30 Dec Forget resolutions, try micro-mastery instead
Why wait until the 1st of January to start implementing positive change in your life? While the ritual of starting afresh can be exciting, more than 90% of New Year’s resolutions don’t stick.
A resolution is the determined intent to effect change. The best time to lay the foundations for change is the moment you realise something needs to be done.
Most people struggle to create habits that last, particularly when it comes to lifestyle. At the first hint of adversity, our good intentions crumble, and we revert to default patterns of reactivity. When we’re ‘just clinging on’ anything that is not addressing critical concerns feels unproductive, even frivolous. Good habits – or intentions – fail.
For many of us, our exercise, sleep and mindfulness practice are first to be compromised when times get tough. These should be our most fiercely protected assets. Being strong and rested enables us to bounce back fast and be more creative in our problem-solving.
Grand resolutions are not the way to construct a foundation of wellbeing and resilience in our lives. Instead, as every architect, painter, musician and creator knows – it is better to nudge toward goals through deliberate practice, in small, well-defined steps (or layers, or notes). The concept of micro-mastery provides a user-friendly way to begin this incremental process of self-improvement.
The power of immersion
A young child learns to speak through deliberate, persistent experimentation and practice. They master specific words first (“Dada”, “Mama” – the order is contestable), then focus on necessities like “milk”, “light” and “iPad” (please, no). Learning to speak requires immersion in the challenge. It also requires a deep-seated need to communicate and resilience in the face of inevitable and consistent failure.
This immersive journey of micro-mastery, combined with instant feedback and encouragement from family and caregivers, enables infants to express themselves using incredibly complex language patterns in just a few years. Importantly, these skills are mastered for life.
Approaching resolutions from a micro-mastery perspective enables us to develop new lifestyle patterns that become second nature (or even first nature – innate). Instead of setting a vague goal like “I want to exercise more”, we need to define:
a) what it is about being exercised that is important
b) what a specific exercise goal will be
By the way, if you need convincing, then the evidence for exercising is clear. Imagine being able to take a pill that lowers your risk of death. That pill is available to you, right now, by simply moving your body. Is this as important to you as learning speech is to an infant? Select goals that are.
It is important to be granular about the activities that will culminate in the achievement of resolutions. For example, exercise is something many people dread and will quickly drop in favour of a seemingly urgent distraction. However, if exercising makes you feel great, then, through practice, it can become a necessity – perhaps even more critical than non-negotiables like coffee or social media.
Micro-mastery allows us to be realistic and practical, yet still achieve our goals. Instead of signing up for a gym membership, how about learning to skip during your breaks? In my office, I have a range of simple exercise accessories that enable me to achieve a significantly raised heart rate in under a minute per session. I prefer this to long, arduous workout sessions and find that, as a result, I feel more energised throughout the day. I also enjoy the challenge of doing one more pull-up, or a few seconds more skipping, and watching the continuous improvement. Small successes in one aspect of your life can overlap into other areas.
Find triggers – and act
I have specific triggers. Whenever I refill my water glass I pass the pull-up bar, which prompts me to do what amounts to just a 20-second mini-workout several times per day. I don’t always achieve my goal of doing more pull-ups than last time, but I can do a lot more than two months ago.
Through consistency, I am mastering skills in specific areas that I find highly enjoyable. They are now embedded. A year ago, I had never used a skipping rope. Now I skip for a minute or two every time I go outside. My wake-up routine consists of a number of practices I have micro-mastered over several years: stretch, meditate, trampoline, walking, low carb breakfast. Separately they appear trivial, combined they form a powerful way to begin the day.
The power of micro-resolutions
A micro-resolution is the decision to introduce a highly specific, simple practice into the daily routine, as part of a determined life change. It should have enough significance to make it meaningful, enough simplicity to make it achievable, and a trigger to remind you to get it done.
What can we do to begin setting micro-resolutions that stick? First, lose the noun. For example, ditch the noun “exercise” – and focus on the verb – “exercising”. Removing labels takes the pressure off. A walk up the stairs is exercising. Playing with the kids can be exercising. Cleaning the house is certainly exercising. How can you become the activity rather than seeing it as an obstacle that requires conquering?
If meditation is important, stop labelling it as “meditation”, which signifies a task that requires compliance. Rather acknowledge the importance of being calm, and invite meditative activity into your life through a simple, triggered practice. Can you secure one minute of conscious breathing every day? How about linking it to an activity that provides a window for mindfulness, for example, while your computer boots up in the morning? Remember: long exhalation for coherence – just a few breaths can significantly alter your state.
From an exercise perspective, how about performing ten squats while you brush your teeth? Before you know it those ten squats will be 15, then 20 – as a bonus, you’ll probably end up with better oral hygiene!
Micro-resolutions make you feel good. They’re achievable and develop a positive, success-orientated mindset. Life is rarely about big wins. Small, clear steps in the right direction build solid, reliable foundations. Before you know it someone will ask you: how do stay so fit / well / relaxed? And you won’t have a single clear answer.
Like all creative growth, your transformation is a web of habits that have become part of who you are. Define who you’d like to be, then do what that person does. Be specific. Go forth and master.
Ideas for micro-resolutions
Sleep: If you wish to wake up refreshed every morning (yes, it is possible!) then consider which small tweaks can cumulatively make a difference. Start going to bed five minutes earlier. Turn off devices at least half an hour before bedtime (an hour is better, but take baby steps). How about leaving your device in another room overnight – feel anxious even thinking about that? Can you wake up earlier, even just by 10 minutes? Can you make your bed and go for a walk in the blue light before dawn? I promise you can.
Positivity: What is your ratio of positive communications to negative ones? If the ratio is at least 5 (positive) to 1 (negative), then you’re on track towards success. Can you stop and zip it every time you feel a negative emotion rising? Developing insight is the key. Instead of fight or flight, resolve to pause and plan. It is a powerful practice you can master starting today.
Exercise: Can you fit an extra minute of high-intensity exercise into your day? A skipping rope, trampoline or flight of stairs can all help.
Meditation: Everyone from Neuroscientists to Buddhist Monks and elite performers agree – mindfulness works. Getting out of your busy mind and into a calm, detached headspace has a host of proven benefits. Can you control your attention for five minutes per day? Using a device like Muse makes it fun for those who love technology, but simply sitting down and observing your breath is more than enough to derive benefits.
Maintaining awareness of key goals is critical to success. By tracking what is important we keep ourselves on track. We also get to see our progress (or lack of) and can enjoy visualising the momentum.
We created an app called Goal Keeper to help with this. Feel free to check it out.
Download and register here: