The start of the year was technically a few days ago.
But this is the first Monday of the new year, and for many of you (me included) that makes it the first “real” day of 2015.
That means re-examining which habits and practices we want to bring forward into the new year, and which we want to end.
A lot of people set resolutions. I personally goal-plan 3 major outcomes I’d like to achieve each year (one of them this year is finally getting married!).
Resolutions and goals are great, but sometimes what you decide to stop doing can define your year too. Even as much as what you accomplish.
It goes like this: Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?
That assignment became a turning point in my life, and the “stop doing” list became an enduring cornerstone of my annual New Year resolutions — a mechanism for disciplined thought about how to allocate the most precious of all resources: time.
In that spirit, let’s look at the 7 things you should stop doing in the new year:
1. Stop Dividing Your Attention
Get your FOMO under control. Linda Stone coined the term continuous partial attention to refer to that constant low-level buzzing in your head that tells you you’re missing out on crucial emails, texts, and Facebook status updates. Reality check: 99.7 percent of the time, you’re not missing out on anything important. So stop worrying. Do one thing at a time, do it well, and give it all your focus.
2. Don’t Rely on Willpower Alone
Neuroscience is learning that willpower is a finite, exhaustible resource in your body, just like energy or strength. Once you use up your daily allotment, you start to make poor decisions, like going for that fourth after-dinner cookie. One of the few effective ways to combat the daily erosion of decision-making power is to form better habits—setting up consistent triggering cues, routines, and rewards. When you create good habits for yourself (and they stick), you free up mental bandwidth for yourself and you’re less likely to have completely wasted, unproductive days.
3. Stop Hanging Around Deadbeats
The social multiplier effect says that the people you surround yourself with have a profound impact on the way you live your life, even when you aren’t consciously aware of their influence. Unfit Air Force Academy students make the other members of their squadron less fit over time, even if the squadron down the hall is in the peak of health. This is why you need to fire friends and family from your life from time to time, and find a hub or a circle or a group that encourages you to be the best version of you possible. Artist and author Austin Kleon calls this “finding a scenius” and it can be a game-changer for you psychologically.
4. Quit Ignoring the Risks You’re Taking
We spend so much of our time trying to de-risk our lives and convincing ourselves that we’re doing a good job of it—settling for “stable” jobs in “reputable” corporations, financing enormous homes—that we often forget that these actions generate their own unacknowledged risks. What about the risk of mediocrity? The risk of compromising your values? Doing something illegal or unethical? The risk that the market will implode and you’ll need to sell all your stuff and move halfway across the country in two weeks to start a new job? Remember the lesson of the skydivers and the Cypres device—the risk in your life has to go somewhere. Wouldn’t you rather consciously choose which risks you take on instead of letting other people make those choices for you?
5. Don’t Get Lost in an Undifferentiated Sea
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur, a consultant, a contract employee, a freelancer, or just your garden-variety cubicle jockey, it’s getting harder and harder to get ahead with unremarkable, undifferentiated, and undefined value propositions. “So what exactly do you do around here?” is a death sentence at most workplaces now. Finding your unique value proposition in this landscape is akin to making yourself indispensable. After all, if the mix of solutions, skills, and services you bring to the table is truly unique, you become irreplaceable. Start thinking about what sets you apart from everybody else trying to do the same thing, and be ready and willing to let people know about it this year.
6. Stop Getting Caught in Vicious Cycles
Vicious cycles, negative feedback loops, whatever you want to call them, are absolutely killer barriers to progress. You don’t make any headway on your project today, so you get depressed. Your sour mood makes it difficult to focus and work, so then you get further behind and more depressed. Rinse and repeat. The only way to break out of a vicious cycle is to take one action, one tiny step towards your goal. In that way, you have some hope of starting a new virtuous cycle instead of remaining mired in negative loops. Pick one aspect of your life—your health, your career, your personal relationships—and examine them thoroughly for vicious cycles. What can you do today to reverse the cycle?
7. Don’t Assume You Know What’s Coming
Gratitude is great, but complacency is a killer. Sure, the economy isn’t the steaming pile it was just a few short years ago—but how much better off are you really? And in any case, we’re due for another recession in a couple years (at least according to Jamie Dimon). The world is changing faster than ever, and rigid, inflexible people and institutions are going to get blown by the wayside. That’s why agility is needed so urgently at every level, from our organizations to our selves. It starts with you.
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That’s it for me.