As we wake up in a new year and new decade, we may have resolutions that we created out of excitement that now seem daunting. There is a lot of great advice on how to develop and maintain habits: start small, focus on the environment, attach to the habits you have, and create reminders and rewards (see jamesclear.com for more great ideas). One thing we often overlook is whether the changes we are trying to make are incremental or transformational.
Incremental changes are things that we already do, and we want to do more — a 10% increase in what we already do. Losing a few pounds, exercising more, and reading more are a couple of common incremental goals that people set. These goals require us to push ourselves and optimize what we are doing, but that does not require real change.
Transformational habits are significant changes — a 10x change. These are things that we cannot make happen by just doing more of what we are already doing. These changes require us to change how we think about the problem and, in some cases, our identity. These goals force us to change who we are. Transformational goals could be losing more than 100 pounds, running a marathon, or taking a night course.
One example to help contrast these types of goals would be related to writing. If you have a goal to write a blog post every month, and you currently write a blog post 4-6 times a year, this is an incremental change. If you set a goal to publish a blog post every day (like Seth Godin), this is a transformational change. You can’t just write faster or a bit more frequently to achieve this goal. You will need to rethink how you come up with ideas and how/if you edit. You may have to change your definition of a blog post, be more accepting of not being perfect, or be ok with writing shorter and simpler ideas. And you may have to change who you are to be able to accept these changes.
Questions you can ask to be more successful with the changes you want to make
What types of changes are your goals asking you to make? Is it incremental, or is it transformational?
One way to answer this is to ask, am I currently the type of person that does x? If you answer today is no, this may be a transformational change.
For incremental changes, figure out what has to switch in your life to make the minor changes that are required, what do you have to give up to take the time to make the change and can you do it?
For transformational changes, ask your self, what beliefs do I have about what it is that I am doing that I need to give up or change to make this work? How do I need to be different to accomplish this?
And remember, transformational changes are hard, but they are possible, and they can be rewarding. Be patient with yourself and know that this is a process, not a single step. Expect failure and learn from it.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” – Samuel Becket.