Can You Resolve to Rethink About How You Think About Change?

Many of my colleagues are busy creating resolutions, in preparation for the new year. They think those resolutions will help them create better lives. Maybe, although I’ve never succeeded with resolutions.

Instead of resolutions, I’ve suggested before that we create watchwords for ourselves. Those watchwords create some guidance for our actions.

But this year, I recommend we rethink how we think about change. Let’s start by assessing what we can predict.

What Can We Predict?

We can’t predict details for the next year. However, since we know we will experience some changes, we can predict a little about the kinds of change we can expect:

  • Small incremental change that mostly sustains the status quo: Many things will continue on as they are now, so it’s easy for us to adapt. For example, garbage pickup or dump times remain roughly the same. Our schools will still start and end at the same times, with similar vacation weeks. The community rhythms of our daily lives won’t change much. We can find our new status quo without too much trouble.
  • Some disruptive change, but we can find a status quo similar to the original: Some things will disrupt everything for a few days to a few weeks. Weather events do this. Since I live in Massachusetts, I can expect some unknown number of nor’easters to dump snow on us in the winter, and some possible hurricane effects in the summer and fall. In general, we can recover from these events relatively quickly. (Not all weather events allow us to return to a similar status quo, but many of them do.)
  • Total disruption that prevents our return to the original status quo. These events upend our world, either locally or globally. For example, the pandemic upended the world and changed how many of us think about remote work. The war in Ukraine is one example of changing everything we “knew” about how to wage war in the modern age.

Consider your past year. How many of which types of changes did you experience? How will you use that data to resolve or plan for next year?

Consider Data to Rethink so You Can Plan for Next Year

If you’re still trying to create and use resolutions, ask yourself this question: What prevented you from using your resolution before now?

Let’s take the example of weight loss. While I wanted to lose 20 (or more!) pounds, I had to totally change my way of eating so I could. I could not use a small incremental change or even a slight disruptive change. (I know, other people can. That didn’t work for me.) I had to totally disrupt my previous eating patterns.

Resolutions don’t help with total disruption. They are insufficient for the hard work required with total disruption. (I don’t think resolutions work even for partial disruption.)

When my clients try to plan for an entire year in advance, I’ve asked, “How’s that working for you?” the truthful people say, “Not all that well.”

While people can adapt to regular incremental changes, more of the business context is in the midst of varying amounts of disruptive change. The execs want the old status quo of yearly planning. But the business requires much more adaptability in planning and execution.

Instead of resolutions, consider actions and habits.

Plan for Actions and Habits

I offer one recommendation, which is what I do. Instead of planning for specific yearly deliverables, I plan for actions. For example, for 2023, I know I will finish the consulting book. I’m pretty sure which nonfiction book I will do next. But for the rest of my writing?

I use word count goals, because the more words I write, the more likely I am to finish something useful. For me, word count goals help:

  • Verify my actions. While word count alone is no indication of finishing a piece, word counts help me see if I’m doing what I committed to myself to do. (Word counts don’t work for every writer.)
  • Check on my habits. Am I writing as much as I want to, each day and week? (I use James Clear’s ideas of systems and habits. See Atomic Habits by James Clear. That’s an affiliate link.)
  • Offer me options about what to write next. (See Three Planning Ideas to Support Your Future Decisions for how I plan with options.)

With this small bit of data, I can see if I am maintaining my desired status quo or if I need to change something. That allows me to focus mostly on small incremental change. Every so often, I realize my habits are not sustainable, so I need some form of disruption.

Resolve to Rethink

If resolutions work for you, terrific. But if resolutions make you feel worse about yourself, consider this one resolution: Rethink how you think about change.

Instead of assuming you can disrupt everything, can you make a smaller incremental change that will have a big effect later? Or can you create habits and systems that support your desired changes?

That’s the question this week: Can you resolve to rethink about how you think about change

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