I just had a client who is based in China fly in to Canada, where I am traveling at the moment, to do a full day 2020 strategy session. We’ll be meeting every week until 2021 to make it a reality. We did this at the beginning of 2019, with weekly coaching since then and he absolutely smashed it last year, growing his business more than 10x, from a bit over 1 million USD to over 15 million. Another client set up their own business in 2019, which within just a just few months now makes more than his previous salary, and yet another client is now living her dream traveling the world working remotely having been to over 10 countries in the last few weeks. Whatever your dream, this article outlines the process can use to get there, and one that I’ve been optimizing with hundreds of clients over the last decade.
Before I share that process with you, I have to explain what I’m doing in Canada as I’m usually in China. A few years ago I set up my first few businesses in Shanghai. About a year in everything was going great then I went on honeymoon. 2 months later I got home and the businesses were almost dead. Instead of seeing that as a reason not to travel, I made a New Years Resolution with my wife that we weren’t going to set up another location dependent business, dreaming of full-time traveling with our kids in a caravan. In May 2019 that dream became a reality when we headed off for North America, and have been traveling with the kids worldschooling them along the way since then. Business has never been better, breaking our yearly revenue record by August and all we need is an internet connection.
New Years Resolutions can work, but it’s the follow through that matters. I’m no more a fan of New Year’s Resolutions than I am of Daily Resolutions. I do both, I also do Weekly and Monthly Resolutions. I also do Decadely and Centurially, and now you either think I’m joking or that I’m one of those questionable people that has their whole life mapped out. Surely that’s overkill and I don’t expect to live a thousand years? I don’t, but wouldn’t it be great to leave a legacy that lasts a thousand years? What can I say, I’m a dreamer!
I’ve read a lot of articles that hate on New Year’s Resolutions. They don’t work for most people so they must not work. That’s like saying they keep buying gym memberships and still aren’t fit. Well did they actually go to the gym? So it’s not New Year’s Resolutions that are the problem, it’s whether or not you are choosing the right resolutions for you, defining them clearly and following through. So how do you get better at making and keeping your resolutions?
Start with the Foundation
Before you start making any resolutions, take a step back and think “what is it all for?” It’s common to jump straight into making resolutions on the things we failed at last year. But why the failure? Was it not important enough? Forget about it or give up? Was there not enough time or too much stress?
So for your resolutions this year, what is your motivation to get it done? What’s more important to you than anything else? What are your values? Your brain is not great at answering these questions. Your heart is much better equipped. What does your heart tell you is important?
It tends to be useful to list 5-10 values by asking yourself, “what’s important to me in life?” (e.g passion, family, love etc.) and rank them in order of importance. Then come up with a statement of purpose or a primary question that would help you live by and fulfill those values. An example might be “To live every moment with passion” or “How can I love my children with all my heart?” For some people this will be crystal clear, for some it will take a few drafts and edits to get it to a place your happy with.
Design Your Dream
Now based on your purpose, your values, what would your life look like if you fulfilled them everyday, if you lived your purpose?
Think Big Picture. If you couldn’t fail, what would you do? Plan Long Term, if you had 10 years to make it a reality what could you achieve? Call it the Law of Attraction or Synchronicity, the reality is, “whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” — Napoleon Hill
Setting your intention makes it more likely to come true. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s much more likely to come true than by chance. Why would you take a chance by leaving it to chance? And if you don’t set your intentions, as my good friend Charlie Smith says, “you are likely to end up as a noodle in someone else’s soup.”
Now take that vision and put it on paper. Either write a description of what it looks like, the more detail the better, or if you are like me and love having a visual reminder, you can either create a vision board or draw a mind map of your future vision.
The advantage of writing it down is you can update it as you go along. The advantage of a visual reminder is you can leave it somewhere you’ll see it often to remind you of where you need to be focusing. Personally I do both, I put the mind map on my wallpaper so I see it multiple times a day, and I go back and read and update my written description about once a year, adding more detail and updating it to reflect my current evolution.
In this image you can see my 10 year vision mind map which I keep on the wallpaper of my phone.
Start with the End in Mind & Be Holistic
Imagining that your 10 year vision were possible, what would you need to do to make it happen?
What would you need to achieve in the next 5 years? 1 year? Next month? This week? Today?
Remember that you are not your achievements, but a whole living breathing human being with a body, emotions, intellect, relationships and consciousness. So when you are thinking of your goals and the person you are evolving into, make sure you incorporate your whole self into your plan in order to live at your full potential.
You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to reap the benefits of exercise, you don’t need to be a nutritionist to eat healthy, and you don’t have to be a psychotherapist to be happy. There are simple techniques you can use to be at your best.
If we don’t pay attention to our thoughts we get confused. How can you be clear-headed?
If we don’t take care of our bodies we become weak. How can you have the energy you need to move forward?
If we don’t express our emotions we get stuck. How can you ride the wave of emotions?
If you don’t nourish your relationships you lack support. How can you get others to lift you up?
If you don’t tap into your consciousness you get lost. How will you know where you should go?
Now you may being doing very well in one or most of these areas, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We can’t expect to do things how we have always done them and get a different result. If you want to see a change in your life, you must change first.
Make Your Goals S.M.A.R.T
One of the biggest problems with resolutions is how we define them. Ever had a resolution like “get fit” or “spend more time with the kids”? What does “fit” mean? What is “more”?
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
- Specific: So when you set a goal make sure you are clear about the specific outcome by being very specific.
- Measurable: Set some sort of metric to be able to measure results even if it’s not something that is normally measured.
- Achievable: Check that the goal you have is realistic or if you should set smaller goals to hit first that you know are achievable.
- Relevant: Make sure that it is actually a useful goal and relevant to the bigger picture of the vision you have for your life.
- Time-Bound: Set a deadline for yourself to push yourself to get it done.
- So “spend more time with the kids” might become, “starting today, turn off all devices at dinner time Monday to Friday and ask the kids what they did today.”And “get fit” might be, “join crossfit by January 10 and go to a minimum of 3 classes a week until December 31.”So what are the stepping stones to realize your grand vision, and how can you make those milestones SMART?
Create Rituals & Solidify them into Habits
We make thousands of decisions a day, over 200 just about food. Each decision we have to make drains a bit of our daily available willpower, and the harder the decision the more willpower it drains.
In order to have more willpower available for our priorities later in the day it’s useful to automate as much of your daily decision making as possible by creating a ritual around that activity. Automating activities you encounter everyday like what you will eat for breakfast, what you will wear, whether you go to the gym etc. means that you’ll be able to spend more willpower when it really counts.
How you do this is through the power of habit. A habit is a ritual that no longer requires willpower to complete. If you do something consistently for a period of time, you build and strengthen new neural pathways which replace the old ones.
Contrary to the popular 3 weeks to build a new habit myth, simple habits can be built in a few days and complex habits can take months. A habit has 3 basic components. The trigger, the behavior and the reward. What you want to change is the behavior.
So first identify the habits you have that you would like to replace. Keep the trigger the same. Keep the reward the same (or better!). Just change what you do in between.
An experiment where two groups of people tried to ‘lose weight’ shows the power of reward. The first group was allowed to eat a square of chocolate after each workout. The second group was not. The second group soon gave up exercising and went back to their old habits. The first group, who now associated exercise with a chocolate feel good response, were able to establish the new exercise habit and lost more weight despite the extra calories from the chocolate.
Another experiment that tested willpower exposed a group to chocolate but didn’t allow them to eat it. They performed significantly worse on a puzzle later, making far fewer attempts and devoting less than half the time to solving it.
That’s the magic of the power of habit. Once the habit is set it doesn’t take any willpower to complete so your willpower is freed up to develop new useful habits.
Willpower is like a muscle and by forcing yourself to take on new rituals and do them long enough for them to become habits, you can exercise your willpower and increase your daily available amount, meaning you can build new habits faster and take on more difficult habits.
What rituals would it be useful for you to create? That depends on your goals. Which rituals, when performed consistently will help you achieve your goals? For example, if your goal is to write a book, you could have a daily ritual of writing 500 words right before you sleep.
Which ritual will you start practicing until it becomes a habit? Which one will you start after you have achieved the first one? Remember to make a ritual into a habit takes a lot of willpower so instead of trying to adopt 10 new rituals at the beginning of the year and then failing and giving up, try spacing them out, for example one new ritual per month so that by the time you get to the end of the year you could have 10 new habits!
Be Gritty & Adopt a Growth Mindset
As Angela Lee Duckworth found out in her research on success in a variety of arenas, from the National Spelling Bee to Westpoint Academy to Salesmen, there was one characteristic that outshone all the rest when it came to success, and it wasn’t IQ, or socioeconomic background, it was what she calls GRIT. In her TED Speech she defines it beautifully: “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out — not just for a day, not just for a month, but for years — to make that future a reality.”
Grit requires deliberate practice, choosing to do something and then putting in the work day after day, figuring out what you’re not doing right and self-correcting, even when it isn’t fun. It’s stressful to be gritty, and even though the word stress gets a bad rap in our society, new research indicates stress is good for you, even a lot of it, if you believe in your ability to deal with it and that more stress now leads to higher levels of happiness later.
So it’s not about avoiding stress or trying to minimize it. It’s about choosing what is meaningful to you and then meeting the challenges and the stress that they bring head on, believing that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
Angela humbly admits that she doesn’t know the best way to build grit, but the most promising research she has seen comes from Carol Dweck at Stanford University and her work on Growth Mindset.
Growth Mindset is the opposite of the culturally accepted norm of the last century, that your intelligence and ability to learn are fixed. We now know from neuroscience research that our brains continue to create new connections throughout our lives.
With a growth mindset you see challenges as an opportunity to learn and be creative rather than obstacles blocking you from achieving your goals. You see failure as a stepping stone to success, giving you valuable feedback and motivating you to keep trying. What is your reaction when you face a challenge you hadn’t expected? And what about when you fail?
Choose Your States
Can you remember a time when you felt on top of the world, like you were winning this game called life? What happened to that state? When was the last time you felt it? Why don’t you feel it everyday? I’m not saying you should feel it all day everyday, that’s ridiculous.
But you have the power to remind yourself of what it’s like, to enter that state for a few seconds or minutes everyday. And if you were to do that before you made the most important decisions of your day, how much better do you think that day might go? And what is life but a series of days?
Build Your Own System
I’m going to share with you some of my rituals, with the hope that you find inspiration to design your own, not to copy mine but to learn from my experiments. Though do feel free to steal any that you like! I’ve certainly stolen from the greats, Bruce Lee, Dale Carnegie, Tim Ferriss, Wim Hof among many others.
It’s taken me a decade of research and experimentation to do things the way I do now, but remember it has been designed with my purpose, values and goals in mind. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, I continue to innovate and improve on a weekly basis.
My Daily Rituals
- Record your dreams
- Yoga for 5 mins
- 20 minute Meditation
- Set daily priorities & tasks
- Morning hydration cocktail (Sparkling Water, Apple Juice, Coconut Water)
- Workout at gym
- Have a hot and cold shower
- Write at least 1000 words
- Airplane mode off
- Coaching client #1
- Bring the kids out into the world
- Be present with kids
- Read a chapter
- Coaching client #2
- Airplane mode on
- Do something to make my wife happier
- Night hydration cocktail
- List 3 Gratitudes & 3 Learnings
- Set plan for tomorrow
- Read empowering beliefs
- Set intention to lucid dream
My Weekly Rituals
- Post on LinkedIn
- Interview someone I want to learn from
- Talk to my coach
- Evaluate last week
- Outdoor activity with kids (Hiking/Snowboarding)
- Couple connection time
- Fast 1 day
- 1 hour meditation
- Set next week plan
My Monthly Rituals
- Personal Finances
- Family Trip
- Do a deep learning activity
- Evaluate last month
- Finish a book
- Deep 3 hour meditation
- Set next month plan
My Yearly Rituals
- International family trip
- 4 day fast
- Evaluate last year
- 1 day meditation
- Set next year plan
I don’t follow this 100%, it’s more of a guideline. At times I let priorities take precedence or I just want a break, so I allow myself to be flexible. As I go through I record which rituals, priorities and tasks I have completed. You might have noticed at the end of each time period I have a fast, meditation, evaluation and plan for the next time period.
Most of the rituals are habits for me at this stage so it doesn’t take much willpower to do them, but before they became habits I made sure I did them consistently for a few weeks to find my rhythm.
Whenever adopting a new habit, it’s advisable to be consistent and self-disciplined until you can prove to yourself you have it under control. Also, this seems like a lot, I didn’t start all these things at once, but built them up over years one by one until they became a part of the way I live. I definitely recommend starting slow and consistently adding new rituals, upgrading outdated ones and discarding the ones that no longer serve you.
You need some sort of a system to keep track of all this. I organize my life on an App called Awesome Note (see image). I love it because I can organize my life into visual, colorful folders. I can prioritize my notes and connect it to my calendar. It’s my one stop life organization shop. Some of my clients prefer good old excel, and some have paid for productivity apps and software. The software comes down to personal preference, but everyone needs a system. It’s important to create a system you enjoy using, otherwise you’ll avoid it and end up losing track.
Hack Your Productivity: Urgent vs. Important
How do you decide what to do and when? What takes presence in your life when you are making your “to do lists”? There’s the stuff we have to do, the stuff we should do and the stuff we waste our time doing.
Here’s a quick and simple way to sort through your tasks:
Urgent Important (Do) – Do ASAP, this is where you get stuff done!
Not Urgent Important (Decide) – Don’t let these disappear because they are not urgent. Plan a time to do them and make consistent steps towards completion.
Urgent Not Important (Delegate) – This is your busy space, where you may be super productive, and wonder why you are not up getting the result you hope for. Productivity=efficiency not effectiveness. If possible, delegate these tasks, if you don’t have anyone to delegate to, minimize the time and energy you put into them.
Not Urgent Important (Delete) – These are your time wasters. Ignore, avoid, forget about them, you’ve got more important things to be doing.
Let Go of Attachment to Outcomes
We often get into the habit of thinking that once we make a plan, things should go according to plan. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s naive. And then when things start to go off course we panic, get stressed, or give up.
Yes goals are important. Yes you should try to meet your deadlines. But life happens. Your grandmother dies. Your kids get sick. Your boss forgets to pay you. Your sink gets blocked at Christmas and your plumber isn’t working till after New Years so you have to go to your mother’s house for a week because you can’t use the washing machine or wash dishes. That last one was fairly specific because it happened to me.
Goals are for direction. Achievement of goals does not determine your self-worth. Are you achieving for the sake of achievement vs. achieving for a purpose that’s important to you? If it’s the latter then you’ll find a way to make it work even if it doesn’t fit into your perfect plan. Worrying about it is not going to help, if you can fix it, fix it, if not, take a note of it to fix it another time, then forget it.
What’s the point of creating a system that makes you feel bad? Your resolutions should inspire you, not feel like a chore. They should feel like hard work, but the kind of hard work you love to do because it’s meaningful to you.
We often think, “i’ll be happy when I achieve Goal X”, hoping it will solve all our problems. In reality, once you achieve Goal X it will unlock a whole new set of problems you’ve never had to deal with before. So let go of the misnomer that happiness is a life without problems. That’s called boredom. Happiness is being fully immersed in the present, being grateful for what you have. If you’re not grateful for what you have, how will you be grateful for what you get?
I’d be disappointed if everything went according to plan, nor will it, ever. That’s what makes life fun, the constant surprises, the challenges that life throws at you. If life is a series of days and a day is a series of moments, what is life if not a series of moments? How do you choose to spend those moments?
Join a Community, Find a Mentor or Get a Coach
Research has shown that you are less likely to achieve your goals if you share them because you feel good about sharing them and then put in less effort as you already feel good about it. But you are much more likely to achieve your goals if you find a way to make yourself accountable.
So if you can find a community of people who are committed to the same goal you are, that works great. If you can find a mentor who has already achieved what you are hoping for and is willing to guide you along the way, that works too.
But for those goals that you don’t have a specific community or a mentor, or if you’re looking for someone who won’t judge you, will always be on your side, and won’t let you give up, getting a coach to help you significantly improves your odds of following through and achieving the goals you set for yourself.
Start Now (Not Tomorrow) & Never Ever Give Up
A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, and is completed by continuing to step. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can start today. There are only two ways to fail, the first one is to never try and the second is to give up. So fully aware of the fact that most people don’t bother making resolutions and that even those that do usually fail, don’t let that deter you from making and achieving yours. You have been given the gift of life. You now have in your hands a system that works. No more excuses, make 2020 your best year yet!