(Photo credit: Alosh Bennett)

Is Your Plan for 2016 Doomed to Fail?

What’s the most successful New Year’s resolution you’ve ever previously made?

This is a really interesting question to ask people. If you don’t have a good answer, in this article, I want to help make sure that if asked again in twelve months’ time, you do.

My own resolution going into this year is to massively reduce the number of things I do half-heartedly.

We would all agree that doing things half-heartedly isn’t desirable. But, it’s dawned on me recently that there are far greater repercussions to doing so than most people realise.

Here’s why a half-hearted strategy is doomed to fail…

1) You don’t get the most out of things, and later dismiss them

Doing things half-heartedly leaves you in a state of learned helplessness.

You feel as though you’ve done something, that you’ve given it a try, and so when it’s subsequently put forward as a suggestion (to fix a problem, to fill a void, to help you get somewhere) you dismiss it because you feel like you’ve already done it (even though you haven’t with any real intensity).

“Oh, I’ve tried that.” — Did you really?

This occurred to me in regards to travelling. Last year I went on a two-week trip to Medellin. While there, I had so much work on (rehearsal for a TEDx talk, publishing my first book, and keeping up the day job), that I didn’t really experience the culture. I barely spoke a word of Spanish, I scarcely got out of our very Western-style apartment, and I didn’t get adventurous with food.

Now, Medellin is a fantastic place to spend time I am sure. I got glimmers that it is. But when I next get an opportunity to go, without awareness of this trap, I would be less inclined to go because I feel that I have already.

With the amount I had on, I would have been better to say no to the trip and save it for a time when I could actually indulge in the culture (or put the work to one side and enjoy the trip wholeheartedly).

As another example, many people try writing a book exhausted late in the evening after work. They give up after a month having made no progress and conclude “I just don’t have the discipline to write a book”. If that’s you, that’s not necessarily true. Maybe your strategy was bad, and it wasn’t a fair attempt. Could an approach of mornings and weekends be more effective?

Perhaps you’re overly expectant of things. You wanted one yoga class to relieve all of your aches and pains, and when it didn’t, you swore off any future attempts.

Whatever it is, half-hearted action leads to learned helplessness.

2) You develop a bad impression of yourself

When biting off more than you can chew, you don’t complete things. Projects quickly stack up, and you give up on a number to make way for the new.

In a recent article, Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich wrote that “Hell has a special place for people who start 25 things and never finish any of them”. Once you develop evidence that you’re a dabbler, it can be hard to refute, and you begin to label yourself as such.

Doing things half-heartedly will rid you of the identity of being a finisher, and ensure you make it to that special place.

3) You leave a bad impression with others

When a half-hearted activity involves others — a business venture, a group project, a meeting — it will be clear right away that you haven’t sufficiently prepared, and that you aren’t pulling your weight.

If you want to develop a reputation as being someone who does things well, realise that it won’t happen while spinning fifty different plates.

How to Become a Wholehearted Action Taker

I’m approaching 2016 as “the year of less”.

Instead of making dozens of resolutions or planning numerous projects, I have 3 objectives for the year. Just 3 for the entire year. If I get those things done, the year will be a success. (Imagine how liberating and freeing that feels versus the burden of a dozen or more disparate goals.)

If you consider that following suit would leave you missing out, I challenge you to think about the year with a “regret minimisation framework”, to steal a line from Jeff Bezos.

You would be right to resent missing out on 10/10 experiences and opportunities. But when looking at projects on the horizon, given that you will only be able to make it a 3/10 with your existing obligations, is it worth it?

A little bit of regret taken on one project might save you huge amounts of regret in other areas (regret of not having the industry and focus to commit yourself to what’s most important).

How Streamlined Can You Get?

There will still be things I do half-heartedly (see my wording in the intro of “massively reduce” rather than “eliminate”).

Ridding yourself of all projects that aren’t 100% all-in is unrealistic. There are sure to be areas that you want to maintain, but aren’t worth the resources to make huge progress in.

But maintenance requires work. Many self-improvement thinkers will tell you that when you try to stand still, you often slide backwards. Think about areas you would be happy to just keep ticking over — but assess what you need to do to avoid backsliding.

Putting it into Practice

Get rid of the notion that you can “wing it” and do just as much. You’re going to have to say no to things.

Which projects need to be stopped or passed on? Which meetings need to be cancelled?

In any project that involves others, it’s better to disappoint in expectation rather than execution.

To set yourself up for success: begin the year with a few uncomfortable conversations (to make sure your priorities are clear and communicated with those around you) so you can hunker down and spend the year the way you want to — achieving the few key things you want to achieve.

– Is that telling friends you won’t be going out as much because you want to work on a side project?

– Is that telling your boss that you want to review the areas you’re working on so that you can uphold a higher standard?

If you take the time to explain the philosophy, people will usually be understanding — often admiring — of it.

This isn’t something you can put in place in a weekend. There will be commitments you’ve already made that you will have to see through. Rather than slamming the door shut and screwing people over because you’ve previously said yes to things that fall outside of your new realm of focus, decide what’s worth sucking up, what’s worth compromise, and act accordingly.

***

In summary, you can only commit to a few things.

What do you want to look back on 2016 having achieved?

It takes great tension of thought to hone in on just 3 things. But, in doing so, and going through the discomfort to make your priorities (and thus what you won’t be doing) known to others, you allow yourself a strategy to win. Then it’s just a matter of execution.