Stop Looking at Your Results!

Are you someone who starts each year with New Year’s resolutions? If so, how do they usually go for you? Are you able to stick with them throughout the year? Maybe a month or two? Or do they usually fade away after a couple of weeks, or even days? Assuming the latter (sorry, but let’s be realistic), how does that feel? If you feel disappointed or despondent, you’re not alone.

Author James Clear may have some helpful thoughts for those of us who fail at our New Year’s resolutions in his book Atomic Habits (subtitled “An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones“). After all, resolutions are simply another version of habit formation. A key problem with forming (or breaking) habits, Clear outlines, is that we focus too much on the results. A run on the morning of January 1st for someone who hasn’t had an exercise routine can be exhilerating, sure, but it can also be tiring, or painful. And the thought of doing that every day for the next 364 days – and on and on to eternity – can be daunting, and downright misery-producing. Easier, then, to find excuses, or challenges that get in the way, and then, sure enough, you’re out of the habit again within a week or two. (Speaking from personal experience? Maybe…?)

But if you’re driving across the US from coast-to-coast, and the first day takes you a few hundred miles from the ocean inland, you’re still thousands of miles from your destination. So is that first day a failure? No, of course not. It’s one first step (out of many possible paths) in the right direction. This is a process, after all, not a single one-and-done. Clear suggests that instead of focusing on results, we try focusing on our processes, and the direction they’re taking us in.

Atoms are the smallest building block known to man, and yet they are fundamental to the nature of everything. Clear suggests that “Atomic Habits” are related – they are tiny 1% changes we can make in our daily lives and routines that, over time, make a profound difference in the quality of our professional and personal lives. Returning to the road trip example, a 1% change in heading wouldn’t make much of a difference on the first day, but over the course of thousands of miles, it changes your destination vastly. As with vision statements, setting (or breaking) habits might be better served if we focused more on the direction we’re heading rather than a binary yes/no of success and failure.

We may return to this in future articles, but for now, how can this idea be helpful this week?

This Week’s Tips:

  • For you: Consider the small “atomic habit” changes you could make to face the direction in which you want to be heading. Focus on the processes you build, and intentionally dismiss the results you’re currently seeing; these are just stepping stones along the way.
  • For those you work with: Wherever possible, pay attention to and acknowledge the processes your team members have in place, instead of the results they’re producing. Doing so will encourage them along that same direction. For those you manage, focus any correction and guidance on processes and small 1% “atomic habit” changes they can make.

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes – we’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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