First things first, Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season with plenty of fun and festivities, and you’re entering 2024 feeling recharged and ready for action.
This first week of January is a perfect annual opportunity to reflect on what’s working well in your life and identify the areas where you want to see some changes made.
This process does not mean ruminating on regrets about what you wished happened differently in 2023; it’s more about taking stock of the most effective approach to make the upcoming year the best one ever based on your top priorities.
January 1st is often closely associated with creating New Year’s resolutions, which, statistically speaking, have a notoriously poor track record of success. According to Forbes, while 87% of people surveyed plan on sticking with their goals for the year, only 6% do, and the majority (53%) abandon those resolutions by the end of March. New Year’s Resolutions Statistics (2024) – Forbes Health
This isn’t breaking news; the headline repeats every year. We tend to take the same approach of making resolutions (usually multiple), and in a short time, we fall back into our default habits and routines. Repetition of the same actions with expectations of different results doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but often we do it anyway!
I suggest you take a different approach to creating lasting change this year and make a ‘Start/Stop/Continue’ plan. By rethinking our approach to getting rid of the negative habits holding us back and building in the strategy to add the elements, we want to see more of in our lives, a more realistic roadmap to getting to where we want to be in life becomes apparent.
Below are the simple starting steps that you can do this week to get this year started off on the right path:
Make a list: This can be done with a pen and pad, a Word.doc, or an Excel sheet, but the result will be three columns: Start, Stop, and Continue. This next step is where the self-reflection part comes into play. Take the time to assess honestly and accurately what you are most pleased with in your life in areas such as family, health, career, finances, hobbies, etc., and list those in the ‘Continue’ column. These are the things you see as working well and positive elements of your routine. Next, work on the ‘Start’ column and consider what aspirational goals you have had in the past that have not materialized yet. These ‘start’ items can be as small as ‘reading more’ or ‘going for more walks’. At the moment, you are simply capturing the ideas that appeal to you as making life more complete and fulfilling; the details on how to get them done will happen shortly. For the final ‘stop’ column, take stock of the habits or activities that you know have a negative impact on your life and detract from your overall joy instead of adding to it. Often, activities that we initially found enjoyable have slowly turned into negative forces in our lives that we continue with because of habit and routine. (An easy example of this is social media, which tends to decrease our happiness as we increase the number of hours per day spent scrolling). The honest assessment part 2: write a rough estimate of how much time you spend doing those ‘stop’ items in the average day or week.
Make a plan: Now that you have a page with the three columns created, you have a visual representation of what you want to keep, what you want to toss out, and what you want to add to your life. At this point, you’re ready to start making a realistic and practical plan to put these ideas into everyday practice. It’s essential to remember that not only is creating change in habit and routine very challenging (hence the 94% failure rate of New Year's Resolutions), but we must also contend with how we manage and perceive our time. A while back, I wrote about Parkinson’s Law, which explains why tasks expand to fill the time needed to complete them. Simply put, most people describe their lives as busy (as a fun experiment in the next week, when you ask people how they’re doing, note how many responses include the word ‘busy’!). That perception of feeling busy does not always correlate with being productive. According to Parkinson’s Law, it likely includes procrastination and taking extended time to complete what should be quick, simple (often low-priority) tasks. The bottom line is we are each allocated 24 hours a day, and to do more of what’s on your’ start’ list, you’ll find the time by taking it from the activities on the ‘stop’ list.
This reallocation serves double duty in decreasing the daily portion of time you’re allowing for the ‘stop’ items while simultaneously increasing the opportunity to incorporate the ‘start’ items into your life.
As a final step towards success in creating impactful and lasting life changes, commit your plans to a written schedule. When making your 2024 ‘start/stop/continue plan stick, hope is not a strategy, but committing to a rough outline on when and how you will make daily adjustments is a giant step in the right direction. Take the time to create a realistic weekly schedule that slowly and steadily allows you the ability to do more ‘start’ items each week while reducing the time allowed for the ‘stop’ items. Tell a couple of family members or friends about your 2024 Start/Stop/Continue plan in order to increase your accountability, and ask them to review it with you at the start of each month. After each week, review how you did and put suggestions to yourself in for the coming week.
Remember that progress, not perfection, is the goal and that small daily changes lead to significant life results over time.
I wish you health, happiness, and success in the coming year!