5 min read

3 Small Shifts for Huge Impact in 2022.

New Years resolutions never work. Try these instead.
3 Small Shifts for Huge Impact in 2022.

I have a not-so-proud history of failing my New Years resolutions. In 2019, my ambition to "drink less" lasted 2 days. There was a pool and a fridge full of beers and I couldn't help myself. In 2020, as the clock struck midnight, I bravely declared that "this is the year I'll run a marathon!". God that felt good to say. The training did not. I never made it past 15km.

The problem with New Year's resolutions is that they're too ambitious. Setting big goals might feel exciting in the moment but we usually break off more than we can chew. If we focus on the big goal in the distance, we'll miss the small steps infront of us.  When the goal is too big, it's overwhelming and I'm not sure what the failure rates are but I reckon they'd be pretty high.

That's why I haven't set resolutions this year. What I've done has been so much more effecitve.

Sir Dave Brailsford, the hugely successful British cycling coach, developed the concept of 'marginal gains'. Marginal gains is about finding 1% improvements that accumulate and compound to dramatically improve performance over time.

Instead of setting unrealistic New Years resolutions, this year I'm focusing on marginal gains. And in this article, I've collected 3 favourites which have already snowballed and made a huge impact.

Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.
—Jim Rohn

1) Single Focus

It's no surprise that we’re more distracted than ever, our devices have been programmed by some of the worlds brightest minds to capture and monetise our attention. I don't know about you, but on some days I straight up feel like a dopamine addict. I'll be pulling down on my Instagram notifications like it's a slot machine.

It's not our fault though. When we’re working on an activity which requires focus and struggle, our brain will subconsciously search for something more fun - a dopamine hit. And its search knows no bounds. I often find myself abandoning my task to check the fridge or tell myself that I’ll be more productive after I pop down to the shop for a coffee. Don’t be fooled - this is just our brain searching for a dopamine hit to avoid persisting with the struggle.

So what’s so wrong with taking a quick break? The problem is, once we check something, or grab a snack from the fridge, it takes, on average, 23 minutes to get back to the task. It ain't a productive way to work.

Simply becoming aware of our subconscious pursuit of dopamine is part of the solution. The other part is good old fashioned discipline. The most bang-for-buck marginal gain I've made this year is simple: getting better at focusing on one task at a time.

The benefits are profound. Without distraction, you’ll complete the task faster and move onto the next one. And with tunnel vision on one project, you’ll be able to unleash the full creative brilliance of your noggin.

Benefits will spill over to personal relationships as well. After training our brain to single focus, we’re more present in conversation and can stop to smell the roses. Multi-tasking is out of vogue, single focus is where it’s at. It's a small step you can start now.

2) Emotion management.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Here's a thought experiment: what decisions would you make if nothing could go wrong?

If you weren’t afraid to go broke, would you leave your job and start your own clothing line?

Would you share more on social media of you weren’t thinking about what your friends from school might think?

Emotions and fears sabotage our performance.

I often fall into the trap of waiting for motivation to strike before writing. Or waiting to feel a particular way before jumping in front of the camera. But emotions are fleeting and unreliable. They're jerks and they're no help.

Here's the secret. If you can manage your emotions and take action regardless of how you're feeling at the time, you'll become unstoppable.

We’re emotional creatures. In relationships, that's kind of good I guess but not when it comes to being productive.

One marginal shift you can make today is to start noticing how emotion is steering your behaviour. Is it holding you back from going to the gym? Is it getting you in a funk at work and being a jerk to Dave in Accounts? Or is it giving you an excuse to procrastinate away from your most important work? This year, become aware of those moments, dismiss your emotions and just execute. You'll find that mood follows action and you'll be on your way.

3) Improve your small talk.

Photo by Tim Douglas from Pexels

As an awkward teenager struggling to find my place in the world, I was regularly in awe of Dad's ability to strike up conversation with anyone and everyone. From the barista at the cafe to a high court judge, his small talk was warm and authentic with plenty of Dad jokes.

I've always dreaded small talk and envied Dad's level of comfortability. It's not something that's really talked about though. They don't teach 'small talk' at school and so I assumed it's either something you're good at or you're not.

That all changed at the start of this year. I came across a small but mighty technique which has greatly improved my small talk.

It’s simply by asking... why?

See, I love going deep in conversation. But it’s the small stuff before that which makes me awks. Asking why, however, is the bridge between the shallow conversation and the deep and meaningful. Asking why peels back the layers.

For example, next time you ask someone where they live, follow it up by asking why? Not in a creepy, judgey way but as an authentically curious human listening intently for the answer. You’ll immediately engage the person and begin your descent into deeper water.

The magic part of having this trick up your sleeve is that it will change your approach to small talk. I’ve found that by going into war, sorry small talk, with this simple strategy has completely shifted my mindset. I’m no longer passive and awkward because I’m on the front foot with a secret weapon. Asking why is a small shift that will compound over time and make a huge difference across your professional and personal life.

Final Thoughts

This year try focusing on marginal gains instead of overwhelming resolutions.

Because if you can improve by 1 percent each day for a year, you’ll be 37x better by the end of it.

Starting now, train your brain to focus on one task at a time, start noticing how emotions are steering your behaviour and improve your small talk by simply asking, why?

In no time at all, these small shifts will become habit, accumulate and snowball into a whole lotta progress.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below 🤘🏼 - Nick