Next year, I’ll have that beach body. Next year, I’ll lose 10kg. Next year, I’ll learn Spanish. Next year, I will …
STOP! You’re making my ears bleed. You and I and everyone in this world knows that shit isn’t going to happen. Everything will be different in January, and maybe in February, but by March, we’re back to normal. Just as it used to be. And we’ll continue to be that way, until at the beginning of the following year, things will magically change again.
Yeah. Not very satisfying, is it?
Well, good that you’re here. Because I have a very strong opinion on achieving goals, and it starts with setting very different goals from what you’re used to.
Bill Gates once said: “most people overestimate what they can do in a year, and underestimate what they can do in ten.”
I think that’s true, and I also think that it’s true on a shorter horizon. So fuck it, let’s rewrite the quote. Am I Bill Gates? No, nor do I share his wisdom. But you can be whoever you want to be on the internet, and therefore I take the authority to simply create my version of it:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a year.”
We all know how many days unfold: you want to do a load of things, like meet 2 friends, cook dinner, kick ass at work and get a good yoga session in. But at the end of the day, it didn’t go that way. You snoozed your alarm 3 times, chatted for way too long at the coffee maker to you stay at work late in order to do everything you wanted to do initially, and — oops — the day is over.
Us humans are very bad at estimating how long things take — and that’s okay. It’s human, after all. So if we’re not even able to estimate what we can do in a year, how are we supposed to estimate what we can do in a year?
Bingo. We can’t. And most people aim too low, me included. So let’s start aiming higher.
In Agile project management, one key factor is breaking down tasks into small parts in order to avoid inertia. Coincidentally, recipes do the same (and they were around before Agile, I’m sure).
“Make a cheesecake.” vs:
- “reheat oven to 325° and grease an 8" or 9" springform pan with cooking spray. Make crust: In a large bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar, and salt until totally combined. (Mixture should resemble wet sand.) Press into bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Set aside.
- In a large bowl using a hand mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer), beat cream cheese and sugar until no lumps remain. Add eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla and sour cream. Add flour and salt and beat until just combined. Pour mixture over crust.
- Wrap bottom of pan in aluminum foil and place in a large roasting pan. Pour in enough boiling water to come up halfway in the baking pan.
- Bake until center of cheesecake only slightly jiggles, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Turn off heat, prop open oven door, and let cheesecake cool in oven, 1 hour.
- Remove foil and refrigerate cheesecake until completely chilled, at least 5 hours and up to overnight.”
courtesy of delish.com
In this recipe, the task of “making a cheesecake” is broken down into 5 steps. By breaking down the tasks, the achievement of the overall goal (stuffing your and your girlfriend’s face with cheesecake) has become a lot easier. You’ll get started as soon as you have all the ingredients, instead of figuring out first how to get there. You remove any obstacles before you even get started.
What’s true for cheesecake is true for life. If you’re trying to achieve grand things, you need to break them down into small tasks. Small actions compound over time.
If you whittle away at something one task at a time, you will be able to achieve it.
See this rock?
Yeah, that’s a big fucking rock. Now if I told you to move it, how would you do it? Try and move it all at once?
Good fucking luck. That’s never gonna happen. But if you break it down into small parts, it might look like this:
The rock is almost gone. Do you see the pebbles at the side? That’s what the rock used to be. Now you just have to move these pebbles.
Hard work? Oh, absolutely. But impossible? Not at all. It’ll just take some time.
Your new year’s resolution is that rock. But if you approach it by trying to achieve it all at once, it’s not going to work. You need to chip away, one day at a time.
So go ahead and set your new year’s resolution. Now that you know what the end goal is, ask yourself: what steps can you take every day or week in order to get one step closer to that resolution?
Those steps do not have to be big. In fact, they can be tiny — because even a tiny step gets you a tiny step closer. Big steps are more difficult to put into practice, as they’ll wear you out soon. Tiny steps are sustainable — and that’s what we want: sustainable progress.
Your new new year’s resolution will look very different.
It won’t be “get that beach body”, it will be “hit the gym twice a week and do one form of exercise every day”. Could be calisthenics, yoga, stretching or simply biking to work.
It won’t be “lose 10kg”, it will be “only eat 2 pieces of candy and at least 1lb of vegetables every day”.
It won’t be “learn Spanish”, it will be “learn 5 new words every day on Memrise”.
Instead of having this abstract goal ahead of you, you have something very concrete: an action that you can do every day. And before you know it, you’ll be so much closer to your goals than you ever were before.
So fuck it — why wait until the new year? You now know what you need to do. You’ve still got a week in 2018. Make it worth your time. Get started!
I’ve also made a list of these goals for myself. If you’d like to know what I have on my agenda in 2019, shoot me a quick message (here on Medium or to hello[at]dominiknitsch[dot]com). And please — also send me your lists. I want to see what you’re up to — and it helps to execute these things when other people know about them. :)