How I Stopped Making New Year’s Resolutions

personal kamishibaiA friend asked me this past weekend about my resolutions for 2016. To our mutual surprise my answer was, “I don’t have any.”  This caused me to reflect on why I had not set any New Year’s resolutions for 2016. There was no intentional effort to stop making New Year’s resolutions. Was I being lazy? Am I totally satisfied with my current situation? Had I just forgotten? Upon some reflection, it became evident that over the past year I have been following a process that has made the once-yearly New Year’s resolution unnecessary.

In the past, like many people I tried batch-planning the year’s goals between December and January. Like many others, my results at this were mixed. Like many managers, a good part of my career involved bouncing between crises and opportunities that pop up during the year, often distracting from January’s resolutions. We set resolutions with the best of intentions but cannot always follow through. But over the past year I’ve found a way to stay more focused. Here are the main elements of the process that have made setting NY resolutions redundant for me:

Daily kami board. Pictured above, it is a process audit board, tracking activity towards long-term goals, loosely based on the kamishibai board (kami for short). It is made out orange and green post-its stuck back-to-back. Orange side visible indicates not done and green indicates done. The pockets are just slits cut into notebook paper, backed with tape so the cards don’t fall through. On the cards are written the “standards” or actions that move me towards my goals every day. They include things like exercising, writing, taking a walk with my wife, and a catch-all category of “chip away at long-term projects” which reminds me to work on home improvements, family financial planning or other things that are timely and top-of-mind. Each of these actions is in support of one or more specific personal long-term goals. For example the daily walk supports both my fitness goal and marital harmony. The day starts with all cards orange and they are flipped to green as they are completed. A few items are not daily but M W F, and are flipped to green on all other days when no action is needed. The board has been updated a few time over the past year, but remains simple and even pencil-and-paper device.

Visible standards. These are hand-written or printed sheets of detailed instructions for when the kami card action requires it. The weekly exercise routine is printed and posted in the garage. Writing assignments are posted above my writing desk. There is no written standard for the daily walk, we try to find an hour around midday, based on weather, errands we need to run, and other priorities, and set the route. The purpose of the posted standard is to reduce time thinking and deciding what to do, but also to have a standard that can be scribbled on, adjusted and improved upon over time. For example, last year I began lifting weights again, and I injured my shoulder. What I learned from this is that I am no longer a young man, but also that my lifting form was bad, according to YouTube and the latest in sports medicine. Working with a trainer at a gym would have saved me the pain. But the physical pain is a reminder of the importance of realistic and fact-based goal-setting. It vastly improved the “visible standard” for exercise and made the routine more sustainable.

Hansei journal. Every night before going to sleep I write down a few sentences in a notebook. These are reflections on how I did that day with the kami items. The best days are when I can confess my failings, be brutally honest and think of a change to the kami or the content of the standards. The hansei process has also identified where motivation was low because the goal and purpose was not clear. During American Football season, the motivation to watch games is high and these 3-hour blocks several times per week can interfere with working on some of the kami items. Adjustments to the kami will be made between February 8 and next September…

How did stop making New Year’s resolutions? That result was an accident, but there are some general lessons here. First, I had to remove demands on my time that prevents me from being able to chip away at the long-term resolutions during the year. My game-changer was removing the overburden of constantly being on the road. Being able to follow a daily routine, fail regularly and try again, has been essential to developing this process. Workload still varies each day, and getting all-green on the kami remains a stretch on many days. Second, break big goals down to smaller things that can be done on any given day or on specific days of the week, and can fit onto something like a kami. Third, make a habit of frequent progress checks and course corrections. In my case this is multiple times daily as I try to flip over all 12 of the cards on the kami board each day. It is very rare that all kami cards are turned green, for a variety of reasons. This feeds the hansei journal.

I don’t expect that my specific approach to daily personal PDCA will work for everyone, but am resolved to keep following and learning from it.

Wishing everyone a safe, prosperous and happy New Year.

2 Comments

  1. Claire Biggs

    January 11, 2016 - 9:31 am

    I found the article really interesting – I’ve seen similar boards used in businesses but hadn’t thought to create a personal one!
    Can you recommend any resources relating to the hansei journal? I’m “googling” (well, acutally I use duckduckgo but it comes to the same) without much luck so far.

  2. Jon Miller

    January 11, 2016 - 3:02 pm

    Hello Claire

    The hansei journal is something I made up. Journaling is fairly standard, like a diary. Hansei is Japanese for “reflection” and is often used in context of looking back on an improvement action or any effort, looking at what went well and what didn’t. I keep it very simple, just a note book with a few sentences jotting down each night what I would like to do better in the future. Start with, “What bothered me today?” and write that down. It might take a few weeks of doing this until hansei becomes a habit, part of the daily mindset to stop and reflect. Be careful not to beat up on yourself, even on bad days remind yourself that good things will happen if you keep coming back to looking for improvements.