The Ultimate Guide to Your Best Year Ever

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“If you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed.  The vision pulls you.” — Steve Jobs

I want to share some of the most powerful tools that I’ve found helpful in creating change and transformation.  The start of a new year is a very special time.

And it’s a great time to design and plan for your best year ever.

This is no mere guide.  It is a deep dive guide to truly living your potential and becoming what you are capable of.

In this guide, I cover a lot of ground from finding your motivation, to building better habits and goals, to squashing limiting beliefs, to inspiring yourself with your Ikigai, and even how to create better New Year’s Resolutions that work.

If You Believe You Can Change, You Will Change More Than You Can Believe

Some ideas might be old for you, some ideas might be new to you, but at the end of the day, the real key is to find what’s useful, and adapt it for you.

The most important thing to keep in mind as you plan your best year ever, is that your potential to change depends on whether you believe you can change.

You will see this theme show up again and again, because your beliefs are the basis for all of your experience.

Ready for your best year ever?… game on!

Decide This Will Be Your Best Year… Ever

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  A funny thing happens when you decide this will be your best year.  It actually becomes true.  It doesn’t mean that things go great.  In fact, things may go horribly wrong.  But you focus on what you control,  respond in ways that make you proud, and embrace your personal growth.

And that is how you win your year, your way.

I remember one year where a former manager asked our team to commit to our best year.  He didn’t mean just say it, or pay lip service.  He said that if we are all in, then he’s all in, and together we will all go for the gold.

And we did.

It was not an easy year.  In fact, it was one of my toughest years.  The pace of change was insane.  It was yet another startup inside Microsoft.  And the heat was on.  I had to grow in ways I didn’t know I could stretch.

But I gave it my all.  And so did the team.  Everybody felt the powerful force of the human spirit working together to make our journey a great one.  I got one of my best reviews, as did others on the team, and it was all because we decided, no matter what… through the thick and through the thin, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly…

we would make this our best year.  Period.

Inspire Yourself with Possibility

Dreaming big starts with stories.  Maybe you have some stories from your past that inspire you.  Maybe you have some remarkable moments that remind you that you can do your impossible.

  • I remember breaking the school record for the rope climb.  I remember being nervous, but I told myself to use that excitement to give it my best shot.  I couldn’t believe it when I came back down, the gym teacher told me I broke the record of 20 years.
  • I remember the first time I cleared 10 and half feet, my first year pole vaulting.  There’s nothing like bending a long pole at high speed, flinging yourself up in the air, contorting your body over a bar, and experience a few moments of quiet free-fall, then plopping in a giant air mattress.
  • I remember the time I bench pressed 270 pounds 3 times in a row, when I weighed 125 pounds.  It was a new level.  It changed what I thought was possible.  Along those lines, I remember pressing the full stack of 700 pounds in our weight room in school.   My legs shook like crazy in chem class, every time, but I knew I was growing stronger.

Maybe you don’t have any personal stories that inspire you.  That’s OK (and might also be a sign you didn’t look hard enough, or that you have some limiting beliefs… no worries, we’ll get to that.)

I actually draw from a wide range of stories.  I like to find stories of people that did amazing things.  I love stories of transformations. I love stories of doing the impossible.

Here are a few samples of inspiring stories I draw from:

  • Super strength.  Guess what Jack La Lane did on his 70th birthday?  He towed 70 rowboats for 1 mile.  Against strong winds and currents.  And one of the boats was filled with guests.  Oh, yeah, and he was handcuffed and shackled.
  • Against the odds.  Have you heard of Baxter Humby, “The One Armged Bandit”?  He won a world title in kickboxing with only one hand.  (His right hand was amputated at birth because it was entangled with the umbilical cord.)
  • The Power of Love.  Do you know Team Hoyt?   Team Hoyt is Dick Hoyt, and son, Rick Hoyt.  They are the legendary father-and-son wheelchair racing duo.  Rick was born with cerebral palsy.  Dick created a special boat, bike, and wheelchair so that he could pull, carry, and push his son Rick as they competed.  They ran 32 Boston Marathons.  They participated in six Ironman Triathalons.  They even biked and ran across the U.S., completing 3,735 miles in 45 days. Rick told his Dad, “Dad, when I’m running it feels like I’m not disabled.”
  • Aging backwards.  Do you know the story of Sanford Bennett?  He’s famous as “The Man Who Grew Younger at 50”, and the “The Man Who Grew Younger at70.”  He figured out how to exercise his body and his face to hack his health and grow younger over a lifetime.
  • Still strong all life long.  Have you heard of Johanna Quaas?  She is the world’s oldest gymnast.  At 86, she was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest competing gymnast. Even at 94, she’s still active in the gym.
  • Determination.  Have you seen the movie, Soul Surfer?   It stars Bethany Hamilton.  In real life, Bethany is a pro surfer.  She lost an arm to a shark, but that didn’t stop her surfing career.  While she’s had unique challenges, she’s grown in great ways, and inspires others.

Amazing stories with real people doing extraordinary things are all around us.

Just look, with eyes wide open.

Change Your Mindset, Change Your Results

Your mindset is simply the way you see the world.  You can think of it as a simple core belief that shapes how you see the world, and how you show up in the world.

As a result, it changes how you experience the world.

There are a lot of mindsets to choose from, but I will share three right here that I find empowering:

  • Adopt a Growth Mindset.  A Fixed Mindset is where you believe you are the way you are.  You were born that way.  A Growth Mindset is where you believe that you can improve through learning and practice.   With a Fixed Mindset, you’ll limit yourself by saying to yourself things like, “That’s not me”, or “I can’t do that,” or “I’ve never done that.”  Or, you might limit the world around you, by looking at others, or the world through a Fixed Mindset…”They’ll never change”, “they can’t do that”, “that’s the way it’s always been done.”, etc.  Allow yourself the gift of growth and greatness by exploring possibility and playing with potential.  Change from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that, yet.”  Adopting a Growth Mindset is a way to look with eyes wide open.  If you want to explore a Growth Mindset, check out the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck.
  • Adopt an Abundance Mindset.   Stephen Covey wrote about the Scarcity Mindset vs. the Abundance Mindset long ago, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  A Scarcity Mindset is that there’s not enough to go around.  Everybody needs to compete for the same piece of pie.  The Abundance Mindset is that there’s plenty for everyone, and if we run out, we’ll make more.  According to Covey, people with a Scarcity Mindset have a tough time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit, even with those who help.  And they have a tough time being happy for other people’s success.  Because the Abundance Mindset flows from a deep sense of self-worth and security, it’s easy to share recognition, profits, decision making, and more.
  • Adopt a Mastery Mindset.   In psychology there is the idea of a mastery orientation or a performance orientation.  A Mastery Mindset is a focus on learning and improvement.  A Performance Mindset is a focus on the scoreboard.  It’s a focus on demonstrating competence, making numbers, and looking smart, or at least avoiding looking stupid.  A Performance Mindset gets in the way of getting better.   Worse, even if a Performance Mindset can produce some positive outcomes, it creates a anxiety and worry.  A Mastery Mindset is the backbone for taking on challenges, perseverance, and a desire to learn.  And guess which mindset wins in the long-run?… a Mastery Mindset.  You can practice your Mastery Mindset by focusing on your effort, slowing down to speed up, and really learning how to do something versus just trying to get a good score, or put on a good show, or fake your way through.

Here’s the trick with adopting a mindset.  Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right.  Your mind will find evidence to support either choice.  You can always find evidence whether something is true, untrue, or shades of true.  So be careful what you choose.

Choose mindsets and beliefs that empowers you.

Reimagine Your Self-Image

Take control of the core stories that you write for yourself about the kind of person you want to be.  The most important thing to change, when making changes in your life, is your self-image.    Your self-image is the key to real and lasting change.

Ask, yourself the following question:

“Who do you need to become, to be the kind of person you want to be?”

Sure, you can exercise now and then, but if you see yourself as an athlete, you will find a way to exercise on a more regular basis.  Because it’s “who you are.”  You are an “athlete”.  You can eat well now and then, but if you see yourself as a healthy person, you will eat better in a more consistent way, to stay true to your self-image. Again, because you are a “healthy person.”

For better or worse, it’s a human thing.  We have a need to be consistent with ourselves and congruent with our self-image.  It’s why so many people sabotage their own success, or limit themselves, instead of lift themselves.

It’s the Pygmalion effect (you get what you expect), and we create our own self-fulfilling prophecies.  After all, why try something if we don’t think we can do it, or if we think it’s not who we are, or we weren’t born for that (remember your Growth Mindset.)

If you want this to be your best year ever, you need to hold in your mind, a self-image of somebody who deserves it.  When you look into your eyes in the mirror, you have to believe you deserve your best year.

That right there.  That’s it.  That’s the key.

Did you feel whole heartedly that you are the kind of person that deserves your best year?  Do you feel it in your bones?  Do you feel that you are the kind of person that will do the tough stuff, and make the most of what you’ve got?

Your self-image can limit the kind of person you want to be, or the kind of experiences you want to create, or the kind of life you want to live.

I love how Scott Mautz phrases the lessons he learned from esteemed John Sharp, a Harvard Psychologist:

“If you want to be a certain way, be that way. If you want to live a certain life, live that life. If you want to rewrite your story, then do it, because you are indeed the editor of your own life story.

Here’s to fresh new chapters–page-turners filled with promise.”

 

It’s a great way to say, be the change you want to see in yourself, and it reminds us to Be-Do-Have over Have-Do-Be.

Go ahead and reimagine You 2.0.

Change Your Image, Change Your Potential

Your self-image is your platform for all your possibility.  Perhaps, the only thing that’s a bigger platform than your self-image is your purpose.  Your image of who you are, sets the stage for any changes you make.  If you say to yourself, “I’m no good.”  Or if you say to yourself, “I’m not worth it.”  Or, if you say to yourself, “I’m no artist”, or “I’m not an athlete”, or “I’m not a writer”, or whatever, then you are limiting your stage before you even perform.

Here’s a little mantra to remember:

Change your self-image, change your potential.

You rise to the level of your expectations, just as much as you can lower yourself to your limiting beliefs.  But before you mess with limiting beliefs, you need to start from the big picture.  Your inner core.  The “you” you see in the question:  who are you?

The beauty is that with a Growth Mindset and a Mastery Mindset, you can carve your character with skill and become the kind of person you want to be.  I know it sounds simple, but you have to keep the tough things simple, so you can work on them.

In one of my workshops, I give everybody a set of empowering questions that can change their life, if they practice them.  Here is one of my favorite questions:

“Who do you want to be, and what experiences do you want to create?”

I share a story of where I was in the thick of things at work, with several projects in flight.   While I was on top of things, I was still scrambling around in a harried way.  I was fast, but I didn’t feel frenzied. Yet, that’s how I appeared.

One day, one of the directors asked me, “How do you want people to experience you—like a chicken with your head cut off?”  I laughed and said, “No more like James Bond.”

I got his point.

I realized I wanted people to experience me a different way.   I realized I needed to work on being more calm, cool, and collected, not just for my sake, but for the sake of others.   It didn’t mean dial the passion down, it meant dial the presence up.

And so I did.

Unlimit Yourself by Smashing Your Limiting Beliefs

If dreams are the balloons that lift you, limiting beliefs are the chains that bind you, and hold you back.  The beauty is that you can work on them, if you know how.

Your limiting beliefs are constantly at work, shaping how you see things, shaping how you think about things, shaping how you feel about things, and shaping how you do things. They hide in shadows, so you don’t always see them.  Plus, they are so habitual, they are just baked into your basic thought patterns.

They limit you and you don’t even know it.  It’s unconscious (or, subconscious).  Your limiting beliefs try to protect you.  They might have served you in some situation, or when you were a kid, but they aren’t serving you now.

In fact, chance are, if you are struggling in various aspects of your life, and you can’t figure it out, limiting beliefs are doing their job.  They are limiting you.  How ironic.

We tend to create limiting beliefs about the ourselves, the world, and the people around us.  Why is that a big deal?  Well, who wants to live in a limited world.  I want a world of possibility.  But it’s more than that, if you limit other people, how will you ever cut yourself some slack.  This is also projection in action.  We see in others what we see in ourselves.   And we often treat others how we treat ourselves.  If you don’t show yourself compassion, how good do you think you show compassion  with others.

There are also three patterns that create “learned helplessness” as Dr. Martin Seligman, would put it.  He’s a psychologist who figured out that we basically learn to stop trying because we make things “permanent”, “personal”, or “pervasive”.  When something goes wrong, our inner critic says things like, “This is never going to change,” or “why does this always happen to me”, or “why does everything I do go wrong”.

We need to turn our inner-critic into our inner-coach.

I’m going to give you a simple 3 step approach for hacking at your limiting beliefs:

  1. Name it.   That’s right give your limiting belief a name.  Nothing fancy, just something like “I’m not an artist”, or “I’m no good”  Or, call it Gollum, if you must.  But give it a name so you have a handle and can refer to it.  Give it a name so you can recognize it, and so you can work on it.  To name it, you have to catch it.  Remember, it hides in shadows.  So pay attention to the words that come out of your mouth, when you react to something (“I can’t do that”, or “that’s not me”)  And pay attention to the thoughts you think.  Maybe you don’t say them out lout but you might think limiting thoughts.   And pay attention to your feelings about things.  Your feeling are good indicators where you might struggle.  If you have emotional reactions to something, maybe showing up in hostility or fear in some way, maybe some limiting beliefs are lurking just below.
  2. Detach it.  That limiting belief is not you.  You are not your behavior.  It’s just a behavior (and, thoughts are behaviors, too).  So picture Gollum or whatever this limiting belief is, and stick it someplace outside of you.  If you catch yourself saying, “I’m not good”, change it to “I’m not good at that, yet.”  Or, if you catch yourself saying, “I’m not an artist”, reframe it to, “I need to practice my drawing skills”.  The idea is to put the focus on the behavior, and not limit your identity.  Here’s a deeper example.  Somebody says, “I only smoke at the casino or at parties.”  The other person says, “When I turned 18, my Dad gave me my first pack of smokes and said, ‘Now you’re a man.”  Guess who will have an easier time quitting smoking?  The one who is situational or one who links it with their identity?  Remember, the point to naming and detaching these limiting beliefs is so that you can work on them.   To work on them, you challenge them.  Chance are if you inspect your limiting belief, you will start to find how it’s a generalization or very subjective.  Maybe it served you long ago, but not now.  You don’t have to prove it entirely wrong.  You just need to start to build some doubt.  Congratulations!  You just cast some light on your limiting belief, and now there is nowhere it can hide.
  3. Replace it.  That’s right.  Replace your limiting belief with an empowering one.  It’s easier to fill a void with something new, than to just not do something.   Remind yourself that you are the creator of your beliefs.  Don’t be the marionette.  Be the puppeteer.  Have fun with this part.  Think about this.  Really think about this.  You had a bunch of limiting beliefs that you probably didn’t create on purpose. Now, by being aware, you get to decide new beliefs.

For you new beliefs to take hold, you need to keep a few things in mind.  At first, it might not fit right.  It might not feel right.  Well, imagine how you would feel if it was true, and practice that feeling.

Remember that your brain will be looking for evidence.  Keep in mind that you perceive what you believe.  So if you never believed it before, then you never could see it until now.  So this will take some practice as you grow your self-awareness.   Your brain will, now with your RAS (Reticular Activating System) in high gear, will be finding you examples.

Also, remember that you are changing your thought habits.  So it might not feel like a habit yet.  You have to consciously and deliberately with intent, focus on your new empowering belief.  At first, it might feel like “fake it until you make it”, and that’s OK.  As long as you embrace your new belief and focus on acting, and “feeling” as if it’s already true, you will break it in, in no time.

It’s worth quickly mentioning what to do if you have a limiting belief, where you think or feeling something along the lines of, “I’m not worth it.”  If you haven’t seen Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability, there is something you need to know.  After all her research, she figured out that the big thing that people who feel they are worth that separates them from people who don’t feel they are worthy is just one thing:

They decided they are worth it.

So, if this is going to be your best year ever, do this right now:

Decide you are worth it.

Create a Better New Year’s Resolution

Contrary to popular belief, New Year’s Resolutions are still a powerful tool.  You just have to create better New Year’s Resolutions.

You can think of your New Year’s Resolution as a simple phrase:

This year, I resolve to [the change you want]

For example… This year, I resolve to practice more kindness and self-compassion.

Here are ten examples of some of the top New Year’s Resolutions that people set:

  1. Eat healthier
  2. Exercise more
  3. Get a new or better job
  4. Get organized
  5. Learn a new skill
  6. Lose weight
  7. Read more
  8. Save more
  9. Spend more time with family and friends
  10. Travel more

Things like get in shape, or get healthy, or improve relationships or improve wealth, are better to turn into goals and treat them like projects.

So what is the best New Year’s Resolution?…

The one you will actually stick with and do.

Make it easy, but make it useful.  Make it something you can practice throughout the year.

For example, one year, I resolved to walk more.  So instead of elevators, I took the stairs.  I took the long way around.  I parked farther from entrances.  Throughout the year, when I had little chances to make a choice, I remembered my New Year’s Resolution, and chose a better way.

Last year, I made another simple New Year’s Resolution:  Slow Down, to Speed Up.

I found that I was stuck in some areas, and had some learning gaps.  I realized that I was glossing over some things to grab the prize.  I slowed down to enjoy the process.  Whenever I hit something I didn’t understand, I would really go slowly into it try unpack the idea and really try to make sense of it.  If I couldn’t figure it out, I’d ask a friend, and keep asking until I found somebody who could help me really understand the idea.  I found myself learning by leaps and bounds, because I’m building a much stronger foundation.

And, I’m actually enjoying the process of slowing down, knowing full well that it will speed me up.  Future me is going to wildly outpace past me, and I appreciate this behavior change.  I really feel the impact.  I noticed that by filling my year with these little breakthroughs, it helped me reinforce the belief that whatever challenge comes my way, I will figure it out.  I created  a self-platform for better confidence.

New Year’s Resolutions work for some people, because it’s a chance to hit refresh.  It’s a clean slate.  It’s turning the page to a new chapter of life.

New Year’s Resolutions also work for some people because it’s the power of people in this together.  It’s the power of community and social momentum.  There is something special about knowing that it’s a time of year, when a lot of people around the world, with hopes and dreams, and aspirations, are looking around and looking inward, and asking themselves things like:  Is this year going to be better?… Is this the year I’m going to do better?… Is this the year I’m going to transform my life?

Choose a Word for the Year

It’s such a small, but powerful thing to do.   Think about one word that you want your year to really be about.

Here are some examples:

  • Happiness
  • Significance
  • Vitality
  • Strong
  • Versatility
  • Beauty
  • Clarity
  • Bold
  • Love
  • Courage
  • Kindness
  • Compassionate
  • Powerful
  • Epic
  • Exhilarating
  • Fun
  • Funny
  • Magical
  • Phoenix
  • Unstoppable
  • Limitless

Pick a word that inspires you and lifts you to higher ground.  Your theme word will play a quiet, but supporting role in helping you have your best year ever.

It may show up in surprising ways, or on the strangest of days, but it will be there, as part of your mindset as you learn your way forward.

Have fun with it, and enjoy the process of finding a word that means something to you, and that you need the most in your life, right now.

Achieve Your Dreams with Habits and Goals

Before you set goals, you need to have dreams.  Without a compelling dream that inspires you with purpose and passion, your goals will fall flat.

They will have nothing that helps them hang together into a bigger story for you.

The goals are just the stepping stones to your dreams.

To support your goals, you need a habits that work with you, or at least that don’t work against you.

You can think in terms of three types of actions:

  1. Daily habits
  2. Goals
  3. Inspired actions

If you just have a habits, you’ll never wake up one day on top of Mt. Everest.

That’s the stuff dreams and goals are made of.  Doing some of these amazing things in your life takes deliberate action and intentional goals.

But if you don’t have habits that support t you, you’ll most likely miss your  goals.

And, if you don’t have big dreams to keep pulling you through all the thick, and thin, you’ll also have a tough time with your habits, your goals, and any New Year’s Resolutions.

And, at the same time, you need a way to act on inspiration, without relying all the time for lightening to strike.

Learn the Essence of Better Goals

Before you get into the details of goals, I find it helps to simplify the idea of goals.

A goal is a change you want to make.  It’s the change you want to see in yourself, or at work, or in your life.  If you have an aversion or limiting belief around goals, simply ask yourself, what changes do you want in your life.

To do goals better, it helps to know the essence of goals, including what people usually do wrong:

  1. Create incredible clarity.  Step into your future and feel your goal for real.  Try it on for size.  See your outcome in your mind’s eye.  Hear what you will be saying to yourself after you’ve achieve your goal.
  2. Be clear on your compelling WHY.  When people fail at goals, they don’t have a strong enough WHY for their goal.  It’s just something they think would be a nice change.  It’s not compelling enough, or inspiring enough, or critical enough.  You need a compelling vision to pull you through the tough stuff.  The best thing you can do is inspire yourself with your goal.  Let your goals light your fire and ignite your life.
  3. Set a due date or a deadline.  When people fail at goals, they don’t have a deadline.  So it’s an endless goal.  How much effort do you put in if there is no end in sight?   That’s would be like, start running…  how long?  who knows… how far? we’ll see… am I doing good? not sure.  You actually want a deadline so for that period of time you can invest a bit more, channel your energy, and really focus on your change.   It’s more like a sprint, less like a marathon.  To make this real, add your due date to your calendar today.  Feel the difference?
  4. Make it a project.  When people fail at goals, they don’t make it a project.  A goal is really a project.  It has a start and a finish.  You need to chunk it down into the actual work and effort to make it real.
  5. Do goal planning.  When people fail at goals, they do goal setting.  They have a list of goals.  But they don’t do goal planning.  You need to plan and prep for your goals, like you would for any project.
  6. Find a fun way to check your progress.   When people fail with a goal, it’s because they have no feedback.  They lose motivation because they can’t figure out if it’s working or not.   Find simple ways to give yourself some useful feedback to know if you are trending in the right direction.
  7. Turn setbacks into learning opportunities.  When people fail with a goal, they focus too much on the prize, and not enough on the process.  This is a learning path.  This is your growth path.  Embrace it.  You become more by reaching for your goals, whether you reach them or not.   This is your opportunity to stretch your abilities and grow your potential.  When you face a setback, or you feel like you are failing, look for the insights.  Learn what’s not working so you can change your approach.  Enjoy the process of learning, making a change, and making progress.  Create If-Then plans for when things go wrong, and enjoy your growing ability to respond to your challenges.
  8. Play with the pace.  When people fail at a goal, they often don’t have a proper pace.  Pacing and speed can make a huge difference for success.  Sometimes, you set a goal and either go too fast or too slow.   Really learn how the pace is affecting you.  In so many cases, I thought I needed to spread my goal out over a long period of time.  Instead, I had to actually shorten the time.  By shortening the time, I added more focus, and the goal was more inspiring because it was more challenging.
  9. Structure your life for your goal.   When people fail at a goal, they don’t setup a structure for it, such as a time and a place.  They don’t have what they need to pull it off.  Just like any project, there is a prep phase.  Prep for your goal.  Even do a dry run or a rehearsal if you need to.  I have often started my goals in February versus January, so that in January I can experiment and explore my goals, and set them up for success, and I don’t want to spend the holiday season, prepping for goals.  Great down time leads to great up time.  I want to go into the new year fresh and ready for anything.
  10. Reflect your goal in your calendar.   Ding! Ding! Ding!   This is the ultimate reason why people fail with goals.  They don’t schedule them on their calendar.  This is the ultimate key.  Add your goal to your calendar.  Make space for it.  You will do what’s on your calendar.  You won’t do an idea that you “hope” have time for.  Create appointments with yourself where you work on your goal.  This is a real project.

I’m sure you’ve heard of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting before.  There are lots of variations, but my favorite is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable (or Achievable)
  • Relevant (or Realistic)
  • Timebound (or Timeley)

But let’s walk through it in a simple way…

Really think about what that change you want looks like.  Get specific.   If your goal is “get in shape”, then you want to create a vivid vision or clear picture of what that means.  You want to be able to measure it, so you can at least figure out if you are trending or heading in the right direction.

You want your goal to be actionable.   And you want it to be achievable.  And of course you want a relevant and realistic goal.  Goals you don’t believe you can achieve, aren’t very inspiring.   And you don’t have time for goals that aren’t relevant.

And, you want to know when you are done.  A goal without a deadline is an endless march.

Learn the Essence of Better Habits

Your habits are your repeatable routines.  Think of them as your systems for how you do things without thinking about them.

Of course, to setup better habits, you do need to actually think about them, at first, until they become a habit and routine.  Habits are helpful, because they chip away at change in a simple way over time.  And those small changes can compound into bigger results.

A good way to think about habits is in terms of cues, routines and rewards.  You can sort of imagine, “that’s my cue…”, and it triggers your routine or response, to get the reward.  And it can all be subconscious.  After all, it is a habit.  But a part of you is either seeking pleasure or avoiding pain, or both.  A part of you craves the reward, and so the habit continues.

To do habits better, you need to know the essence of habits, including what people usually do wrong:

  1. Build your awareness.   When people fail at habits, they don’t slow down enough to speed up.  They don’t take the time to really inventory their system of habits.  You have a bunch of habits and routines for everything from waking up, to eating meals, to making decisions, to responding to stress, etc.  List your habits so you can see them on paper.  Identify them, so you can work on them.  It might be easier to reshape an existing habit versus create an entirely new one.
  2. Reimagine your self image.   When people fail with habits, they often didn’t adopt the mindset and belief that goes with it.  It didn’t fit their self-image, of either who they think they are, or who they think they could be.  Like with any change, start here.  If you can’t see yourself doing it, then you will work against yourself.  Even if you think it’s play pretend for a while, they play with it, but be the best actor you can be, so give it a fair shot.  It has to mesh with you and your lifestyle.
  3. Focus on the behavior change.  Remember that thoughts are habits, too.
  4. Do If-Then Planning to create a trigger for your habit.  In the world of software, we program conditional behaviors: If this happens, then do this.  You can do the same for your own behaviors:  IF [Trigger], THEN [Behavior}.  For example, IF I start to feel stressed, THEN practice my box breathing, like a Navy Seal.  IF my alarm goes off, THEN throw on my shoes and hit my living room workout.  IF I can’t fall asleep, THEN visualize walking on the beach and narrating my all my sensations (I feel the sand between my toes, I feel the warm sun on my shoulders and the cool breeze, I smell the salt in the air, I see people fishing on the dock, etc.)
  5. Create a time and place to practice your habit.  The more specific you are about where, when and what you will do, the better your chances are of actually doing it.  Think of it simply as I will [Behavior], at [Time] in [Location].  Celebrity fitness trainer, Chalene Johnson, helps people actually do their workout, by asking simple questions:  When are you going to workout?… Tomorrow.  What time tomorrow?…  7:00 AM  Where?… My living room.   A variation of this would be to use the language of When [Event}, I will [Behavior].  For example, when the alarm goes off, I will think of Three Wins I want for today… when I get out of bed, I will perform my workout, … when I take a shower, I will practice mindfulness, etc.
  6. Change your environment.   We attach habits to our environment.  There are so many cues all around us, that trigger or inspire particular behaviors.  Sometimes, the best thing you can do is change your environment.  Try working from a new place, to see if it changes your productivity.  Try working out at the gym, instead of your living room, or vice versa.  Try changing your existing place around.  If you are really stuck, changing your environment might be the best way to change your habits, or at least get a fresh start.
  7. Do If-Then Planning to deal with situations, setbacks and disruptions.   Your best laid plans won’t always go your way.  Things happen.  Maybe you planned to eat better, but then you find yourself eating out with clients or friends.  Plan for it, so when it happens, you have a response and don’t get freaked out.  Use the formula IF [Situation], THEN [Behavior].   For example, IF I find myself at a restaurant, THEN I will make salad my main meal.
  8. Use the Power of Mini-Habits.  Chunk bigger habits into smaller, more specific, easier ones.  Make it easy to succeed.  Keep chunking your changes down until they are easy.    In the book, Mini Habits: Small Habits, Bigger Results, Stephen Guise introduces the idea that you can stick to a larger habit by starting “stupidly small” or creating a very simple goal.  The idea is to practice consistency, by doing something that starts very easy.  Stephen gives an example of doing “The One Pushup Challenge.”  If I think back, that’s how I got to 100 push ups a day.  I started with “The One Pushup Challenge.”  Keep in mind, you can only improve one habit so much, before diminishing returns.  You can only brush your teeth so well.  At some point, you need to add additional Mini Habits to compound your results.  To learn more about small habits, aside from Guise’s book, BJ Fogg wrote a book called Tiny Habits, James Clear wrote a book called Atomic Habits, and Brian Ledger wrote a book called Micro Habits.
  9. Use the Power of Habit Stacking.  Chain your habits with Habit Stacking.  Habit Stacking picks up where Mini Habits leaves off.  SJ Scott introduces the idea of Habit Stacking in his book, Habit Stacking.  As Scott puts it, “Linking habits together is a way of getting more done in less time, resulting in a positive change in your life.”  You reduce the cognitive load because you simply build small changes into a routine of linked triggers and responses.  It’s better doing with less thinking and less relying on will power.
  10. Use the Power of Gratitude.  While will power is a muscle, it’s tough when you are tired or worn out, and it wears you down.  More and more research says there is a better way than will power or discipline.  It’s to practice an attitude of gratitude.  “Present You”, can appreciate the behaviors of “past you.”,  And, “Present You” can appreciate how “Future You” is going to feel. The idea behind is it you will inspire better choices because you actually acknowledge and appreciate them.  Remember that long ago Covey pointed out the most important unmet need each person has is acknowledgment.   They need to feel heard.  Start with yourself.  And start with heart.  Then instead of depending on will power to pull you through, you will inspire better behaviors, better actions, and better choices.

When it comes to really thinking through habits and getting serious about behavior change, I find the way BJ Fogg walks through habits and behavior change to be very useful and insightful.  BJ is the Director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, so he does behavior change for a living.

BJ Fogg’s behavior model is very simple:

B=MAT(Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Trigger)

According to BJ, here are the 3 elements that need to occur simultaneously to produce a behavior:

  • Motivation – the person is motivated to perform the behavior
  • Ability – the person can perform the behavior
  • Trigger – the person is triggered, or prompted, to perform the behavior

To understand each component a little better, here is how BJ unpacks each one…

  • Motivation – BJ groups six core motivation into 3 categories:
    • Sensation – pain / pleasure
    • Anticipation – Hope / fear – At Growth Engineering, they use the term Epic Meaning.  They believe hope is the most powerful motivator.  They inspire Epic Meaning by creating a deep sense of purpose.
    • Social Cohesion – Social acceptance / rejection
  • Ability – BJ breaks ability down into six categories where you can look for ways to improve ability:
    • Time – reduce the time
    • Money – reduce the cost
    • Cognitively Demanding (Mental Effort) – don’t make them think too hard
    • Physically Demanding (Physical Effort) – don’t make them have to use too much effort
    • Social Deviance – don’t make them break out of the social norm
    • Non-Routine – if you want to make something easier, bake it into existing routines
  • Trigger – BJ breaks triggers down into 3 kinds of audiences:
    • Spark – helpful when there is high ability, but low motivation
    • Facilitator – helpful when there is high motivation, but low ability
    • Signal – helpful when there is high motivation and high ability – it’s a reminder

There is another tool in BJ’s bag of tricks worth mentioning.  It’s the Fogg Behavior Grid.  It helps you evaluate behavior change through a lens of duration and scope:

  • The duration of the change: BJ calls a one time behavior, a Dot behavior.  He calls a behavior you perform for a duration, a Span behavior.  And he calls a permanent behavior change, a Path behavior.
  • The scope of change:  BJ calls a new behavior, a Green behavior, a familiar behavior, is a Blue behavior, a behavior where you will increase behavior intensity or duration, is a Purple behavior, a behavior where you will decrease intensity or duration, is a Gray behavior, and a behavior that you will stop doing is a Black behavior.
  • 15 scenarios – the combo of duration and scope:  Together, the combo of duration and scope creates a matrix of 15 scenarios for behavior change.  For example, you have a new behavior that you want to perform one time, or you want to install a familiar behavior that you want to perform for a duration, or you have an behavior you want to stop permanently.

The reason why this Grid is a big deal is because different situations take different strategies.

Adopt the Ultimate Happiness Habit – An Attitude of Gratitude

What is the single most, proven way to improve your happiness and quality of life?

An attitude of gratitude.

In the book, Flourish, Martin Seligman shares a pragmatic and simple way to practice your attitude of gratitude:

“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well… Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”

Remember to practice your habit building skills, while building your gratitude habit:

When I lay down to sleep, I will write down three things that went well today.

Practice the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

What better basic habits to build than the habits of highly effective people?

Stephen Covey was fascinated with effectiveness.  Covey defines success as:

Success is when you realize obstacles you face are challenges to help you become better – and your response equals the challenge.”

Covey deeply researched the habits and practices of highly effective people, and shared them in his bestselling book,  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Here are the 7 habits you can practice to improve your effectiveness and success in all dimensions of your life:

  1. Be proactive.   Act or be acted upon.  Don’t wait for things to happen.  Take action and exercise your initiative.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.  Figure out what you want to accomplish, before starting out.  Get a clear picture of the outcome or end result that you want to drive to.  Work backwards from this end in mind.
  3. Put first things first.  It’s really the art of practicing effective self-management.  Your priorities and principles serve as the backbone.   Covey shares two questions to put this habit into practice: 1)  What one thing could you do that if you did on a regular basis would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  2) What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?
  4. Think win/win.  Find a way for everyone involved to win.  According to Covey, “Win/Win is a belief in the Third Alternative.  It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.”
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Don’t listen with the intent to reply.  Listen with the intent to understand.    It takes consideration and courage.
  6. Synergize.  According to Covey, “The highest forms of synergy focus the four unique human endowments, the motive of Win/Win, and the skills of empathic communication on the toughest challenges we face in life.  What results is almost miraculous.  We create new alternatives – something that wasn’t there before.”
  7. Sharpen the saw.  Preserve and enhance the greatest asset you have – you.   According to Covey, taking time to sharpen the saw is the habit that makes all the other habits possible.   Covey recommends renewing the four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional.

Imagine a future you as a living exemplar of these life-changing habits in practice.

The beauty is these habits are available to anyone who just decides to work on them.

Practice the 8th Habit – Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs

While a lot of people know Stephen Covey’s 7 habits, not everybody knows the 8th habit.

Stephen Covey’s 8th habit is:

Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs

According to Covey, it’s not about adding one more habit to the 7 habits.  It’s about adding a third dimension to the 7 habits to meet the challenges of our modern world.

It’s the call to greatness.  And it takes a new mindset, skillset, and toolset.  Here’s how Covey puts it:

“The call and need of a new era is for greatness.  It’s for fulfillment, passion, execution, and significant contribution.  These are on a different plane or dimension.  They are different in kind—just as significant is different kind, not in degree, from success.  Tapping into the higher reaches of human genius and motivation—we could call voice—requires a new mind-set, a new skill-set… a new habit.”

Here is how Covey defines voice:

“Voice is unique personal significance—a significance that is revealed as we face our greatest challenges and which makes us equal to them.

Voice lies at the nexus of talent (your natural gifts and strengths), passion (those things that naturally energize, excite motivate, and inspire you), need (including what the world needs enough to pay you for), and conscience (that still, small voice within that assures you of what is right and that prompts you to actually do it). 

When you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion—that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet—therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.

There is a deep, innate, almost inexpressible yearning within each one of us to find our voice in life.”

Well, what are you waiting for, go and find your “soul’s code” Winking smile

Look Back to Leap Ahead

Process the past, to plan and prep for the present and your future.

Just walk through your highlights and low lights.  The tough stuff.

Don’t judge.  Just learn from your choices and experiences.

There’s always a lesson, and you’ll keep repeating an experience, in some flavor or form, until you learn the lesson.

Remember that what you resist, persists.  But what you embrace melts through your fingers.

Learn from the past, but let the past go.

As Will Rogers put it:

“Don’t Let Yesterday Take Up Too Much Of Today.”

Or, as T.S. Eliot put it:

“For last year’s words belong to last year language and next year’s words await another voice.”

Find a new voice for your new year.

Remember Scrooge – Use the Future to Change Your Present

Some changes can happen fast, if there is enough pain or enough pleasure.  At the end of the day, change happens when you change your internal representation.

In Neuro-linguistic programming, a framework for personal transformation, there is the idea of the Dickens Pattern.  The Dickens Pattern is based on the Charles Dicken’s character, Ebenezer Scrooge.

As the story goes, Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Future, who shows Scrooge the future of what his life will be like if he doesn’t change his current behavior and life choices.

The pain for Scrooge was too great.

Scrooge gets freaked out by his dark future and decides for real he will change.  He will become a new person.  He will be a kinder, more cheerful,  and more compassionate Scrooge.

This is why so a lot of people don’t really change unless they have traumatic events and life changing experiences, of either great pleasure, or great pain.

In the Dickens Pattern, you imagine a future you based on your current behaviors and life choices.  You visualize you in the future, adding years, and compounding the effects of your behavior over time.

If you don’t like what you see, the beauty is you have the power to change future you, by changing present you.

Visualize the best possible version of yourself and move toward that.

Invest in Your Life Hot Spots

You can use Life Hot Spots to identify, clarify, and simplify where to spend my time and energy, before you maximize and optimize.

Hot spots are a heat map for your opportunities as well as your pain or friction.  By focusing on the hot spots, you can unleash your best results.

The sum is more than the parts.

Here is a starter set of 7 categories for Life Hot Spots that I find helpful:

  1. Mind.  This includes investing time to learn new things, practicing mindfulness, and keeping your mind sharp.
  2. Body.  This includes investing time to keep your body strong.  The most important basics are eating, sleeping, and exercising.  Use it for lose it.
  3. Emotions.  This includes investing time to keep your emotions healthy.  It includes learning Emotional Intelligence and keeping your emotions in check.  It’s about learning skills to feel good on a more consistent basis, and to get back up, when you get knocked down.
  4. Career.  This includes roles, activities, and jobs, as well as career and professional growth.  Make your jobs and gigs your portfolio of personal growth and greatness, and enjoy the journey.
  5. Finance.  This includes investing in learning financial fitness and building your wealth.
  6. Relationships.  This includes investing in relationships at home, at work, and life.  It also includes building your social intelligence.
  7. Fun.  This includes investing time to play in your hobbies, pursuit your passions, and deliberately practicing joy in all the things you do.

It’s just a starter set.  You need to figure out what Hot Spots you need to pay attention to so you can best invest your time and energy where it matters the most.

For example, some people like to add Spirit or Spiritual Intelligence.  Some like to add a big thing they are focused on for the year, for example, such as Musician or Author or Entrepreneur, etc.

Whatever you do, don’t over-complicate it.  The main idea here is to help you see the Big Rocks in your life at a glance and to get a quick sense of where you might need to invest more.

Also, keep in mind how the Hot Spots play off each other.  For example it’s tough to do well at work, if your relationships aren’t that great.  Or it’s tough to be great at your relationships if your emotions are off.

By bubbling up each dimension of life to a meaningful bucket or category, you can prioritize and invest your time, energy, and attention to improve your results and better identify when a category might need some extra love.

Find Your Purpose

Your purpose is perhaps the greatest thing, beyond your identity and self-image that will lift you to your greatest potential.

Here is what purpose is, according to Dan Pink, the bestselling author of Drive, a deep book on motivation:

“Am I doing something in service of a cause larger than myself, or, at the very least, am I making a contribution in my own world?”

There is great power in purpose.  For example, we know that people with a strong sense of purpose have boosted immune systems.  They also enjoy lower stress hormones, and are better able to deal with the difficulties that life throws their way.

There is a beautiful word in the Okinawan language.  That word is Ikigai (eek-y-guy).

Roughly translated, ikigai means, “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”

Ikigai, or, your “sense of purpose”, is very personal experience – and it manifests itself in many ways.

Find your Ikigai.

I’ll share mine.  I help people live their potential.  I truly enjoy helping people explore the art of human possibility.  I truly enjoy inspiring people to become what they are capable of.

This ultimate guide to your best year ever is exactly a part of that.  It’s my Ikigai in action.

Your Best is Yet to Come

A great way to start off your best year ever, is to truly believe that your best is yet to come.

Remember that what you believe, is what you perceive, and you get what you expect.

If you expect your best is yet to come, well then it’s already on its way.

To keep it real, focus on what you control.  Your best year isn’t about finding the magic lamp, rubbing it and getting your three wishes (but that would be cool, right?)

Your best year is about you giving your best, where you have your best to give in the service of others, responding to your challenges with skill, and creating the moments you are proud of.

That is the key to a profound and meaningful path for the road ahead.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

Your best is yet to come.

Here is to a better year,

JD

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Your emails are always super synchronous with me. Perfect timing.

    This year is the year of the playful James bond for me.

    2019 was a year of digging emotionally 2020 is about sharing the freedom and playfulness that comes from that.

    Thank you

      • Thank you JD i’m re reading all of this again as there is so much in it and a lifetime of your study in it. I’m actually amazed at how much of an overlap in language we have. eg using effective vs positive.

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