For most people, February brings a bit of remorse at resolutions not kept, at habits not fostered. In contrast to early January, late February can feel a bit like you've thrown in the towel. "I tried so hard," you say; "it's not possible." Sometimes it feels like you need superhuman strength to meet your resolutions. I'm here to tell you not to give up. You just need to revisit your approach.
There are two methods you can use to meet your personal resolutions:
1. Focus on improving your willpower and achieving your goals. Use that willpower muscle! Try harder.
2. Change your circumstances so you massively reduce your reliance on willpower.
Which do you think is most effective? The second option.
You need to evaluate a few areas in your life and assess whether your environment is contributing to your success. Some areas are pretty minor, and some are more fundamental and harder to change. But the framework is the same: if you want to change your habits, you need to focus on making it easier on yourself--not harder. Willpower isn't going to get you there.
Surround yourself with people who are achieving goals similar to yours.
This is the most powerful way to improve your ability to meet your goals. For example, if your goal is to get healthy this year and all your friends are huge fans of pizza and beer, going against the grain all the time will be pretty challenging for you.
If your environment isn't structured to set you up for success, you need to actively seek out people whose influence naturally helps you foster those new habits rather than tempts you to revert back to your old ones. And while many would say to manage this by encouraging your current social circle to shift, I disagree. What's harder than changing your habits? Changing your habits and your friends'. Trying to do that makes success harder, not easier.
In a day-to-day business context, this can be easier to do than in your personal life. If there's a colleague you admire, consider asking them to meet for coffee (or in this remote world, a virtual coffee date).
Commiserating with colleagues who are facing similar challenges might feel satisfying for the moment, but it's going to hold you back, not help you grow.
Revisit your physical or digital environment.
If you haven't noticed already, the way that you structure your environment makes it easier--or harder--for you to achieve your goals (hello, Marie Kondo!). Feeling overwhelmed by a project? A desk in ear's reach of your kids fighting, a cluttered inbox, and a pile of papers with very important scribbles from your last meeting are going to make it harder for you to achieve your goals. However, ridding the clutter isn't enough; you also need tools for success on hand.
I often get so absorbed in a project that I forget to take a break for lunch. Like clockwork, I get to about 2 p.m., I'm in the middle of a conference call, and I'm famished. My thinking is sluggish, my decisions aren't as sharp, and I have trouble concentrating. So, for me, it's about having healthy snacks in the house when I need them.
Most of us already know that our physical environment is going to impact our ability to succeed. But what about our digital environment? That's trickier.
Our team uses a project management and communication system on a day-to-day basis. We have team members in time zones all over the world, so messages come in all day and night. My team member has a goal to achieve a healthier work-life balance. Yet she had notifications going to her email, which was distracting her throughout dinner, before her morning workout, and other non-work times. Reliance on willpower would mean being more disciplined about resisting her email. Instead, she turned off the notifications, and it's no longer an issue.
Consider where you live.
I am a (recovering) workaholic, and my biggest struggle is achieving the ever-elusive work-life balance. For years, I lived in big cities--London, New York--which only reinforced my Type A tendencies.
Ten years ago, I realized that to live a more balanced life, I needed to live in an environment that didn't encourage those behaviors. So I moved to Bali; now, I'm in Costa Rica. In Bali and Costa Rica, people value health and exercise, and a meditative walk on the beach is five minutes away. I don't have to rely on willpower all the time--my environment helps me achieve my goals.
If a move abroad isn't in the cards, there are many other ways to use this tactic. Rent a house where you can walk to work rather than drive. Move to an area that has a huge park in the center of town. Or, move your desk out of your living room and get an external office.
For many of us, achieving a New Year's resolution implies a struggle. The concept that suffering is somehow noble and necessary to accomplish great things is all too common. So I ask you: dust off those New Year's resolutions and look for ways to completely circumvent willpower. Create the right environment, and the change will follow.