The evil, 3-letter word of New Years Resolutions

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Everybody’s blathering about New Years resolutions. Usually the next thing out of their mouth is “And most people abandon them by mid-February.” Somebody else chimes in and says, “Aw, I just don’t make ’em.”

New Years Resolutions work pretty well for me. Why?

Because when I make resolutions, I don’t try. I change the SYSTEM.

If you want to exercise more this year, move your office to the attic. Since the restroom is on the main floor, now six times a day you’re climbing up and down the stairs.

If you want to take more walks, let your neighbor borrow your car a few days a week so you HAVE to walk to the convenience store instead of drive. Or join a volleyball team where everyone expects you to show up every week.

That’s easily worth a few pounds, isn’t it?

Those are system changes to your environment. They are far more effective than resolutions to add a new, completely optional habit. (Like roll out of bed and go to the gym at 6am in freezing weather. Who do you think you’re kidding?)

Notice the difference between “try harder” and System Change:

Will Power: “I’m going to try to waste less time answering emails this year.”

System Change: “I’m turning over 3/4ths of my inbox to a Virtual Assistant.”

Will Power: “I’m going to try harder not to get angry with my kids.”

System Change: “I know I’ve been angry with my dad and I’ve been taking it out on my kids for years. I’m going to clean out the closet and forgive my dad, so the anger impulse just goes away.”

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Will Power: “I’m going to try harder to get less distracted with social media this year.”

System Change: “I’m going to set my web browser so I ALWAYS have to manually log into Facebook and enter my password every single time.”

Will Power: “I’m going to try to implement more of my business education this year.”

System Change: “I’m going to make myself accountable to my friend or instructor to finish all the homework assignments in this book or course.”

See that word T-R-Y? It’s a dirty three-letter word. It always invites its 5-letter friend, G-U-I-L-T. 

Yes, you can try harder but we all have a finite amount of energy and will power to expend every day. Systems only require the willpower it takes to put them in place.

Resolutions based on try fail 80% of the time.

Resolutions based on changing the system succeed 80% of the time.

The income you make in 2013 and 2015 and 2020 will naturally flow from the friendships you cultivate and the mentors you surround yourself with. Your thoughts and aspirations will be shaped by the environment which you have systemically built confers to you.

The gains you make in 2013 will be because of the systems and structure you build around yourself.

You want 2013 to be the best year ever? Make January about changing the systems you live in every day, you won’t have to try. You will habitually do and it will be easy.

Perry Marshall

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About the Author

Perry Marshall has launched two revolutions in sales and marketing. In Pay-Per-Click advertising, he pioneered best practices and wrote the world's best selling book on Google advertising. And he's driven the 80/20 Principle deeper than any other author, creating a new movement in business.

He is referenced across the Internet and by Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, INC and Forbes Magazine.

28 Comments on “The evil, 3-letter word of New Years Resolutions”

  1. This is classic 80 20; no its better – 1 99. 1% effort and 99% results. Great learning example of applying 80 20.

  2. Hey, maybe you could could expand your product line to include a Systems Thinking training series. Could help a lot of people.

    Many comments have been writing about creating habits. Excellent point that synergizes with your point, Perry: make it your master habit to obsessively think “systems.”

    However, beyond that kind of mental habit, it’s foolish to “automate” a manual process by making it a habit. Unless, or course, you have too much spare time or enjoy whipping yourself.

    Which is the more foolproof: making it an ironclad habit to back up your computer daily (and kicking yourself when you don’t), or installing an automated backup solution? Which is the best use of your time? Which will get your stuff — possibly your entire livelihood — safely backed up when you have a crazy day and then have to rush off to your kid’s school play?

    I say the main way to add value to a business is to create systems that automate or systematize routine things for real. The kind of systematization that solves something once and for all, maybe even saves time or drudgery. Or money. Same goes for personal life.

  3. Thanks Perry. Your post talks to research I was doing on habits. One day I will write like you do, God willing.

  4. Hi Perry,
    Your suggestions are very useful and timely. Today a small group of us did our own structured brainstorm plan long and short term plan and will meet every 2 weeks to support and hold each other accountable. I will share this essential “change the System’ concept with them, and implement it myself.
    Thank you,
    Thom

  5. Happy New Year !!! Wow ! I didn’t like to say” try” and it was difficult to explain, to my kids- why???? Now- thanks to you Perry – I will give them a tool !!! I did say ” go and get it with out “trying”!!!

  6. Great post! I once had a mentor you drilled this saying into my head “Trying is Lying”. My wife and I have raised our children to omit the word “try” from their vocabulary. As Yoda in Star Wars said: “Do or do not, there is no try”.

  7. I like very much how you differentiate succeeding from failing. Try is failing. When you say ‘I try’ you’re definitely not convinced that you even can succeed. And your belief will be certainly confirmed!
    But when you change the system, you’re already moving in the intended direction. It is like the difference between ‘I should’ and ‘I will’, between ‘I hope’ and ‘I know’.
    Thank you very much, Perry, for sharing this idea – it works like magic!
    Have a wonderful year!

  8. Martial arts is the lesson to use a systematic approach to whatever you are doing. If you are busy trying to fight, you get whooped. If you are trying to hold on to a cliff, you fall. If you are trying to love someone, your lover will see that you are not sincere. If you are busy trying, you are busy not doing, whatever it is.

    Resolve to one-pointed focus for the betterment of humanity.

    Many have said it, starting with the all-important sages when there was no written record. Here’s a simple quote from a familiar Jedi Master,

    “Do or do not.”

    Yoda
    Star Wars, Episode V
    inspirational music of do-ers, not try-ers:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vb1TGxwlvFU

  9. This goes great with my Yoda quote “Do or do not, there is no try.” I like the way you refer to it as system change. I am making 2013 all about system change for my business and life! Thanks Perry!

  10. I’m going to try to change my systems this year.

    My method is slightly different than what you described. Rather than changing the environment to trick myself, I’m going to change my attitudes. This year, I’m going to not mind being overwieght and out of shape; instead, I recognize that ultimately I prefer eating and not exercising to the rewards I get from eating less and working out. This allows me to be happy about who I am and what I do.

    Similarly, I’m going to tell myself it’s OK to slack off every day, because why work hard for the chance to have free time down the road when I can simply create the free time now by wasting time?

    Ultimately, we all want to be happy. It is within our power, every one of us, to make ourselves happy by merely accepting our flaws and shortomings and embracing them as our choices, which makes us free. Now, I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t want or “try” to improve, that’s their business and their decision. But it’s not required to be happy, and as I said ultimately we all want to be happy.

    Also, we are all allowed to resolve to not make any resolutions.

  11. As usual, we vote with our feet. It can’t be denied. Looking back on vision boards made to set my intentions for 2011 and 2012 I am amazed at the results. A little bulletin board is a system of sorts, but this year it is morphing into a mind map, on a larger cork board. Usually I write my intentions in the past tense: “I lost 20 lbs,” “I worked for 10 regular clients weekly.” That way my subconscious understands those things are already done.

  12. Great article Perry!

    I have a trick to share with your readers that will help them make sure their New Year’s Resolutions happen.

    The trick has to do with habits. Once you understand how habits work you can modify bad habit into good
    habits. And you can create new habits.

    A few weeks ago I read a great book about
    how to do this called, “”The Power of Habit” by
    Charles Duhigg. Do yourself a favor and pick it
    up when you get a chance.

    In the book he writes about how each habit can be
    broken down into different parts. Each habit consists
    of three components:

    – Cue
    – Routine
    – Reward

    This is a habit loop. A habit starts with a cue, a routine or action takes place and at the end is a reward. This process gets repeated over and over again.

    Each habit is started by a cue which could also
    be called a trigger. The cue is what initiates the habit.

    This could be a smell, an emotional state, a visual cue
    or anything else that could start a habit. The cue can
    be broken down further into five parts:

    – Location
    – Time
    – Emotional state
    – Other people
    – Immediately preceding action.

    The routine is the actual habit – what you do after you
    receive the cue. Usually this is the behavior that
    you want to change.

    We have habits to save effort and predictable satisfy
    our cravings, and that’s why every habit has a reward
    attached.

    Weather you are consciously aware of it or not, we have
    habits to drive us to take action that leads to a repeatable outcome that we want.

    I’ve been using the techniques in the book to change
    some of my negative habits.

    For example, I’ve been biting my finger nails since I
    was a little kid. For 35 years I have been biting my
    finger nails. I’ve tried many times to stop, and never
    could.

    Using the techniques from “The Power of Habit”, I was
    able to finally stop biting my nails. And it was easy.

    Here’s how I did it.

    I figured out the Cue, Routine, and Reward.

    Then I changed the Routine.

    First I figured out the Cue that starts the routine.

    Cue:

    – Location: at my computer working
    – time: anytime
    – emotional state: excited, anxious, happy, etc., all emotional states
    – other people: alone
    – immediately preceding action: running my thumbs across each finger
    searching for hang nails or the like.

    Routine:

    What behavior do you want to change: Stop biting my nails.

    New routine: File my finger nails with a finger nail file.

    Reward:

    The feeling of satisfaction I get once I have removed any hang nails.

    Plan:

    When I sit down at my computer to work, I always have a finger nail file ready. Once I start thumbing my fingers for hang nails, instead of biting them, I file them with the nail file.

    This has worked perfectly.

    In the beginning I had to consciously think to use the nail file on my fingers instead of biting them.

    After doing it consistently for a few weeks it became a habit.

    I don’t have to think about it anymore.

    I sit down at my computer and start working, and without even knowing it, while I am reading an email for example, I start filing my finger nails.

    Now I have beautiful finger nails.

    See how easy it is to change a habit?

    It is hard to quit a habit all together, but you can change it to something positive.

    You can also use these techniques to create new habits.

    You can use these techniques to make sure your New Year’s resolutions actually happen.

    Let’s say one of your resolutions is to do daily exercise.

    You can create a cue. For example your cue might be to exercise as soon as you come home from work. Or maybe your cue is thinking about how good you feel after your workout.

    Do your exercise routine and then notice how you feel afterwards.

    Most likely after you’ve caught your breath you actually feel pretty good.

    That’s the endorphins talking. Let them talk, they feel good.

    Make a conscious effort the next day before you start your exercise routine to think about how good it feels once you’re done.

    Repeat that day after day, and eventually that conscious effort can become a subconscious cue and you find yourself in the habit of wanting to exercise for that endorphin rush.

    I hope you found these tips helpful.

    For more in depth steps on how to modify habits and create new ones pick up the excellent book, “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg.

    1. Homerun Perry. Homerun!

      As you can only do you hit it out of the park on this one. And what you spoke hit me where I couldn’t ignore it. Thanks, I needed that.

      Carlton Smith, I have what you need. Come one over to my blog and we can take care of your nicotine problem.

  13. I’ve been learning from you for about a year now, and hope that someday I’ll be able to convey how grateful I am for your insights, perspective & training.

    The most succinct comment I can make right now is this, and it is 100& sincere: God bless you, Perry Marshall.

    And also, I wish the best of luck to all those other invisible kindred spirits who are struggling to create, promote & profit from their own hard work.

  14. GREAT point Perry. When I was consulting in real estate, ‘TRY’ was no allowed in our conversations…literally. I would call the client out on it on the phone when it happened like they were one of my kids saying ‘can’t’….just not part of our vocabulary.

    Thanks for the refresh!

  15. Great email today on “trying”. It is so very true. If you want to know whether someone is going to fail or not, just listen to the words they use. They are going to “try” and make money. Well, they aren’t going to be very successful with that attitude. They have to set goals, and create systems right from the start!

    Thanks for this great email! True words of wisdom!

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