Another new year is upon us and many of my friends and colleagues are starting to formulate their new year’s resolutions. If you are anything like me, you probably believe that your odds of beating them and actually sticking to your resolutions are higher than most other people’s. If so, chances are you are affected by something called illusory superiority.
Fact is, we are no better than everyone else. I once ran the numbers a couple of years ago and my success rate ranged from 0-5% during most years up to a max of 10-15% in my best years. Like everyone else, I sucked at it. That’s why I stopped making any several years ago. Why make any if you can’t complete them anyway?
And if you’re an agilist, like I claim to be, there should be even fewer reasons to make any. We should know better and to be honest, I think it’s time to eat our own dog food.
Enter Personal Kaizen. Kaizen comes from Japan. Its two characters literally translate to “change” and “better”, but as a whole translates to continuous [evolutionary] improvement. Originally from Toyota, this management philosphy was widely credited to help them become the world’s number one car producer.
Using a kaizen mindset, I was able to consistently achieve almost all (80%+) of my improvement resolutions for the new year. I welcome you to give it a try and see if you can increase your success rate with these simple pointers:
Annual just doesn’t cut it. Not any more. Don’t set your goals so far down the line. It’s too long and leads to oversimplifications (in June, you should at least be half-way through, right?). The shorter the time period you set for your goals, the sooner you can evaluate your actual progress. Short feedback loops. I have weekly and monthly goals for myself. Be sure not to confuse this with more milestones along the way of your annual goal. So, instead of losing 15kg this year, how about losing just two kilos in the next 30 days?
Absolute goals decrease performance. There’s enough scientific proof of that (see this paper from UC San Diego for example). If that isn’t enough to convince you, then I don’t believe anything else I can say will. Don’t aim to go to the gym 4 times a week next year, instead go there once more than currently for the next four weeks.
Choose Goals Under Your Control
Getting a promotion is not a good goal. Why? Well, you’re not the person making the decision, meaning this goal isn’t actually under your control. You can only influence it. Choose goals that are directly under your control. For example, you can directly control how many books you are going to read.
Kaizen Instead Of Kaikaku
In other words: Evolutionary (slow) change instead of revolutionary (radical). Follow the first two pointers and you’re probably already doing this. Don’t reinvent yourself in one big swipe, that is unlikely going to work. Instead reinvent yourself step-by-step, while keeping a destination in mind.
No gap analysis
This might be the hardest advice for some to embrace. When you envision your future self, don’t treat it as a plan – treat it as a direction to aim for. The traditional approach is taking inventory of where you are now, plan out your future and try to close the gap. Today’s world is too complex for this to work. Instead, take a few minutes every couple of weeks to re-evaluate where you are and where your direction leads you. For those of you who want a more defined framework to do this, you may want to check out the Toyota Improvement Kata.