In the week leading up to January 1st, many people start to think about changes they would like to make and goals they would like to achieve in the year ahead. Personally, I spend the week in a whirlwind of family and food, followed by a few days curled up with some fiction and lamenting my eating and drinking decisions from the previous few days. In past years, I’ve made sweeping declarations about massive lifestyle changes (that I admittedly failed to accomplish, and abandoned by mid-January). I don’t think I’m alone with this problem.
This year, I’m changing my approach.
My first step will be to complete the Actionable Annual Planner, to take stock of my achievements and setbacks from the past year, visualize what success looks like, and make plans to achieve my goals. My second step is going to be to make a conscious effort to let go of the idea that January 1st is the only time to make changes. The end of the year is a symbolic milestone, but in practice, there is little difference between January 1st and February 7th: when you’re ready to make a change, it’s always a good time.
To help with my change quest, I have curated a few summaries that feature strategies to help with effective habit and behavior change. I will be incorporating the principles discussed in these summaries as I think about changes I’d like to make in the New Year, and reminding myself to revisit them long after the turkey coma wears off.
Marshall Goldsmith has worked with some of the most influential CEOs of our time and coached them on making behavioral changes in their personal and professional lives. In his book Triggers, he examines how environmental triggers can derail us and shares strategies on how we can overcome those triggers to become the best versions of ourselves. How does your environment impact you at the moment? Does it serve you or does it prevent you from becoming the person you want to be?
Anyone who has tried to create a new habit knows that it’s hard. And habits are at the heart of change—we change our lives, habit by habit. Rubin suggests four basic tendencies in people around habits—you’ll likely identify with at least one of them. They have to do with how we manage expectations—both external ones (e.g., work deadlines) and internal ones (e.g., exercising more.) An Upholder tends to meet both outer and inner expectations; a Questioner resists outer expectations—but tends to meet inner ones; an Obliger struggles with inner expectations—but tends to meet external ones; and the Rebel resists both outer and inner expectations. Rubin does not suggest that we change our tendency—rather that we work with it to design strategies for creating and maintaining habits that will work for us.
In a world of VUCA—volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity—how do we lead in a way that will make a real difference? What habits do we need in the midst of complexity? We are drawn—because of the ways our minds are structured—to seek neat and clear solutions in the midst of complexity. We do this even when we know, if we are honest with ourselves, that those solutions are probably unlikely to succeed. The habits that the authors advocate—asking different questions, seeking multiple perspectives, and seeing the system—are simple, powerful and multi-layered.