Senior adult man wearing Christmas jumper raising his arm in the air

The presents have been unwrapped. The jingle bells are no longer jangling. You’ve watched all your favorite Christmas movies. You’ve eaten all the pie. [1]

Now we’re in that weird gap between Christmas and the New Year. This is the time many people start thinking about resolutions. How this year is going to be better than next. How they’re going to go to the gym six days a week. Meditate. Journal. Get organized. Be nicer to their significant other. Be nicer to themselves.

Since 92% of New Year’s resolutions don’t last [2], I thought I’d share a few tools and tips to make achieving your goals a bit easier this year.

These are all tools I’ve used with myself and coaching clients so we can continue to build the life we want to live.

The tools are:

1. The Wheel of Life
2. Self-Authoring
3. Finding the Next Action
4. Habits
5. Accountability Coaching

1. Find Focus with The Wheel of Life

One reason why New Year’s resolutions fail so quickly is that people don’t take the time to find out what change would make the biggest impact on the overall quality of their life.

Someone asks them 2 hours to midnight, “What’s the resolution is going to be this year?”

With little time to weigh all the options, a knee-jerk, “Lose a few pounds.” or “Get organized.” or “Spend less and save more.” comes flying out of the doomed resolver’s possibly inebriated mouth.

So how do you avoid this fate?

It’s not easy to pick just one thing. My ‘someday’ list is a mile long. I’d like to:

  • start a small business productivity YouTube channel
  • learn a martial art
  • become a certified Scrum master
  • design and build a Tiny House
  • meditate daily
  • learn Spanish
  • buy income property
  • write a book
  • hire an assistant
  • build an accountability app on iOS and Android

My New Year’s resolution answer could be any of these things depending on when you asked me.

With so much to see, do and accomplish, picking from a virtually infinite list of possibilities is not easy. You could spend hours writing lists of possible resolutions, weighing the pros and cons, mentally debating… or you could press the easy button.

When it comes to finding a focus on what area of life you’d like to grow, the Wheel of Life is the easy button.

The Wheel of Life spits everything you do into eight different sections:

  • Personal Finances
  • Business
  • Physical Environment
  • Fun and Recreation
  • Personal Growth
  • Health
  • Family & Friends
  • Romance
  • Philanthropy

Do these sections cover every little corner of your life?

No.

But it does a pretty good job.

Feel free to trade, add or subtract a section to suit your needs. Maybe ”˜kids’ or ”˜tacos’ need their own category.Cute mexican food

The Wheel of Life works for two reasons.

First, the sections allow you to chunk the infinite possibilities into a finite number of categories. Once you decide what category needs your attention, you’ve eliminated almost 90% of your potential goals or resolutions. Picking between 2 or 3 options in a category is easier than selecting from 20 or 30 choices.

Second, the Wheel of Life creates a big picture representation of your life.

This picture allows you to consider how you feel about your level of health in relation to your family life in relation to your physical environment in relation to your personal growth…

Considering all the different areas at one time is hard to do in your head, but it’s easy to figure out when you put pen to paper.

Both chunking categories and creating a visual snapshot of your life are designed to simplify the resolution choosing process. They help figure out what consistent action or met goal will make the biggest impact on the quality of your life.

The key here is focus. Because you can change anything, but you can’t change everything.

Here’s how to use The Wheel of Life

wheel-of-life

  1. Print out the above wheel of life image: wheel_of_life.png
  2. Grab a pen.
  3. Rate each of the areas by marking one of the ten rings in the section based on how well you feel like you are doing in that area of life.
    1. 1 means not satisfied. Terrible. Couldn’t be worse. You weigh 500 pounds. You have a hoarder house. You’ve got $50,000 in credit card debt.
    2. 10 is highly satisfied. You just ran the Boston marathon. You’re financially free. [3] You married the woman of your dreams.
  4. Once you’ve made your marks, take your pen and connect all the lines:
    1. zack-wol
    2. You can also shade in the sections:nikida-wol
  5. Pick the 1 or 2 areas you ranked the lowest.
  6. Take a walk and brainstorm ways you can make improvements on it. [4]
  7. Find one improvement you can commit to making.

Doing this exercise will give you a focused new years resolution. This resolution is significantly more likely to make a bigger impact on your life because you made the choice after looking at the big picture.

But 92% of resolutions don’t work, right?

The next 4 suggestions are there to help you take more consistent action on your goal.

“Action may not bring happiness but there is no happiness without action.” – William James

2. Find the WHY Behind Your Goals with Self-Authoring

Goals have an impact beyond the obvious. Specific goals are connected to more important life goals. These higher goals reflect your most important ideas.

The specific goal of losing 20 pounds, for example, may be an element of a more important life goal of being healthy or attractive to your (potential) romantic partner. For the goal you selected from the Wheel of Life exercise, consider the following questions:

  • Do you truly believe that pursuing this goal is important?
  • Would you feel ashamed, guilty or anxious if you didn’t?
  • Do you want to achieve this goal personally, or are you doing it to please someone else?
  • Is the pursuit of this goal enjoyable, stimulating or satisfying?
  • Is this goal part of a deeply felt personal dream?
  • How would success in this area change the way you see yourself?
  • How would other parts of you personal life change as a consequence of achieving your goal?
  • How would this affect the way that others perceive you?
  • What broader beneficial social impact might your success have?
  • What are some potential obstacles to achieving your goal?
  • What are ways you can overcome the environmental, social or personal obstacles to achieving your goal?

Use these questions as prompts for a 5-minute free writing exercise about your goal.

Understanding the personal connection and implications of achieving your goal will help you take the actions that align with where you ultimately want to take your life. Writing works because it will help you recall the reasons why working towards your goals in more important than the other, easier alternatives.

3. Turn Your Goals Into Next Actions

Thinking about achieving goals is easier than going out and getting them done. A long-term goal might seem big, distant or overwhelming. Every step might not be clear to you at the moment.

Breaking your goal down into next actions is the best way to start moving in the right direction.

One way to figure out your next actions is to imagine time has stopped. There is nothing else to do but work towards the specific outcome. In that case, what would you do first?

What should happen next? And then what?

Write down the concrete actions. You don’t need to have a complete list here. 3 or 4 steps will suffice. As you take the first step or two the next ones will become more obvious.

Another key point here is to make your first step easy. Something you can do in 5 minutes or less. And then take that first action now. There’s a psychological win to this.

After taking that first action, feel free to continue on with the next action or put the list of next actions in a place that you will see them. Setting a reminder in Siri or your calendar is also a good way to keep the ball rolling.

4. Take Consistent Action with Habits

Charles Duhigg’s best-selling book The Power of Habit distills the latest research on habit formation. Duhigg found that for individuals, businesses and governments all fall into unthinking behavior based on the habits that they’ve created.

For people, an average of 40% of your daily activity is done automatically. The most jarring example of this is automatic behavior is your commute home from work. All of a sudden you are pulling into your garage with no memory of the trip.

Automatic behavior can be seen in all parts of your life

  • how you start your day
  • how you end your day
  • what you eat
  • what you drink
  • what you buy

are all examples of activities that are done with no real thought.

It can be a little scary to think about. I don’t love the idea that 40% of my day is in a zombie-like trance.

So what’s the benefit? Why does everyone run on autopilot for such a big part of the day?

What do habits give you?

The simple answer: energy.

Your brain makes up 5% of your body mass but consumes 20% of the glucose and oxygen your body takes in. If you had to think about every decision you made each day, the brain would need even more energy. You would be exhausted.

It’s easy to imagine why thinking about every single thing would wear us down. Consider waking up.

You open your eyes. What next? You could:

  • reach for your phone and play Candy Crush
  • grab a journal and write
  • go to the bathroom and take a shower
  • brew some coffee or tea
  • get on the floor and practice your handstand

There are 1,000s of options to choose from. Yet, you probably start your day in a similar way. That automatic routine that comes after the trigger of waking up gives you a particular reward.

  • mental stimulation from the game
  • calm or clarity from writing
  • relief from the bathroom and relaxation from the shower
  • physical stimulation from the caffeine
  • a feeling of progress from getting better at a skill

The brain uses habits as an energy saving hack. It notices a particular situation and thinks, “I’ve seen this before.” It then allows you to go on autopilot while you perform the tasks and only wakes back up to notice if the routine got the desired result.

Habits come with a catch.

Habits, like White Russians, have 3 ingredients.

First, the action has to be something you’ve done enough times for the behavior to be automatic. Take the driving example, unconsciously commuting home wouldn’t happen to a 16-year-old who is still learning how to drive. She still has to gain the muscle memory of navigating the lights, lanes, turn signals, foot pedals, and the hundred little things it takes to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Second, habits need a trigger. Your brain needs some sort of cue or marker to set off the routine. For example, you likely brush your teeth when they feel filmy or just before bed. Or you put on your seatbelt when your butt hits the driver’s seat. The routine of teeth brushing or belt buckling follows the environmental or physical cue.

Third, habits need a reward to reinforce the behavior. The reward can be simple. Your mouth feels fresh after a good brush with minty toothpaste. You arrive home after the unthinking commute. You feel safe after putting on the seatbelt. You get endorphins after a good workout.

The three parts of the habit work as a cycle. The trigger sets off the routine which is reinforced by the reward.

habit-loop

Knowing about the three parts of a habit gives you enormous power. You can now put parts of your New Years resolution on autopilot.

All you need to do is find a trigger, outline your routine and add a reward to reinforce the actions that will get you closer to your goal. After that, it’s about reps. Doing the routine as many times as needed for the behavior to become automatic.

For example, let’s say the Wheel of Life indicated that your health was an area you wanted to improve. After brainstorming you decide that losing 10 pounds in the next 3 months would bring you from a 4 to a 6 in that area.

An ambitious goal. But achievable for most people who have the excess weight to lose.

You then wrote about why losing the weight was important to you, how it could benefit your life and some potential obstacles you’d have to overcome to achieve your goal. The writing helped you get clear on your thinking so the true benefits and cost come to mind when laziness or temptation creep in. You also wrote out the next actions and took the first one:

  • download the My Fitness Pal app to track your daily calories

3,500 calories are equal to a pound of fat. So you will have to take in 35,000 fewer calories than you spend in energy over the next 90 days. That’s about 388 calories a day. You round up to 400 calories to be safe.

Your next action is to figure out how many calories you consume as a baseline considering your height, weight, age, sex and daily activity. An online calculator estimates 2,600. [6]

Now it’s your job to make sure you either burn 400 more calories or eat 400 fewer calories than your baseline. Between diet and exercise, you’ve heard that the food you eat can play a bigger role in weight loss than exercise so you decide to start there.

Here’s where habit formation can come into play. You create a habit around counting your calories.

Trigger

  • you eat or drink

Routine

  • open up My Fitness Pal app
  • record what was consumed

Reward

  • seeing and feeling the progress toward your goal

Tracking is difficult at first. But after a week or two, it becomes second nature.

You add a nightly reminder as an extra trigger to track any meals or snacks you might have forgotten to record during the day. After not missing a day for 17 days, it’s now a game. Your reward is winning the game of don’t break the chain of successfully logging your food in My Fitness Pal. You decide if you can get a 30-day streak you’ll reward yourself with a FitBit that will give you better data in the calories burned side of the weight loss equation.

The tracking helps you recognize that having a high protein breakfast helps you feel satiated during the day. You also realize that you can eat plate full of veggies that add up to very few calories. And processed foods tend to have a lot of calories and leave you hungry only a few hours.

After the 90 days of tracking, you may have reached your goal or you may have fallen short. But that doesn’t matter as much as you’d imagine. You know are making different choices about your food on a consistent basis.

Your morning routine is to have two eggs, steamed broccoli, and spinach with your coffee. You pack carrots and almonds with you for a snack instead of going to the vending machine. You choose a chicken salad for lunch instead of the burger. Your reward is the energy these food bring you.

These changes are something that can last for years to come. Compounded, they add up to a healthier life. You go back to your Wheel of Life and can raise that 4 to a 6 and start looking for a new challenge now that your eating habits for your life are on autopilot.

Or you don’t. You go strong for a couple of weeks and then peter out by February. Nothing changes.

You know improving your health would make the biggest impact on your life. You know why it’s important. You know the results you want and the next actions that will get you there.

You even know how to automate some of the behavior with habits.

But you still don’t change. WTF!?!

Let’s talk about why so many people have trouble doing things that are in their best interest.

5. Add Accountability with a Coach

The Power of Habit is my favorite book on habit formation. Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, wrote my second favorite book on the subject.

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life has one insight that is worth the price of admission.

It’s about personality types. Gretchen puts people into four camps based on how they view commitments:

1. Upholders– inner and outer commitments are important
2. Questioners– only inner commitments are important
3. Obligers– only outer commitments are important
4. Rebels– resist all habits

The vast majority of people are Questioners or Obligers.

Questioners

I’m predominately a questioner. The Self-Authoring technique works extremely well for me because understanding why something is in my best interests bolsters my inner commitment. I’ve been eating a diet of low grain, sugar, and processed foods for the past 3 years. Every two to three months I’ll be like, “Wait a minute. Why don’t I eat pizza every week? It’s delicious and affordable.”

When that line of rebellious questions starts to appear, I know it’s time to read a new book or listen to a podcast to remind me why I made the inner commitment in the first place. Information is my habit inoculation.

But not everyone is wired this way.

Obligers

Obligers tend to find outer commitments more important. Obligers are people-pleasers. The way to get an obliger to follow through on an inner commitment like a diet is to frame it with an outer commitment. Obligers need to be accountable to someone else.

Gretchen estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the population fall into this group. This simple insight helped me realize why coaching is so effective. When you have a coach, not only do you have someone to give you insights and encouragement, you have someone to hang your outer commitment on.

For example, over the past year, my fiancée Nikida has lost over 50 pounds. Like many people who struggle with their body, there were many factors that went into the gain and loss of weight.

As someone who has spent 95% of my days with her for the past 4 years, I still have no clue how the weight found the way on her in the first place. She has always avoided processed food in favor of items our ancestors would have recognized. You know. Fruit, vegetables and meat.

Unlike yours truly, she doesn’t have a sweet tooth. And when the popular science started to point towards grains being a problem, she eliminated them from her diet.

Not only does she eat well, she is active. As a 5th-grade math teacher, she doesn’t even have to try to get her 10,000 steps in. When she was tracking, 20,000 was the norm. At 2,000 steps per mile, that’s the equal to 10 miles a day.

Regular exercise has also been a part of her life. In fact, our first date was a trip to Moab to mountain bike for 5 days.

Obligers Need Accountability

What changed this year? Just one thing. She added external accountability.

For the first part of the year, we both trained for a triathlon. The triathlon became a major topic of conversation in our friend group. People would ask how training was going, what we did to work out that day, if we felt ready.

This support meant she was not only running the race for herself, she was doing it for everyone who wished her well in the challenge.

The triathlon was in May. After the triathlon was over Nikida and I started to experience what Gretchen Rubin called the finish-line effect. The big event was a stopping point. The swimming, running, and biking weren’t habits. They were parts of a project we’d completed. Once it was over we needed to find a new project or find another way to maintain the behavior.

A month later a friend introduced us a company called MyBodyTutor. The idea was simple. You connect with a coach to go over your goals. Once the goals have been established you check in every day by entering your food, exercise and goals to an online forum. The coach gives you feedback, ideas and suggestion to help you keep moving you toward your goals. The feedback is written online and comes with the 10-minute weekly check. If she misses a day, her coach emails her to ask her if everything is alright.

The accountability coaching was the key. External accountability works well for everyone, but for obligers it’s key.

If your goal right now is to improve your health, I highly recommend My Body Tutor. Tell them Nikida Koraly sent you to get your first month free. [7]

These are the results you could be getting.

nikida-before-and-after

Yep. I put a ring on that ;-)

If you’re a small business owner who would like to improve their business productivity, I’d like to be your coach this year. I love showing entrepreneurs the simple systems and easy to use tools that help them save time and make more money. And once I show you the tools and systems, I’ll be there every day to create the external accountability you need to keep you making consistent progress towards your goals.

I’ll be taking on 3 clients in January. We will be focusing on creating systems that will buy you back 5 to 10 hours a week. Like My Body Tutor, we will have an initial session to get clear on your goals and make sure you are a good fit for the program. Then, we’ll then have daily written accountability through Trello and weekly check-in calls.

Please respond to this email if that is something you are interested in.

These are the results you could be getting.

watch video here

amy-coaching-testimonial

Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR)

Productivity is not about doing more. It’s about doing more of the right things.

The Wheel of Life, Self-Authoring, Finding the Next Action, Habits and Accountability Coaching are all ways of making this happen in 2017.

Hope this helps. Let me know how it goes!

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Footnotes

[1] It’s a Muppet’s Christmas Carol and French Silk pie for my family.
[2] Source: https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution…
[3] You could maintain your current lifestyle without needing to work another day to earn money.
[4] You can brainstorm improvements in many areas if you’d like. Then you can save the list for future projects.
[6] Calories burned calculator: https://nutritiondata.self.com/tools/calories-burn…

[7] Saying Nikida Koraly sent you will also give Nikida a free month. This means $250 of free coaching each!