawaz advises. This is where top achievers tend to slip up. If you ramp up too quickly, you run the risk of falling off your daily progress completely.
If you feel bored with your habit for at least two weeks, Nawaz says it's OK to bump it up. You should never increase the amount of time spent on cultivating your new habit by more than 10 percent over the previous week. Keep those daily actions small and manageable.