Want Your New Year’s Resolutions to Stick? Start Small.

The beginning of a new year forces many of us to rethink our current habits and consider change. But more often than not, last-minute resolutions only end in disaster and a whole lot of guilt. Are we really hopeless or just doing it wrong? 

Harvard Business School Professor Hirotaka Takeuchi thinks the best way to set yourself up for success is to start simple and small. Together with colleague Ikujiro Nonaka, they propose six practices that instead encourage us to look inward and focus on what’s really important. 

1. Set your anchor on routines 

Driven by rapid changes brought about by technology, the world is inevitably becoming more and more complex. A complex world needs clear-headed leaders who can keep up with the necessary creativity and decision-making that drive this progress. 

A great way to keep your center is to set your foundation on routines. Routines are excellent grounding systems. A great deal of the world’s anxiety is caused by not being able to cope with an environment that is in constant flux. When the going gets tough, it’s great to know you can find comfort in the familiar. 

2. Know your values 

Finding the right hows is difficult when you don’t know your whys. When it’s time to make a tough call, the best compass you’ve got is a strong inner pathfinder. Strengthen your personal foundations by self-assessment. Ask yourself the hard questions: 

  • What do you want to do in this life? 
  • What is your vision of an ideal future? 
  • What values are the most important for you?

3. Retrain your brain 

It’s easy to think of the world as a dichotomy of things: good and bad, success and failure, pride and humility. But real life isn’t always so.  

Rather than thinking of the world as either/or, Professor Takeuchi believes you’d stand to benefit from reframing your perspective as both/and. This gives room for the many possibilities in between which can help you form a more refined understanding of the world. 

4. Enrich your emotional intelligence by reading 

Navigating relationships isn’t most people’s strong suit. But having high emotional intelligence is a requirement if your goal is to build strong relationships whether at home or at work. There are masses of valuable social advantages you can gain from cultivating a rich emotional life, such as developing tact, and being able to scrupulously understand your customers and clients. 

Keeping your emotional health sharp doesn’t require much. Reading literature is free and is highly recommended for mental exercise by the world’s greatest minds. 

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5. Learn how to tell a story 

Telling stories is at the center of what it means to be human. Humans have been telling stories since the dawn of time, from the earliest cave drawings to the most elaborate plays. There’s a reason why storytelling persists as a distinctly human skill. Stories help you learn things faster because they are easy to understand, contain multiple lessons in a structure that is easy to convey and remember. 

As it is, learning how to tell a story well will help you in different ways, from drafting a viral marketing plan, to being a great communicator in all types of social situations. 

Improve your narrative skills by watching the top 10 speeches of all time and learn from the best. 

6. Try a high-energy outdoor activity 

Connecting with nature has been shown to help improve creativity and well-being and generate a multitude of positive emotions.  

Whether it’s a quiet walk in the woods, or a heart-pounding mountain bike ride, doing something physical is a great way to reset your focus from your usual worries and release any pent-up negative energy. It also develops a greater appreciation for nature and a drive to preserve it. 

Your Move 

There’s so much pressure, especially among young people today, to be the best at everything they do, but this message is also the cause of rife anxiety and chronic discontent. Instead of the usual laundry list of New Year's resolutions that are often focused on the shallow and material, Professors Takeuchi and Nonaka’s advice is to turn towards ourselves, develop our self-understanding and nurture our empathy so that we can be better friends, caretakers, and leaders. 

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