“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” – Brad Paisley
It’s that time of year again. As we close out one year and begin another, the inevitable takes form. The “r-word” is thrown around, people start making heartfelt promises about the coming year, and we launch into January: lose a few pounds, eat more vegetables, ride that Peloton like it matters. Then February rolls around; Valentine’s Day comes and goes, and, well, all those promises become a distant memory.
Resolutions. We make ‘em, we break ‘em.
Resolutions are fundamentally about the power of habit. If you make the effort, those resolutions should become habit, or at least that’s what we think. We don’t stop to consider how long it takes to form a habit or, conversely, how long it takes to break one. Facts matter. More so if you really want to change, and that’s what resolutions are all about, right?
Author James Clear writes at length on the subject in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, a veritable how-to book on making and breaking habits. In his research, Clear uncovered a telling study of habitual behavior in the European Journal of Social Psychology. While there is a commonly held misperception that new habits can be formed within 21 days, the results of the study revealed that, on average, the process actually takes 66 days. In resolution terms, that’s an eternity. Armed with that knowledge, what should you do?
Forget about resolutions. Instead, just be a better you.
For beginners, bench your ego. In their book, The Mind of the Leader, authors Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter warn of the dangers of ego to leaders – how unchecked ego can skew your perspective, corrupt your values, or twist your behavior. In the coming year, make an effort to ground yourself. Be humble, be gracious, and surround yourself with people who will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.
Next, show others the gratitude they deserve. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, and the benefits to your health and happiness are proven. And, quite honestly, that happiness goes both ways. Every effort you make to show gratitude makes those around you a little more at ease and a lot happier.
Mentor someone. I’m not talking about offering some pithy advice or coaching someone through the military decision-making process, but actually committing the time and effort to helping someone grow and develop personally and professionally. Learn to ask the right questions and be patient enough to listen to the answers.
Next, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Write an article. Speak publicly. Stop doing the things that feel safe and pursue opportunities that stretch your skill set. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable takes practice, and it’s how we grow as individuals. As Andy Molinsky wrote for Harvard Business Review, “without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement.”
Finally, read a book. Not just any book, either. Find a work of classic fiction, something that drives your passion to want to read, something that compels you to turn the next page. In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, author Neil Gaiman called fiction a “gateway drug” to reading – “it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going.” Fiction is also a way to build empathy. When you watch a movie or stream a series on Netflix, you are watching things happen to other people; when you read fiction, you immerse yourself into the characters and see through their eyes.
As we begin a new year – a new decade – put down the list of resolutions. If you really want to make 2020 memorable, make being a better you a hard habit to break.