7 Steps to Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

I usually don’t care about New Year’s resolutions, because there’s nothing special about January 1. That is, you can make resolutions any time during the year, and you should. Because if you better your life only once each year, your life is bound to be boring and unproductive. So make resolutions all year round. Not just in January, but every month, every week, every day of the year. And keep them.

On the other hand, the new year is one of those months, one of those weeks, one of those days of the year. So New Year’s is as good a time as any to make a resolution… and keep it.

Here’s the resolution I’ve made for myself this new year. Actually, I started it December 31, because that’s when I decided to make the resolution. If I had decided to make this resolution in October, I would have started doing it in October. Because if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing now. There’s no point in waiting until January 1 to start improving your life. And that is why I’m here at my computer, working on the holiday, rather than playing Wii. Because that’s one of the steps to keeping a New Year’s resolution.


My New Year’s Resolution

My New Year’s resolution for 2008 is to be more regimented in my work. It’s ironic. Back when I was a wage slave, I had a manager who clearly hated that I was so flexible in how I worked, almost ad hoc. He wanted me in at a certain time every day. He wanted me at my desk all the time. He also wanted me to read his mind and design my software exactly the way he would have done it.

Now, that’s too extreme. I don’t want to control my life by a clock, doing the same thing at the same time at the same place every day. I’d go crazy if I did that, because my personality just isn’t up to it. I mean, I like to live a planned, calculated life. But I would end up in an insane asylum if I tried to live my life by a list.

However, there are certain things I need to get done every day. And I haven’t been getting them done. And–here’s the personal confession–it’s been producing stress. I haven’t been making as much money as I need to. This has produced debt and stress in my family. They say money can’t buy happiness. But somehow the lack of it always seems to produce misery.

Even more importantly, I haven’t been tending to my clients the way I should. They are still happy with my performance. I guess it really is so hard to find good people, such that I could do a half-assed job and still be adequate. But I don’t feel good about it. I’d rather have my clients feel that I’m more valuable to them than anyone else they do business with.

And I’ve been slipping on my self-imposed writing deadlines and on my personal and professional goals. That discourages me, and it makes it even harder for me to live the life I want to live.

Over my holiday vacation, I finally got around to listening to some CD’s I got from Dan Kennedy and some CD’s I got from Perry Marshall. My first painful realization came when Dan Kennedy said it was absolutely necessary to be regimented in one’s life. At first I didn’t want to admit it, because I feel best about my work when I can work on what pleases me when it pleases me. But Dan Kennedy pointed out that he gets so much writing done, because he has a set time each day, and he writes during that time, and he does it every day. That’s how he achieves his superhuman writing goals, not in one big push, but one step at a time, one session at a time, one day at a time. I knew this to be true, that if you want to meet your goals consistently, you need to do it as a habit, not in a pre-deadline crunch.

So here’s my New Year’s resolution–in 5’s so I can remember it easily:

As I listened to the CD’s from Perry Marshall and Dan Kennedy, I noticed several more things I needed to do to meet my goals. Here’s how it all boils down:

There are 7 Steps

Seven steps to keeping your New Year’s resolution. I used these 7 steps to come up with the plan above.

Maybe your resolution isn’t the same as mine. That’s okay. Whatever it is that you need to do to be more effective in your life, you probably know what it is. I say this, because most people seem to be able come up with a long list of “resolutions,” things they’d like to do better. (The problem is not coming up with them; it’s keeping them.) So you probably know what the thing is you would like to be able to do better in your personal or professional life.

And I really recommend only one resolution at a time. Because it’s hard enough to achieve even one life-transforming change. If you try to do 2 or 3, or a whole list like some people do, you might as well give up before you even start. Pick the one thing you think is the most important, the one thing that will have the biggest positive impact on your life, the one thing that you want to do most. Do that in January. Then after you have that in hand, you can tackle the next thing in February or March.

  1. Be concrete and specific, measurable. “Be a better person.” That’s not a New Year’s resolution. Neither is: “Contribute more to charity.” What are you going to do to be a better person? What are you going to contribute to charity? And how much? How much time? How many old clothes or cans of food? How much money? And which charities? And what are you going to give up in order to realize that goal?

    Even my initial concept for a resolution was not really a resolution. “Be more regimented in my work” is not a resolution. But the list of 5’s is, because it’s concrete and specific.

  2. Boil it down to something you can do every day. A life-changing resolution has to become a habit, or else you’ll never keep it. So you need to make it something that you can actually achieve, and you can actually achieve every day on an ongoing basis. It can’t be so grand that you burn yourself out after the first week. And even if all you can manage is a small improvement, if you do it every day, it will make a huge change in your life. Take that extra small thing you do every day and then multiply it by 365 days a year. You may be surprised at the results.

    You’ll note that I did this repeatedly in my resolution. If I had been billing 5 hours a day, or even 4 hours, all through 2007, I would be out of debt by now. Same thing with writing just 500 words a day, or connecting with just 5 people a day.

  3. Visualize yourself doing it. Don’t just “intend” to do it, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Rather, know you will do it, because it’s just something you do. I got this from an interview Perry Marshall did with Tom Hoobyar, part of the package that comes along with Perry Marshall’s Marketing Letter and Renaissance Club membership. Your brain actually reacts differently about things you know are going to happen, compared to things you “think” are going to happen, things you only want to do, or wish to do, or hope to do. So think of your resolved daily acts as facts, not mere wishes. Visualize yourself living them out, because they are part of your reality.

    That’s why I wrote my resolution and its corollaries in the present tense. Not “I ‘will’ write 500 words a day.” But rather, I do write 500 words a day.

  4. List the mental challenges that have kept you from doing it in the past, and see yourself doing it anyhow. Because there are reasons, real or imagined, why you have not done this before. And they won’t disappear just because you’ve made a New Year’s resolution. This doesn’t contradict the step above, and it doesn’t contradict the power of positive thinking. As Dan Kennedy points out, be positive about your goals, but pessimistic about how you’re going to reach them. Know that you are on track to reaching your goals. But expect everything to go wrong in the process. And know that you do whatever it takes to reach your goals anyhow.

    This is why I talk about getting tired, and I don’t feel like working. I know it’s going to happen. I know that I’m going to feel overwhelmed or burnt out, even though I’m not. But that amount of work is not extreme. Similarly with the kids. The noise, the distractions, they’re hard for me to deal with. But if I use it as an excuse not to get done what I need to get done, I’ll never get anything done. So I need to change the way I think about these.

    (Note that I’ve also asked my family for their support. I say, “I’m going to work now.” And when the kids want something, I tell them, “I’m working, and I can’t do it now. Make a list of the things you need me to help you with, and I’ll look at them on my next break.” So far, they’ve been supportive.)

  5. Measure how you keep your resolution, and report back to someone every day. Of course, one of the prerequisites to this is that your resolution be measurable. This is why in the first step it needed to be concrete and specific, measurable. But why do you need to report to someone else? Isn’t it enough just to measure your progress? You need to measure your progress. But if you force yourself to report to someone else, every day, you’ll feel accountable to that person. He’ll expect a positive report, and you’ll feel obliged to give it. And on those days after everyone else has given up on their New Year’s resolutions, you’ll still feel as if you need to keep yours.

    This is why I tell my wife how many dollars I’ve earned each day, how much I’ve written, and how many people I’ve contacted. Not only does it make her feel more involved in my life (which is a big thing for her), and not only does it make her feel better about having enough cash flow for our living expenses, but it also makes me feel obligated to her for my success. And that’s the kind of obligation I want in my life.

  6. Do it at least 4 days before making an exception. Something Dan Kennedy said sparked this idea. (I get his No B.S. Marketing Letter every month.) It’s an open secret in the dry cleaning business that if you can get a customer to your store 4 times in a row, they’ll keep coming back for the rest of their lives (or until you screw up, whichever comes first). The same is probably true in every business. And the same is probably true when establishing a daily habit. So keep your daily resolution for 4 days in a row before you allow an exception to the rule. In real life, exceptional circumstances do arise. But not during the first four days. Because those first days are when you’re most energized and you have the most support from those around you. Later on, the excitement will wane. Even if all hell breaks loose, keep those first 4 days, or else you’ll break your momentum, and it’ll be that much harder to start over.

    That’s why I’m here working, writing, on New Year’s day, even while the family is taking it easy, playing and having fun. Because I have to keep my resolution through Thursday, the 4-day mark, come hell or high water.

  7. Don’t make exceptions, except in truly exceptional circumstances. In real life, exceptional circumstances do happen. And so there will be days that you won’t be able to meet your goal, whether it’s jogging for a half hour, or whether it’s eating less than 10 grams of fat, or whatever. But just make sure that exceptional really does mean exceptional. Don’t make excuses for reneging on your resolution. There are no excuses, only facts. And the fact is that you keep your resolution, because it’s part of who you are. (Remember step 3 above?) So exceptions are few and far between. They are extreme and unavoidable.

    That’s why I planned to have a half day when I take my daughter to the dentist. Because she has to go to the dentist, and I have to take her, and it’s going to be a big enough deal that it’s going to interfere with my work. Similarly, when the kids are on spring break, I’ll take it easy, too. But not before, even if I feel like taking a vacation. Spring break is an exception to the rule. Everything else is an instance of it.

Today, I can tell my wife that I wrote over 2500 words. How cool is that?

-TimK

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