Step 1: Believe the Possibility
There’s an old saying: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” That’s especially true when we’re thinking of our personal histories. Why? The circumstances of our lives change week by week, year by year. But we’re still us. And our habits of thinking tend to produce consistent results no matter what’s going on in our work, our relationships, or the world around us.
If our habits of thinking are beneficial, we tend to experience positive results, such as happiness, personal satisfaction, even material success. If our habits of thinking are counterproductive, however, we often experience the opposite: unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and the nagging feeling that the deck is somehow stacked against us.
The good news is that you can change the rhyme scheme. Even if your habits of thinking are already serving you well, you can experience transformative personal improvement in all areas of your life by upgrading your beliefs. When we focus on belief improvement, often our circumstances follow suit.
#1. Recognize the Power of Your Beliefs
“Our thoughts determine our lives,” as the Serbian monk Thaddeus of Vitovnica said. Both positively and negatively, your beliefs have tremendous impact on your experience of life. Recognizing that fact is the first stage in experiencing your best year ever.
#2. Confront Your Limiting Beliefs
We all have limiting beliefs about the world, others, and ourselves. Four indicators you’re trapped in a limiting belief are whether your opinion is formed by:
- Black-and-white thinking
It’s also important to identify the source of your limiting beliefs, whether it’s past experience, the news media, social media, or negative relationships.
#3. Upgrade Your Beliefs
Get a notebook or a pad of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page so you have two columns. Now use this six-step process to swap your limiting beliefs for liberating truths.
- RECOGNIZE your limiting belief. Upgrading your thinking starts with awareness, so take a minute to reflect on what beliefs are holding you back.
- RECORD the belief. In the left-hand column, jot down the belief. Writing it down helps you externalize it.
- REVIEW the belief. Evaluate how the belief is serving you. Is it empowering? Is it helping you reach your goals?
- REJECT/REFRAME the belief. Sometimes you can simply contradict a limiting belief. Other times, you might need to build a case against it or look at your obstacles from a better angle.
- REVISE the belief. In the right-hand column write down a new liberating truth that corresponds to the old limiting belief.
- REORIENT yourself to the new belief. Commit to living as if it’s true.
Step 2: Complete the Past
Remember Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite? In his middle age he’s got nothing to show for his life. But when he hears about Napoleon’s mail-order time machine, he gets wistful. “Ohhhh, man I wish I could go back in time. I’d take state,” he says.
His whole life is framed by the disappointment of not getting his chance to win in high school football. “Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions,” he says. “No doubt in my mind.”
We all know people stuck in the same kind of rut, don’t we? That probably includes us to some degree, if we’re honest. After limiting beliefs, the next most common barrier we encounter is the past. We tow it around like a trailer full of broken furniture. We can’t fully consider the future because we’re too tied up in what’s already happened.
Step 2 explains how to get the resolution you need.
#1. Conduct an After-Action Review
To conduct an After-Action Review, work through these four stages: first, state what you wanted to happen; second, acknowledge what actually happened; third, learn from the experience; and fourth, adjust your behavior. I find it’s effective to work through these stages by answering these seven questions:
- How did you see the past year going?
- What were your plans, your dreams, your concrete goals if you had any?
- What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year?
- What did you feel you should have been acknowledged for but weren’t?
- What did you accomplish this past year that you were most proud of?
- What were two or three specific themes that kept recurring?
- What were the major life lessons you learned this past year?
#2. Find the Opportunity Hidden in Regret
Go back to the third question above, “What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year?” We often feel the sharpest regret when we have the greatest chance for a positive remedy. So, ask yourself what opportunities your regrets reveal.
#3. Try These Gratitude Exercises
Gratitude is not just a mood, it’s a practice. These three exercises can help you get started:
- Begin and end the day with prayer.
- Practice thankfulness by expressing gratitude for the gifts you have.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- If you struggle making headway with these, try the George Bailey technique. Think of something good in your life, and imagine what your life would be like without it.
Step 3: Design Your Future
The author finds it fascinating that on three separate occasions in the Gospels Jesus approaches someone who obviously needs restoration or healing and asks, “What do you want me to do?” What makes this so interesting?
From a Christian perspective Jesus not only knew what these people needed, he could instantly heal them. But he didn’t. Instead, he asked them to declare what they wanted. It seems their apparent need was not their greatest need. More than healing, they needed clarity. And Jesus was unwilling to meet their physical needs until they got clear on what they wanted. Instead, he first prompted them to verbalize their desire.
Great results don’t just happen. You don’t usually drift to a destination you would have chosen. Instead, you have to be intentional, force yourself to get clear on what you want and why it’s important, and then pursue a plan of action that accomplishes your objective. Step 3 is designed to help you find the clarity you need so you can create the life you want.
#1. Set Your Goals
Set seven to ten goals you want to achieve for the year. Make them SMARTER:
Make sure you focus on the Life Domains where you need to see improvement. List just a few per quarter; that way you can concentrate your attention and keep a steady pace throughout the year.
#2. Decide on the Right Mix of Achievements and Habits
Achievement goals represent one-time accomplishments. Habit goals represent new regular, ongoing activity. Both are helpful for designing your best year ever, but you need to decide on the right balance for your individual needs. The only right answer is the one that works for you.
#3. Set Goals in the Discomfort Zone
The best things in life usually happen when we stretch ourselves and grow. That’s definitely true for our designing our best year ever. But it runs counter to our instincts, doesn’t it? Follow these four steps to overcome the resistance:
- Acknowledge the value of getting outside your Comfort Zone. It all starts with a shift in your thinking. Once you accept the value of discomfort, it’s a lot easier going forward.
- Lean into the experience. Most of the resistance is in our minds, but we need more than a shift in thinking. By leaning in, we’re also shifting our wills.
- Notice your fear. Negative emotions are sure to well up. Don’t ignore them. Instead, objectify them and compare the feelings to what you want to accomplish. Is the reward greater than the fear?
- Don’t overthink it. Analysis paralysis is real. But you don’t need to see the end from the beginning or know exactly how a goal will play out. All you need is clarity on your next step.
Step 4: Find Your Why
In his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller talks about crossing a stretch of water—not just leaving shore and arriving at the other side, but also “the hard work of the middle.”
It’s a metaphor for anything meaningful we undertake. Pushing off gives us the rush of anticipation and progress. But the anticipation fades and the progress seems to slow. Pretty soon we’re in the messy middle, doubting if we have the strength to make it to the other side—or maybe why we started in the first place.
This is important because inevitably you’re going to find yourself in the messy middle. It’s part of every big dream, every goal, every attempt to improve. Sometimes we think if we just plan better, we can avoid the pain and breeze through to the finish. But it almost never happens that way. The answer is leveraging your motivations. It will give you the drive and stamina to finish when the going gets tough and you want to quit.
#1. Connect with Your Why
Start by identifying your key motivations. Why do you want to reach your goal in the first place? Why is it important personally? Get a notebook or pad of paper and list all the key motivations. But don’t just list them, prioritize them. You want the best reasons at the top of your list. Finally, connect with these motivations both intellectually and emotionally.
#2. Master Your Motivation
There are four key ways to stay motivated as you reach for your goals:
- Identify your reward and begin to anticipate it. Eventually, the task itself can become its own reward this way.
- Recognize that installing a new habit will probably take longer than a few weeks. It might even take five or six months. Set your expectations accordingly.
- Gamify the process with a habit app or calendar chain.
- As Dan Sullivan taught “measure the gains, not the gap”. Recognize the value of incremental wins.
#3. Build Your Team
It’s almost always easier to reach a goal if you have friends on the journey. Intentional relationships provide four ingredients essential for success: learning, encouragement, accountability, and competition. There are at least seven kinds of intentional relationships that can help you grow and reach your goals:
- Online communities
- Running and exercise groups
- Coaching and mentoring circles
- Reading and study groups
- Accountability groups
- Close friendships
- If you can’t find a group you need, don’t wait. Start your own.
Step 5: Make It Happen
We’ve covered a lot of ground.
In Step 1 we said to create your best year ever, you must upgrade your beliefs and embrace liberating truths about what’s possible in your life.
In Step 2 we discovered the power of backward thinking for completing the past, harnessing regret to reveal future opportunities, and leveraging the Gratitude Advantage to cultivate the abundance thinking necessary to prevail.
In Step 3 we saw how to design a compelling future using a mix of SMARTER achievement and habit goals and why your best year ever lies just outside your Comfort Zone.
Then in Step 4 we talked about tapping into the power of intrinsic motivation and traveling with friends to stay the course through the messy middle.
Now in Step 5 we’re going to talk about making it happen. It’s not enough to plan. It takes action to fully realize our goals.
#1. Break Down Big Goals into Manageable Next Steps
Don’t fall for the old “eat that frog” trap. While your goal should begin in the Discomfort Zone, your next step should be in the Comfort Zone. Do the easiest task first. If you get stumped or stuck, seek outside help. You want to build momentum early with quick wins.
#2. Utilize Activation Triggers
Brainstorm the best Activation Triggers for you. Remember to leverage what comes easy to do what’s hard. Don’t rely on your willpower in the moment. Instead, optimize your Activation Triggers with elimination, automation, and delegation.
You’re going to face obstacles, so anticipate those and determine the best if/then response in advance. The idea is to plan your workarounds before an obstacle derails you. If you don’t have it right to begin with, experiment until you nail it.
#3. Schedule Regular Goal Reviews
For your daily review, scan your list of goals. You want to keep your goals fresh in your mind and also think through a few specific tasks for the day that will bring you closer to achieving them.