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Just Pick One

Jan 11, 2021

This is the time of the year when some people are struggling over resolutions and keeping up with promises made on the last day of the last year.  Are you one of them?

If so, I have a recommendation that I think will help.

After years of working with clients to create their plans and goals, I learned a few things:

  1. We tend to overestimate what we can get done in the short term and underestimate what we can get done in the long term.
  2. The fewer things you focus on, and by creating detailed actions plans for them, the more likelihood you will actually accomplish them.
  3. The best way to keep from getting totally overwhelmed by big aggressive goals is to break them down into smaller, more manageable pieces or steps.
  4. Instead of one big celebration at the end of an achievement, celebrate daily and weekly progress toward your goals.

The net result is this:  Focus on one change and really commit to it.  Just pick one.

Start with something simple.  Make it non-negotiable.  Schedule it into your calendar or set up reminders to check in with yourself throughout the day.  Be consistent and celebrate your consistency - at the end of the day, the week, the month. 

When you feel certain that you've created a new habit, and it has become part of your daily or weekly routine, and not until, then pick another.

To start with, you can pick the thing that you consider most critical, such as sleep or exercise, or you can pick the thing that you are most likely to commit to changing.  I'd argue for the latter to build some momentum and a feeling of confidence that you can do it. 

We all know the things we "should be" doing better:  sleeping, eating healthy, exercising, hydrating.  It can seem overwhelming.  But if you pick just one, and really make the change, then add another, then another, you will be amazed at how much progress you can make over the long run.

On the other hand, if you start off the year with a resolution to exercise more, eat healthy, get more sleep and drink more water, you may be setting yourself up to fail.  It's too much change all at once and your body, mind and spirit will rebel and resist.

For many years at the gym, I noticed the big increase in attendance starting the first of the New Year and then, the gradual reduction in numbers as resolve weakened and gave in to another hour of sleep.  It reminded me of some things I learned about living a life of discipline or a life of regret.

I think that sometimes -- with exercise in particular, because so many people really hate it -- joining the gym and waking up earlier to get there and committing to a whole new routine for multiple days per week is just too much.  Instead, just pick one of those, say getting up earlier, and find something you can enjoy with the extra time.  Reward yourself for that.  Next, begin some type of movement you enjoy -- walking, dancing, biking -- and build on that.  Then, maybe, sign up for an exercise class or hire a trainer.  Work up to it, slowly and consistently instead of making a complete shift all at once.

Recently, I heard a wise person make a contrast between motivation and discipline.  Motivation comes and goes and it's not always there when you need it.  So true.  Her solution was to focus on simple discipline.  Figure out what works for you and do that.  Set yourself up for success by starting with keeping small simple promises to yourself.  If you've "just picked one" thing to focus on first, figure out how to build a simple discipline around that one thing. 

As for me, I've always considered myself a work in progress, whether I am focusing on my physical fitness, mental health, emotional strength, spiritual well-being, or relationships and social interactions. It's a lot to think about all at once and that doesn't work for me.  But, I have found I make more overall progress when I just pick one.

And by the way, who says you can only make these commitments at the beginning of the year?  Pick any time that works for you.  Remember the adage about the best time to plant a tree?  Twenty years ago.  The second best time? Today. 

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