Happy New Year Greetings! The start of a new year is a new beginning. Year by year, people use this fresh start to resolve to change into a new, better self. Setting new year resolutions aims to get us out of our comfort zones by inviting us to replace a bad habit with a new routine or pursue a stretch goal. Unfortunately, most people don’t stick to their new year’s resolutions for a long time (and at times, I have been one of them). So for this year, I resolved to try something new. I reframed the challenge of sticking to one’s new year’s resolutions by focusing instead on flexibly establishing new routines that can better my life. Let me explain.
Routines: Regular actions that can set you up for success
“We are what we repeatedly do,” noted the Greek philosopher Aristotle. A routine is a fixed action program or a sequence of actions regularly followed. The concept is similar to that of a habit, which can be defined as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. As such, habit more commonly has a negative, reflexive connotation, while a routine is more conscious and focuses positively on producing a meaningful outcome.
How do routines relate to the topic of new year’s resolutions?
Ideally, you formulate a new year’s resolution as a SMART (= specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based) goal. For example, “I want to lose 5 kg of weight by the end of 1H.2023 by doing Intermittent Fasting and skipping alcohol.” Establishing routines linked to your goals can increase the likelihood of quasi-automatically taking those actions that help move you closer toward goal achievement.
Ultimately, sticking to one’s new year’s resolutions is nothing but breaking a bad habit and establishing a positive new routine. But why do 8-9 out of 10 people fail with their new year’s resolutions? Perhaps because they want too much too fast. Or pursue them vigorously and inflexibly. Or lack sufficient motivation to hang in. Or use the wrong frame.
Interestingly, outstanding creative leaders differ from their peers because they have cultivated certain mindsets and routines that help them be more creative and productive. Put differently, they produce extraordinary ideas and results because they think and act differently than ordinary people. I conceptualized the ten mindsets and routines of outstanding creative leaders in Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership development program.
Shift focus from new year’s resolutions to regular routines
At the beginning of the new year, someone passionate about self-development, like me, is eager to use the new year as a fresh start. But given my past mixed success with new year’s resolutions, I want to experiment more playfully with the concept this year. In the process, I prototype a new exercise with the working title “The One Routine” (that adapts some thoughts in Gary Keller’s excellent book The One Thing). What’s it all about?
In this new year, resolve to stop non-conducive routines that make your life dull and comfortable — or too complex and complicated. Instead, start to identify and then cultivate a range of life- and creativity-supporting new routines that make you stretch and get you out of your comfort zone.
Why might routine be a better frame than new year’s resolutions?
When it comes to new year’s resolutions, most people initially push too hard and overdo the desired changes. Sooner or later, they face setbacks, get frustrated, and eventually stop the new practice altogether and settle back into their comfort zone.
If you regularly exercise in a gym, you have surely noticed that in early January, the place suddenly gets overcrowded with lots of new faces beginning to exercise. Over the following weeks, most newbies vanish one by one. By Easter, you’re essentially back with the familiar crowd.
So perhaps, the secret of success in establishing a healthy new routine is striking the right balance so that you neither overstretch yourself nor stay too comfortable for too long. Here, it is interesting to note that, likewise, many creative leaders balance routines that are stretching on the one hand and mindful on the other hand. For example, while Thomas Edison was an extreme workaholic who favored 18-hour days, he took several catnaps during the day and withdrew to his personal library in the afternoon.
How can you find and set your new routines?
- Complete the following sentence for each STOP-Start Option and each timescale by listing ideas for concrete short-term actions and routines (as well as medium- to long-term goals) that get you out of your comfort zone:
What is the ONE THING / ROUTINE I can [STOP or START] doing [TIME FRAME] to step out of my comfort zone and make my [FOCUS] better?
- Gain clarity about why you want to establish a new routine. How might it change your life? List any motivating thoughts and insights that come to your mind to support each new practice identified before.
- Get into the positive habit of stretching yourself regularly:
- For the shorter time frames, practice one or —ideally— more conducive new routines from your list whenever you think of it or on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Here, notice that it takes 28 days to establish a positive new habit (= routine).
- For the longer time frames (quarter, year, decade), review and update your notes to this exercise every once in a while. Then, treat the listed actions most appealing to you as worthy goals.
- Last but not least, reflect on whether you progress in setting up the new routines, and if necessary, vary your approach. Treat the routine setting exercise as a prototype, and iterate until you’re happy with the results.
How to increase your odds of anchoring the routine?
Here are some tips and tricks to increase the likelihood that you stick to practicing your new actions and turn them into healthy routines (aka establish new habits):
- When you contemplate how to get yourself out of your comfort zone and gradually transform into a better you, list both routines that stretch you and invite you to live more mindfully. Many standout creative leaders practiced a mix of stretching and mindful routines to strike a harmonious balance in their workday and life. For example, while working as a patent clerk in Bern, Albert Einstein both practiced hiking regularly in the Swiss Alps with his best friend (stretch routine) and engaging in “thought experiments” while sitting alone in his office in the afternoon (mindful routine).
- Link your new routine to what you value or aspire to in life. In other words, have a compelling “why” to increase the odds that you stick to your practice.
- It’s easier to anchor a new routine when you link it to a specific time in the day or a particular action you regularly do. For example, I meditate 20 minutes first thing in the morning.
- Rome wasn’t built in a day but steadily over time. So, please don’t beat yourself up when you fail to do an action because you don’t think of it or cannot fit it into your day for a valid reason. And most importantly, don’t use it as an excuse to slide back into your comfort zone.
- Instead, praise yourself whenever you do practice the new routine by affirming: “I feel (value-related adjective) whenever I do (desired action).” For example, “I feel stronger and healthier whenever I do a series of push-ups.” Or “I feel more spiritual and centered whenever I find a few minutes to meditate.”
Please allow me to share some examples of the new routines (and the related personal value) that I am in the process of establishing this year to stretch and center myself:
- Every moment I think of it, I gratefully reflect on the good things I have been blessed with. (spirituality & mindfulness)
- When my Apple Watch alerts me that it’s time to stand (typically every hour), I link the short break to a workout exercises set, such as doing 20 push-ups, 30 squats, or 50 sit-ups. (health & long-term productivity)
- Every day, I meditate twice daily (15-20 minutes in the morning and 5-20 minutes in the evening). (spirituality, mindfulness & creativity)
- Whenever I do Yoga or strength training on a non-running day, I end my workout with a 4 km run (= 1 lap in the park), thus adding another 12-16 km to my weekly running distance. (health & long-term productivity)
- Every week, I do intermittent fasting (IF) for 36 hours on 1-2 days. Alternatively, I follow the 16:8-IF-rhythm for at least three days. (health & long-term productivity)
- Every month, I either read one book or complete an online training course. (learning & growth)
Conclusion: Routines can help you to gradually evolve into a better you
When it comes to new year’s resolutions, I have to admit that they tend to work for me only when I am strongly motivated to move towards pleasure or away from pain. Will my new focus on routines work better? Ask me a year from now. But one thing’s for sure; setting new year’s resolutions doesn’t work in most cases. So it’s sane and creative to try something new. After all, as Albert Einstein noted: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
- Genius Journey is Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method. Please look at this video and download this booklet to learn more about how the Genius Journey method works its transformational magic.
- We offer experiential Genius Journey training courses for companies. Alternatively, for a group of executives eager to reconnect to their inner genius, we can arrange for a more extensive Genius Journey development program.
- How can we help you achieve your firm’s creative transformation goals in 2023? Contact us to tell us more about your innovation agenda for 2023 and get a free consultation session.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2023. This article is earmarked to be copublished in an abridged version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.