It’s common at the start of a new year to resolve to make some changes or improvements or otherwise set some goals. And the majority of those resolutions last until sometime around January 12th. Let’s talk about why so many goals fail and what you can do about them.
Perfect is the enemy of good when it comes to New Year’s resolutions
The kiss of death for so many goals is perfectionism. The logic goes something like this: I can do x, but it only solves 20% of the thing I don’t like. So I’m not going to do that.
We see a variation of this on Sunday morning talk shows and you probably see people in authority at the workplace use this as well to justify inaction. It’s a logical fallacy, but it’s effective, so people use it.
But that’s like saying second grade only gets me 8.33% of the way to a high school diploma, so I’m not going to do that.
Sometimes it isn’t possible to do whatever it is you want to do in a single step. One step may build on another one. Giving up on second grade is going to catch up with you sometime in third or fourth grade when you need to refer back to something you were supposed to learn in second grade. Complex problems and issues in real life frequently are like that.
Sometimes the thing you want to change has several contributing factors behind it, and you can’t necessarily solve all of those contributing factors all at once, but you can solve them individually.
A lesson from model railroading for meeting goals
Last weekend I watched a YouTube video by a professional model railroad layout builder. He was talking specifically to people who haven’t started building a layout yet because they are holding out for the opportunity to build their dream layout. He argued that for most people, that opportunity never comes. There are a variety of reasons for it, including what you visualized not being practical in the space you have, finding that you are in over your head and not capable of building what it was you envisioned, or finding sometime in the middle of the project that you didn’t like it as much as you thought you were going to like it. Any number of things can turn that dream layout into a nightmare that you ultimately never finish.
His argument was that you needed to scale back your ambitions to something that you know that you can accomplish. Build something with the time, space, and materials you have available to you and within the level of skill that you either have or can reasonably expect to attain over the course of the project.
And then you can build it, operate it, figure out what you like and don’t like about it, and use what you learn when you build your next layout.
The approach he describes could apply to any goal, realistically.
Making incremental progress
The other problem we run into is just not putting in the time. Spending an hour a day on your goal may or may not be realistic, but the math works for whatever amount of time you are able to dedicate to it. I’ve used increments as small as 15 minutes. Spending an hour a day for a full year works out to 365 hours, which is roughly equivalent to nine work weeks.
That’s not a bad benchmark to use when measuring how realistic your goal might be. If you’ve accomplished smaller things at work in 2 months, it’s a realistic goal for the year.
Or maybe it’s not a realistic goal for a single year, and maybe it will take several years. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Here are some ideas for some short term goals that may be more achievable.
And here’s an approach for incrementally meeting a goal, short or long term.
Several years ago, my wife was hospitalized. She asked me when she was going to get to come home. I didn’t know the answer. But I didn’t tell her to ask her doctor. I advised her to ask every doctor, nurse, or other professional who came in to check on her every day if there was one thing she could do today to get her closer to being able to come home. And of course to find out what that one thing was and then do that.
She came home a few days later.
Getting home eventually is better than not getting home at all
I deal with a complex, lingering problem for a living. The problem is vulnerabilities exist in computer software, the manufacturers release updates to fix those vulnerabilities, but large corporations, including most of the ones you probably do business with, generally fix them with a success rate of around 20%.
This is a problem when most of these corporations have a written policy that states vulnerabilities that meet certain specific criteria need to be fixed in seven or 14 days.
15 years ago, the policy was more like 21 or 30 days. And nobody was any better at meeting the deadlines then. So the security industry did what every rational person would do, and said since you can’t meet a 30-day deadline, your new deadline is 14.
A rational approach to solving this problem is to find out how long it takes to fix these vulnerabilities. And it’s not unusual when I come in and measure it for that number to be much higher, but not infinity. Let’s say you find that takes 120 days. 120 days is a lot better than forever minus a day. But you need to find out what the limiting factors are that are making it take 120 days instead of 14. Address those issues if you can. And if you can’t, set the standard for 120. Because if 120 is the best someone can do, and that’s not good enough, they have two options. They can continue giving you 120, or they can stop wasting their time and disengage.
Sometimes we have to adjust our expectations. Whether that’s how quickly we apply updates to computers, what are model railroad looks like, or any other personal goal we might set.
These couldn’t be truer sentiments. I often get stuck in the headspace where if it can’t be exactly what I want I should not do anything at all and miss out on the fun or the learning experiences from it. I started to make the shift last year to do something because an 80% solution now is better than a 100% solution never. Lego is something I greatly enjoy and after building a new table for the plastic bits of joy that is 4ft x 16ft, I am now ready to just start laying things out and making my hodgepodge of various genres live in harmony. The thing is, I was once very particular about what can be displayed but now, with kids, that is just not the fun way to be.
Someone once said, “don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.” and I think that is pretty accurate.