New Year Resolution = Habit
By Sajan George, Founder & Chief Executive Officer for Matchbook Learning
This is the time of year when many of us might be preparing for a New Year's resolution or two. To do that effectively requires some contemplation and reflection on how 2017 has gone. I think the two most common ways people do that are flawed in their predictive ability for success in 2018.
Method one involves reviewing the goals you set either at the beginning of 2017 or throughout the year and re-examining whether those goals were achieved or not. The flaw I see in this methodology is that often times goals that are set a year in advance get significantly adapted throughout the year for changing circumstances. How those goals are achieved may only make sense now in the benefit of hindsight (i.e. "we wanted to see an increase of X% in goal A but halfway through the year we realized that we needed a Y% decrease in goal B before goal A could be pursued and so we refocused our efforts on goal B and rightly so").
At the other end of the self-reflection spectrum is to examine how much our relationships have grown over the past year. After all, isn't the joy of life's journey found with those who are along the ride with you? How well did I mentor certain individuals? How well was I mentored? Did I see a tangible growth in friendships at work and elsewhere? Is that growth in relationships measurable through increased contact, shared experiences and possibly increased vulnerability and trust? The flaw here in posing these questions is that they are highly subjective questions pregnant with the bias that comes from self-analysis and are rarely answered by independent, objective individuals.
A Third (Hopefully Better) Way
I am not against reviewing goals and reflecting on relationships. I think this kind of contemplation and reflection is both healthy and educational. I just don't believe they have much predictive value on what goals one should pursue in 2018 or one's likelihood of success.
If you want to achieve certain goals in 2018 or build on certain relationships, the most effective thing you can do on New Year's Day is to resolve to focus on the habits necessary to achieve such goals.
Charles Duhigg wrote the book The Power of Habit and it spent over 60 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller's list. Duhigg talks about how he had gained eight pounds through his habit of eating a chocolate chip cookie every day around 3:30 p.m. at work. The time of day (3:30 p.m.) was the cue that triggered the routine of going to the cafeteria where he would receive a reward of a cookie. Duhigg says that every habit has these three elements: cue, routine, and reward. To break this bad habit, Duhigg realized he would have to form a new habit and the genius was to use the same cue (3:30 p.m.) and similar routine (get up from his desk) but to realize a different reward. The reward Duhigg was really seeking was not so much a cookie as it was socialization. By forming a new habit around socialization every afternoon (getting up to go socialize with co-workers), he avoided the routine that led to the unhealthy reward and got the reward he was really looking for.
Philosopher, college professor, and author James KA Smith in his book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit takes the habit discussion even further. Smith argues that while we desire to shape culture, we are often unaware of how much culture shapes us. What we long for or desire is what shapes us. Smith says that to desire something else, something better, we must act our way into a new way of believing and not believe our way into a new way of acting. Habits are thick, formative practices that can shape our hearts toward a new desire.
So, if you find yourself on New Year's Day trying to think of a new goal(s) for your school, staff, or even yourself, pencil in the habits that you must form daily and set those as your goals. What you should really be after is the resolve to engage in new habits that will lead to new goals, new relationships, and new ways of forming you and your organization.
Happy New Year.