Usually, this is my favourite time of year. The ritual of gathering a pristine notebook and a rainbow of felt-tipped pens, plus magazines, scissors and glue never grows old. Creating a vision board and writing down my most cherished hopes and dreams for the upcoming 12 months has always been inspiring but, after an action-packed year, I feel strangely underwhelmed by the idea. While I’ve been busy on lots of projects, I haven’t made as much progress as I had hoped. Why should 2020 be any different?
This jaundiced mindset is abruptly refreshed when I read a passage by poet David Whyte from his new book Consolations (Canongate, £14.99). ‘It is always hard to believe that the courageous step is so close to us, that it is closer than we ever could imagine, that in fact, we already know what it is, and that the step is simpler, more radical than we had thought: which is why we so often prefer the story to be more elaborate, our identities clouded by fear, the horizon safely in the distance, the essay longer than it needs to be and the answer safely in the realm of impossibility.’
Am I in danger of making the vision for my future too grandiose, overcomplicating things that could in fact be simple? I go on a quest to find out and, in so doing, discover five basic ingredients for making lasting change in the here and now.
1 CREATE STRUCTURE
Looking back over the past year, I realise that my biggest problem is that I set big, shiny goals for myself without fully understanding the way to achieve them. There is a trope among self-development gurus that urges us to focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ will happen, as if by magic. Clearly, that doesn’t always work. In search of advice about how to structure my goals, I turn to behavioural scientist BJ Fogg, director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab. His book, Tiny Habits (Ebury, £12.99), based on his boot camp of the same name, is the very programme attended by software engineer Mike Krieger, who went on to co-found Instagram.
‘The first step is to get clear on your desired outcome,’ says Fogg. That’s easy, I tell him, I want to create a website. ‘OK, so what you need to do is “magic wand” all the behaviour associated with that. Start by writing a list of the actions you could take that might lead to it. Then, “focus map” – prioritise which action needs to come first, then next and so on, including who you might need to hire to help you. Basically, take the big, intimidating outcome and break it down into behaviour.’
Cut the giant down to size The next stage is where I usually stumble, I realise. Fogg advises me that I should consider how I view action towards my goal: do I see it as a daily habit that I need to establish or as intense focus that I have to carve out for my endeavour. ‘If it’s a big project, the tendency will be to avoid it,’ he says. I laugh in recognition. ‘Instead, schedule four minutes every day to work on your project. Set a timer and stick to it. Often, you’ll work on it for much longer but the trick is that even in four minutes, you build momentum and the path ahead becomes clearer.’ The idea is that during these brainstorming micro sessions, tasks will emerge that you can add to your focus map. It’s a brilliant trick that I’m going to use for all the projects I’ve abandoned because they are too overwhelming.
2 HABITS AND ROUTINES
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