No matter what your goals are for the New Year, consistency will ensure that the new skills, practices, and actions that you are developing will stick and sustain themselves relatively easily. 

Translation: No willpower effort required. 

The importance of time 

Yes, we all want 10/10 scores for our health, relationships, finances, and personal development goals. But, can we reliably and consistently sustain the effort required to meet those goals every day? When it comes to making changes, we are much more likely to succeed when we focus on small daily actions that are manageable and realistic. 

And most of us need time (yep, time) to develop the skills and practices required to achieve our goals. Short cuts remove the element of time, which is the most essential part of this equation. 

Ok, maths is not my thing but, if I had to create an equation for this, I think it would look something like this:

Goals = [skills (practices + actions to build said skills) / TIME ] 

That might not make mathematical sense (sorry, math peeps). But you get my point. Time is crucial for two main reasons. One, skills take time to develop. And two, the longer we are engaged in consistent practice, the more competent and confident we become. The struggle to sustain our new habits or “stay on track” gets easier with time too! 

“Doing it all at once” is at odds with sustainability

I don’t know about you, but whenever I make an exhaustive list of all the things I want to achieve in the next … (insert unattainable timeline here), I immediately feel overwhelmed and defeated. Where to begin, which goal, and how to start? 

We’re much more likely to succeed if every small action (no matter how small or apparently insignificant) can be done reliably every single day, no matter what. The likelihood of success decreases with each additional action, so don’t try to do it all at once! 

From goal to action

Quick recap. So we need time to develop skills that support our goals. Check. For a greater chance of success, focus on one thing – task, action, change – at a time. Double check. But how do we identify that one action that will bring us closer to our goals?

Great question. 

Strategic actions are simple, small and most importantly, highly individualized, which is why this next part is crucial when it comes to turning goals into action.

Identifying your own personal limiting factors (hello, not enough time), and your unique superpowers (hello, organizational skills). 

Limiting factors work against you. Superpowers are the advantages you have that can be leveraged against your limiting factors, helping you work through your obstacles and blocks. In some cases, these superpowers can be things that are already working in your favor (ie. you are already hitting the gym 2-3x per week). 

Here’s a process to help you work through this:

  1. Identify your limiting factors. When thinking about your top goal, what is blocking you? What obstacles do you anticipate getting in the way?
  2. What are your superpowers? What are you naturally good at? Maybe it’s planning or organizing, or a positive mindset. These superpowers are advantages unique to you, and might help you work through your limiting factors. This also includes the things you are currently doing that are working for you. So make sure you highlight those bright spots in your life! And give yourself a pat on the back for them too. Seriously, do it now. You deserve it. 
  3. Build your skill and action plan (next step)

Goals are meant to build skills

When we look at it through this lens, we can shift the focus from outcome-based goals like “I want to lose weight” to skill-development goals like “I want to regulate eating patterns to manage hunger and cravings”. 

So pick a goal, any goal, and brainstorm what skills you may need to achieve that goal. Remember, skills take time to develop (we’re talking about sustainable goals here, not quick fixes). 

If you’re struggling to brainstorm ideas here, think about what you need in order to move in the direction of your goal (an ability, competency, or capacity). Do not confuse this with information or knowledge. A skill has you doing something. It’s action! For example, reading about intermittent fasting as a way to manage caloric intake is not an action, but reducing your eating window to 8 hours is an action. 

Break them down into practices, and small daily actions

After you have your list, think up some practices that may help you build those skills. Then, imagine a very small activity or task that you could reliably do every single day, no matter what, in order to help reinforce the practice. That’s your daily action plan. 

For example, let’s say you have identified “hunger and appetite regulation” as a skill that you need to develop. You’re confident that this will help you with your weight loss goals. You’re good at planning, and you’re very organized (superpowers), but you don’t eat breakfast and you graze all day instead of eating meals (limiting factors). To tackle this, you’re putting your skills to use. You’ve planned an eating window that starts with breakfast, and ends several hours before bedtime, which reduces the “graze time”. Your action plan: eating in a 10 hour window, starting with breakfast and ending 10 hours later. This is much more sustainable than a shorter eating window since you’re new to intermittent fasting, and you’re currently grazing for 13 hours a day.

Because it’s life, and there will be setbacks, use the steps above to become cognizant of your obstacles (aka limiting factors) and brainstorm a plan to tackle those obstacles. If we plan for them, by anticipating them and strategically applying our unique superpowers to them, we can best position ourselves for success.

Here’s a continuation of the above process to help you work through this:

  1. Identify any skills, practices and possible next actions that you need to achieve your goal. If you can, utilize your strengths, advantages and superpowers to decrease, manage, or prevent your limiting factors.
  2. Perfection is not required here. This is just a structure – a starting point – to build your plan. 

Accountability and support

When you’re feeling confident and ready to get started with the plan, consider what you’ll do for support and accountability. Who will you check in with, how often, and what can they help with? That’s where a health coach may come in handy (sorry, but I had to plug our amazing health coaches here).

Assess, investigate and modify 

Don’t be afraid to modify the plan if it’s not working. Check in with yourself every week or two and consider if you’re progressing towards your goal. If you are, keep up the great work. If not, modify and adjust, then carry on. Gather data about how well your plan is working, and tailor it accordingly. Gathering data about progress can be as simple as choosing and tracking a single subjective and objective metric that is important to YOU, such as your hunger levels throughout the day, and your weight on a weekly basis (subjective and objective metrics, respectively). 

Time + skill development = sustainable goals 

Ok, last equation, I swear. 

In addition to sustainability, the other main advantage of this approach is that these skills can be transferred to other goals. Now you’re seriously ready to tackle 2021! There’s nothing quite like the awesome feeling of accomplishment that comes from learning how to do something new! 

Just remember to celebrate every small victory, no matter how apparently insignificant. The more you reinforce daily wins and accomplishments, the more motivated you’ll feel. 

Try it, and let us know how you’re doing! 

Photo by Marisol Benitez on Unsplash