Today is New Year’s Day. It’s the beginning of a new cycle in our lives. Many of us embrace it as a chance to wipe the slate clean, start over, especially if last year wasn’t so wonderful. Many of us will resolve to do things differently, to do things better, to change.
Many of us will fail.
To me, the word “resolution” is too heavy. It’s so heavy it weighs me down. For me, it’s counterproductive. It’s an emotional and psychological chain with huge, thick links that wraps me up and pins me to the ground.
For me, resolutions have always created more pressure, more stress, and more angst than they resolved, leaving me empty-handed more often than not. This was true because I would create a ridiculously ambitious undertaking in my head and kind of just expect it to happen as if by magic. Or the self-induced fear of not being able to accomplish something that big would stop me in my tracks.
Sometimes I would resolve to write a book. Other times I would resolve to learn a foreign language or lose 20 lbs. The year always looked so long on January 1. Surely I would be able to fulfill my resolution. Days, weeks, and months began to slide by and then raced past, hurtling toward the end of the year. Another resolution down the toilet.
Those kinds of resolutions have little structure or substance. Those aren’t really resolutions; they’re a paralyzing waste of time.
I don’t think in terms of resolutions anymore.
Yes, I am going to write another book in 2013. But my old self always said, “My New Year’s resolution is to write a book,” and I doomed myself to failure. So I had to change my approach.
How will I do it this year?
First, as Stephen Covey wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.” What kind of book? Will it be fiction or non-fiction? What is the desired length? What will the format be? Will it require research?
Second, as the Oracle at Delphi implored, “Know thyself.” What is the optimal time of day for me to write? Am I a morning person or a night owl? How long can I write without getting tired or impatient? How many words is my daily minimum to reach my goal? I don’t have to live up to someone else’s expectations of productivity. I just have to stop fighting my nature.
Third, create a habit. The answers to the questions you pose will reveal a lot about the habit you should put in place. Given my answers to those questions, my habit is to get up at 5:00 a.m. and write 500 words.
Now I’m no longer wrestling with the heaviness of a resolution to write a book. I’m simply respecting my habit of writing 500 words. It’s the very first thing I do in the morning, before email, before internet, before looking at my cell phone.
Fourth, have a plan for getting back on track when the inevitable delay occurs. If I had decided to write 2,000 words a day and I miss a day, that’s a big psychological hurdle for me, and it begins to eat into my timetable. Miss three days and I’ll feel the weight of the 6,000 words I’d have to write to catch up. I know I won’t work well under those conditions. But I can bang out 500 words quickly without the angst. I could even do it two or three times in one day once in a while if necessary.
Fifth, as Leo Babauta wrote, “Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” Is yet another episode of Law and Order or The Mentalist really essential to my life? How many words can I write in the span of a one-hour television drama? A lot.
How much is 500 words? Today’s blog post is 894 words. See, 500 is not that much. I don’t have the overwhelming thought of writing a whole book looming over me. I’m not thinking that I have to write 50,000 words by May 1. I’m only writing 500 words today. Period.
Today is January 1. I started writing my new book this morning. On May 1, I will have the first draft done. Four months. Is that so painful?
Have you spent more time setting meaningless resolutions – like I used to – than it would have taken to actually do the work in a manageable way? Decide if what you’re chasing is really essential to your life.
Do you have the feeling that the life you are now living is somehow your shadow life, that you’re not being truly who you are meant to be?
A crucial piece of the puzzle is your habits.
Putting certain, specific, small habits in place is the way I wrote my first book. It’s the way I lost 27 lbs. in six weeks. It’s the way I had a successful first year in business. It’s the way I enjoy a wonderful relationship with a wonderful woman.
Changing my habits changed my life.
Most things work this way. Decide what you really want – what is essential to your life – and put reasonable, manageable habits in place to get it.
Make 2013 a year of great habits thoroughly considered and lovingly pursued.
What are your New Year’s habits for 2013?