Break It Down Again: Coming Soon, A New Year

How are your plans for next year coming along? Hopefully you’ve had some time to yourself to sit away from the holiday rush to work on them.

No pressure from this corner of the internet, really. And don’t beat on yourself if you don’t have next year’s goals written down and printed out in monthly and quarterly break-downs. We each have our own way of preparing for the future. We do what we can, when we can, especially when everything else going on right now on is tugging at our shirtsleeves to give them our attention, since ’tis the season and all.

A memory can make you grab pen and paper to remind yourself what to pay more attention to, and you have your trusty little notebook right there with you. Or maybe you catch your goals on the fly and capture the snippets with the note-taking apps or voice recorder on your smartphone — and your notes are happily synced across all your devices.

Perhaps you’re the type to open your day-planner and see neatly written notes and highlighted reminders already in place — and aren’t you glad Past-You did this for Now-You to rely on?

Block out quiet time for yourself : Planning for a good year is important, vital, and urgent for your own personal and professional fulfillment. Make sure you won’t be disturbed, since planning can have many moods.  There are serious ones–contemplative, sombre, and sometimes heavy with regret and intent. There are relaxed moods, which are open spaces for your idle day-dreams and thoughts to meander in. There are playful moods, where the sky’s the limit; no shame in dreaming, eh? There’s brainstorming, and asking questions, but in the end, there must be a plan. And if you want to plan better, you need to go back and review.

“X marks the mistakes.” What were yours this year?
Three things that can get us in trouble, and probably have in the past, are unrealistic scope, unrealistic deadlines, and unrealistic expectations.

It takes no money to dream big. In fact, popular media and advertising fall all over themselves trying to push images of a good life and provide all the images of products that are exactly what you need to become Bigger, Better, Best in your ever-moving goal posts of success

And a lot of times, the images and scenarios that feature in your daydreams and triumphant fantasies have ideas from these sources in them. Very specific ideas. Ideas that say you have to be a certain way, own a certain thing, engage in a certain activity, to be successful, to be happy, to be acceptable.

The problem is that under intense scrutiny and the pressures of daily life, the ‘certain way to fulfillment’ falls apart for you. You do what you’re ‘supposed to’ and yet you’re not happy. There’s a nagging feeling, a lingering spirit of discontent. Why is it like that?

When you filter fantasy from active, reality-based planning and execution, you can actually have a better time at working towards your goals.

Fantasy and day-dreaming are great escapes and are useful in relaxation, pleasant, self-insert based “YOU are the chosen one” personal movies, and helpful when the pressure of the working moments is too much and you need a break.

In between day-dreams and reality is brain-storming: you throw out all the ideas that pop into your head without filter or bias. Then you take a serious, closer look and weed out the most viable ideas so you can work on seeing which of them have the most realistic chance to actually provide measurable positive returns. Finally, you tweak a little bit and essentially have the best plan-slash-guide to refer to when you start.

Reality-based planning fires up the adrenaline and the hope — “This is what I want, I hope I get it, but hope isn’t enough, so this is what I’m doing every day so I get as close to my goal as possible in the time I have to attain it.”  Right there you have a goal, you have an action plan, and you have a deadline.

You may also have heard of the expression, “having big eyes and a small stomach.” Funnily enough, it’s also connected to, “biting off more than you can chew.” In essence, you have big plans, but you may have: not enough time, not enough resources,  or not enough you. Think about this when you’re making your plans for next year. Be honest about your limits.

“Big eyes and a small stomach” means that your appetite, whetted by what dazzled your eyes, put you in a position where you can’t handle the load you took on.

If you did it in literal terms, the result would be wasted food — and an overloaded, pained system that’s struggling to break down everything you ate.

If you bit off more than you can chew at your work, something is going to ‘slide off your plate.’ Just like going overboard at a buffet, you took on something that you really can’t handle at your current capabilities and bandwidth. Somewhere there’s an overload. Something is getting the majority of the focus and energy, while other things start languishing at the wayside. Your system would be struggling to process what you took on. And whatever you do, something will go to waste, whether it’s your time, your energy, or resources and materiel.

You’ve been through this before. You’ve seen the litter and waste from  poorly thought-out impulses, assessed the financial damage from hurried choices, and saw, in angry, tired hindsight, the things you would’ve-could’ve-should’ve done differently in the past eleven months.

Do you want to go through it again next year, or do it differently this time?
You want to be different this time next year.
You want to do different things, or do things differently. To get new results, and have these results be the ones you really want. If your fears, desires, and bad habit override your sensibilities again, you can bite of more than you can chew. Again.
And, well, you’ll choke.
Again.
You know how that happens. Do you want to do it again?
Then be aware of your weak spots and plan for them too.

It can be as simple as using the If-Then tactic to break down goals into small steps:

  • If I want to cut down on soda, then I will use my thermos/flask more by filling it with  ice water, flavored with lemon (or cucumber slices, whatever, dealer’s choice).
  • If I want to cut down on  customer loss , then I will commit to doing X hours of data-based research to find out why they leave (maybe by designing a good-bye survey, etc.)

 

Now, what are the top three areas you want to focus on improving for the next year? Three and only three, mind you. More would be overly divisive — remember, you are the prime mover in your life, pick three that you yourself, personally, and only you, can do to  improve your life. You can downgrade, delegate or outsource other things, but know what three things are yours–and only yours– to nail down.

“Aim for the moon, if you miss you can hit the stars.”
A nice, inspiring motto, but we’re planning for a year here. That means establishing the baseline, and that means sustainability. When you set the bar at an achievable level, keeping it at the lowest possible denominator, it can help establish consistency.

Consistency is key to solid improvement. Expecting a big effort to work is like thinking you can work out for six hours on Monday, then take the rest of the week off because you did enough exercise.  Consistent workouts on a regular level, as the doctors would say, is key to good cardiovascular health. Positive consistency in your three key areas, will be the only path to making them thrive. That means you have to set things up so you can do them regularly.

If you want to keep it up, you have to keep going. The road to life-altering decisions is reinforced, not in great leaps and bounds, not in heroic moments, but in being consistent in small, regular way, often boring and tiring ways, for a long time.

So you have to be patient.
To help yourself stay on course, you have to keep a record and track your progression. This activity does several things:

  • It keeps you looking out for yourself by charging you to be consistent.
  • It builds you up by letting you see how you’re coming along.
  • It helps remind you when you’re feeling down that you’re doing it– that any forward action is better than taking no action, because what you chose to do–no matter if you’re unmotivated– is better than non-action.

 

So, yeah. Nothing too drastic. Drastic moves have a way of setting us up for rebounds if we’re not being careful to watch out for them.

See, like jumping on a swing and riding out the momentum, there’s a high end, and a low end, and eventually the energy peters out. By taking regular, smallish steps, you can get there without expending as much energy as taking a running leap and possible flubbing the landing.

Slow and steady is stable — keep going, and the stability will help make the foundation for a new life more hospitable. In a way, you’re planting the seeds of your future  with these consistent actions, and by keeping at it, you’re setting it up for a good harvest when it’s time.

What are your plans for your new year?

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