• Derek Handley is a futurist and entrepreneur passionate about shaping a better New Zealand. This is the first in a five-week series of columns exploring how you can live your best life in 2018.
As the new year dawns, many of us will want to set goals, whether it's to lose weight, land a promotion, stop smoking, find love, create better habits or anything in between. But fixing all our hopes to January 1 doesn't set us up to succeed.
In fact, most people have quit or failed with their New Year's resolutions by February 1.
There's a reason our resolutions are difficult to keep: creating a habit, or losing an old one is harder than waiting for the clock to tick past midnight. Some studies suggest building a single habit takes an average of 66 days.
Perhaps the most important factor behind what it takes to create a lasting change is having a clear vision for what you want in life, and understanding the motivation behind it. We all know how easy it is to create a wish list of what would be nice to have and quietly ignore it when it falls apart.
To keep committed to your goals, you need strong reasons to pull you through the inevitable challenges. Knowing the "why" behind the change you want to make gets to the heart of what you're trying to achieve. It's important because sheer willpower runs out quickly and we need to be deeply moved by purpose to make genuine changes in our life.
If motivation comes first, possibly the best New Year's resolution is committing to put time aside through the year to check in on your drivers, your goals and the progress you're trying to make in life. We grow and expand over time, not overnight, so to take control it helps to build momentum, check in with ourselves to make sure we're in alignment with who we want to be and set fresh resolutions as we mark off each milestone.
How? Despite being comfortable protecting time for meetings, get-togethers, family and hobbies, the one thing many of us fail to do is block out time to be with ourselves. Sitting down solo to remind ourselves of the goals we've committed to, to reflect on what's working and what's not is a really powerful exercise. If you're struggling at something your desire to make that change might not be deep enough and it's worthwhile reflecting on why.
So pull out the calendar and decide when you can block out just an hour a week, maybe at the same time to keep it easy. If you're really committed, block out half a day once a month for some clear space just to think about the vision for yourself and how you're travelling. Soon enough, those check-ins will become an indispensible part of the rhythm of your life.
Around 10 years ago, I realised I was caught up in a recurring grind. I had built no space in my days to float up and look at it all laid out for me to see and critique. So I began a process of taking an hour every Friday morning before heading into work. I'd sit without distraction with pen in hand to have an honest conversation with myself. I'd question what I was trying to achieve and why, probing my goals, what values I held and the life I was designing. Although it's not always easy I've managed to keep this up over the years, building in longer stretches each month, and a few solid days once a year.
Despite the flaws of New Year's resolutions, summer is the perfect time to reflect on ourselves and begin a goal-setting (and goal-keeping) process. The turn of the year and downtime means a chance to take stock of where we are and where we want to be in one, two or five years.
It's important to break down big goals into more easily digestible pieces as most things worth pursuing are more like a marathon than a sprint. No one goes from the couch to 42 kilometres overnight. Setting smaller goals and milestones not only keeps us on track to those larger, longer-term goals, but gives us positive reinforcement along the way.
Changing a habit or behaviour can be the ultimate challenge. If you're resolving to get up earlier, go to the gym seven days a week,and drink two litres of water a day, all in one go, you're statistically almost certain to fail before you've begun. It's best to choose just one to begin with – the one that will make the most difference to your life - and start small.
A goal of going to the gym seven days a week might start with three, then expanding it. Breaking your goal down makes it easier to get wins on the board, feel momentum and will stop you feeling discouraged if you fall short.
I'm constantly reminded how hard it is to form a new habit after setting myself the goal of learning 1000 words in te reo Māori in a year. After kicking off in September, I tried to do it Superman-style, pledging to practice an hour a day, then feeling quickly overwhelmed when I didn't manage it.
I broke it down and now commit to just half an hour of practice a week, and use the app Quizlet when I'm on a bus or waiting for somebody. I've created a public class which helps keep me accountable and I regularly upload new words for its 100 or so members and I'm tracking towards my goal.
Sharing your aspirations with a support crew of friends and family also means you'll be held more accountable. You'll be delivering for everyone, not just yourself. Daily check-ins are also ideal for maintaining new habits. I mostly use a pen and notebooks, but smartphone apps like Streaks can really help you keep track of tasks visually, and check off achievements each day.
There are plenty of milestones throughout the year to reflect and set new goals in a rolling fashion – especially if you've set aside time weekly time to do just that. The te reo challenge is a good example, which I set during Māori Language Week.
Remember, you can't change things overnight, and you can't change your life in a major (or even a minor) way, unless you're continually committing to it and understand why.
Next week, I'll get into why the summer break is a great time to think about purpose, meaning and what we believe in.
Start small and share
• Understanding why you want what you want in your life is critical to achieving it
• Book out time on a weekly rhythm to check in on yourself and your goals for sustained progress
• Choose just one habit to start – the one that will make the most difference to your life
• Break big goals down into smaller rolling chunks you tick off throughout the year
• Create accountability by sharing your goals with friends, family, or online