Winning at Working: Incremental Action Trumps New Year’s Resolutions

A recent study found that nearly half of us will make New Year’s resolutions in 2015, but only eight percent of us will reach the goals or keep the promises we make for ourselves. Maybe that’s why I’m not a big fan of New Years resolutions.

Sure I’ve made dozens of them, all with good intentions and a bit of magical thinking, believing this time the resolution will stick. Maybe a few have, but generally these wishful self-promises end up broken. And when that happens my self-esteem suffers.

You see, every time you break a self-promise, your self-trust is weakened. Every time you give up on your commitments your self-confidence takes a hit. And every time you look back on broken resolutions, your self-assessment hurts, not helps, your performance future.

By contrast, I am a huge fan of goals or dreams or aspirations or targeted focus. Call it what you like. Mine come in a variety of forms, anything from a life-to-do-list to aspirational dreams. But their achievement hinges on the same element – incremental action. I learned in twenty years of management the power behind small steps.

One baby step, then another and another eventually leads to achievement. Most of us are unlikely to hit home-run equivalents with our work or life goals. But by incrementally nibbling at them, we can accomplish most anything, actualizing life dreams and winning at working. Like the Chinese proverb reminds us, “The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

So, instead of New Years resolutions, I suggest you try an alternative this year. First, assess your progress. Second, align your direction.

Start by writing down your accomplishments for the last 12 months, asking yourself, what’s different today from a year ago. These don’t have to be big or work-only achievements, but note incremental progress in any part of your life. If I can do more sit-ups this year than last, that goes on my list. If I’ve read a dozen books, I put that down. If I have a better relationship with a client, it’s there.

Now, take a few minutes to savor your list, breathing in the powerful feeling of personal progress. It’s amazing how good it feels to see what you’ve accomplished. Whenever I observe a tangible list of what I’ve achieved in just 12 months, it fuels my energy for what I can do in the next twelve. And that leads me to the second part of the experience: seeing where I’m headed. Like a compass, the list helps me align my focus and build incremental goals in the direction I want to be traveling.

People who are winning at working leverage the power of incremental progress to build their performance, reach their goals, actualize their dreams and impact their results. In the process they build their self-esteem, self-trust and self-confidence. They know accomplishment breeds accomplishment; success produces success; and progress multiplies progress. Want to be winning at working? Start fueling your progress with incremental action.