Statistically speaking most people have abandoned their New Year resolutions by February. Being in the fitness industry I am naturally fascinated by motivation and what makes people stick at something or give up. But my curiosity started long before this in my years working as a youth worker.
I bounded into my first youth work job thinking I was going to motivate, inspire and change lives. I quickly learned to drastically to lower my expectations. The small wins for my clients felt enormous: getting out of bed in the morning instead of the afternoon, making it on time to an appointment.
The young people I worked with had experienced a great deal of childhood trauma that affected their ability to cope with life. But I always felt there was more to it than that. I think what had a far greater impact was their environment. The people they spent time with, the area they lived in and generally what attitudes and beliefs they were exposed to. It’s very hard to make changes when your environment is working against you.
This idea is picked up in James Clear’s New York Times bestseller, ‘Atomic Habits’. In the book he talks a lot about environment and how the systems we have can determine how successful we are. He suggests we should forget about setting goals and focus on our systems instead if we want to achieve better results. All his recommendations are founded on evidence-based research. So here are some great ideas to get you the results you desire:
Share your intention
You are 2-3 x more likely to achieve your objective if you tell others what you plan to do. Better still, get some accountability and tell others about your progress.
Become 1% better everyday
Rather than focusing on big goals, how would it be to just focus on improving 1% each day? I remember reading about a janitor/caretaker who became a millionaire by saving 10% of his income over his working life and reinvesting the interest earned on his savings (compound interest). Habits basically work the same way.
‘Habits are the compound interest of personal development’
The difference between day 1 or day 10 of your diet/exercise regime/learning a language etc. is pretty insignificant. But over time these small improvements are the way change happens. By letting go of the results and focusing on just small continuous improvement remarkable results can happen.
Remember the greatest returns are delayed
There is a sign on the wall of an NBA basketball team that reads:
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it — but all that had gone before.”
James Clear refers to this principle as the ‘plateau of latent potential’. It’s chipping away at our goals with patience and persistence that gets us the best results. He describes how something seems like it takes a long time in the moment, but when you look back over time it actually seems very short. So a 20-minute workout can seem like a big effort to fit into your day, but doing this regularly yields big results over time and in retrospect doesn’t seem to have taken much effort at all!
Focus on your trajectory not your current position
It’s far more important to look at where you are going rather than where you are now. If you have the right systems to get you where you want to be, you will get there. When you focus on where you are now it can sap your motivation. But knowing you are headed in the right direction, and that the time will pass anyway so you might as well be working towards your goals, will eventually get you to where you want to be.
Notice how you define yourself
Our identity is based on the roles we have in life, e.g. wife/girlfriend/mother/employee. But our beliefs are also essential to our identity and these form not only the kind of person we are but the results we get. Notice how you speak to yourself. Are you someone who: ‘has a sweet tooth’, ‘can never find the motivation to exercise’, or ‘can’t remember people’s names’. Whatever beliefs you have about yourself become your reality.