“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” -Audre Lorde, Poet
Reflection at the end of a year is as tumultuous as 2020 has been intimidating, but it’s through tough times that we learn the most about ourselves. Reflection is not about disingenuous silver linings, phony optimism, or cheesy “life hacks” to solve your problems. Reflection is about getting real with yourself and coming to understand your experiences for what they are—for better and for worse. This year take some time to honestly and seriously consider your experiences, so you can set more impactful resolutions that you are more likely to work at and maintain.
Consider Mónica who reflects on some of her most frequent challenges faced while working in 2020. The one thing that immediately sticks out to her (and to so many people this year) is distraction. She worked longer hours than ever, but she knows she spent some of them distracted. The problem, she realizes, isn’t so much her family, the news, or her phone; the problem is that she isn’t balancing her working life and her home life remotely. At work, she did everything in her power to concentrate so she could leave by six, drive home, and have dinner with her family. At home, she finds herself checking email and staying online even after dinner. The result is a steady stream of weariness, minimal time where she’s actually disconnected, and difficulty feeling “fully engaged” and present with her family at dinner. That’s her honest reflection.
Goal setting is the next step after reflection. Goals that stick are specific strategies or practices you can apply daily. The more specific and clear the behavior, the better. For Mónica, she knows that a sensible goal might be to work on restoring her sense of work-life balance. Rather than just writing down this big, vague goal and giving it a go, she needs to get precise so she can spot what to do differently. Otherwise, she will just fall back on old habits. She remembers how when she worked in a physical office, she would head out the door at six and rarely ever check email or do work once she was in the car and at home. To get more strategic with her goal, Mónica recreates the feeling of leaving her office at six. Each day at six, she will get up from her desk and go for a 30-minute walk before having dinner with her family. That’s a more impactful resolution.
Staying on track with your goals is the next easiest place to falter. Every year 80% of people give up on their resolutions entirely by Super Bowl Sunday and only about 5% succeed through the year. Why? Because creating new habits is surprisingly difficult. Below are three strategies to follow as you try to turn your goal into a habit that sticks by April, May, August or November.
- Make the new habit convenient. When something is easy, we do it more often. If there’s always a beer in the fridge, we are much more likely to drink one. Or, if our phone is beside our computer instead of across the room in a drawer, we’re much more likely to check it. For Mónica, walking after work is easy. She can just get up from her desk and walk out the door. If she chose something a bit more difficult, like going to the gym or phoning a friend to go with her, even these little extra steps can get in the way of forming a habit.
- Substitute part of the old habit with something new. One of the best ways to change a habit is to replace part of the existing one. For example, if you finish your work each day and crack a beer, you might replace the beer with a lemonade or iced tea that’s waiting right there when you get home. A similar substitute works well because you don’t have to create a whole new habit. Mónica substituted her old driving commute with a walking commute.
- Piggyback your habit onto an existing habit. Our brains tend to respond well to piggybacking because it doesn’t require an entire overhaul of what we were doing before. Instead, you just train your brain to associate your new habit with an existing one. For people who want to use their phones less, they might just drop their phone in the same bowl as their keys then go about their day. For Mónica, stepping out her front door piggybacks off the existing habit of stepping away from her computer at six, and it is effective because she is physically away from her computer when an email comes through her phone. To be sure she’s not tempted when she returns, she can also turn her computer off, not just put it to sleep.
From Insights to Action. From now until January 1st 2021, reflect on that one nagging thing that’s been holding you back, even during this incredibly difficult year. You may be surprised what kinds of honest conclusions you reach and specific solutions you come up with. By choosing only one nagging thing, you’ll also be sure to stay focused and motivated in your effort to change. We’ll try our best to join you. Good luck to us all in the new year to come!
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