A Harvard MBA, New York Times bestselling author, award-winning blogger, and one of the most popular TED speakers in the world, Neil Pasricha dazzles audiences with ideas and frameworks that skyrocket happiness into the stratosphere. Pasricha draws on the latest research in happiness to increase individual performance and create a more positive and productive workplace.
In his latest Toronto Star column, he suggests ditching New Year’s resolutions for a system that works. Here’s some of that story on personal growth without the annual resolution (and resolution breaking):
So what’s a better way to grow?
Well, it’s not about years. Those are too big. It’s about months. And it’s not about big leaps. It’s about constantly steering your ship in the right direction. Basically, it’s about a dashboard.
A better way to grow is through a monthly dashboard.
What’s a dashboard?
You stare at one every morning when you start up your car. The dashboard flashes signals to help make sure your seatbelt’s on, your high-beams are off and you’re going the right speed.
Does the dashboard put your seatbelt on? Does it hit the brakes for you? No, of course not. You do that. The dashboard just provides real-time feedback to enable you to course correct along the way.
For the past six months, I’ve tried a new experiment on myself. I’ve written up a monthly dashboard. It’s got four focus areas on 12 things I measure with a green, yellow or red mark each month. Green means I’m good! Yellow means I’m close. Red means I’m way off.
Here’s what my dashboard looks like for a given month:
Can I explain?
The middle of my dashboard contains my ikigai.
I like putting it in the middle because it feels like the bullseye. My current aim. You can think of it as the destination out your window. Right now that’s helping people live happy lives. Your ikigai should be aspirational and big picture! Lowering the cost of living! (Walmart) Eliminating traffic! (TTC) Spreading knowledge! (Toronto Star)
You get the idea.
Now, the top two boxes are what I do.
And the bottom two boxes are how I do it.
I personally like the mental image of the bottom boxes actually supporting the top boxes.
What do I do?
For me the core of my work is writing. So the first two things I measure are writing one new article for an outlet such as Harvard Business Review or Fast Company and writing at least one new chapter of a new book. Writing, writing, writing! I generally write a couple thousand words a day. Sometimes I get deep into research. But writing is ultimately how I get my ideas out into the world. Now, the other “strong core” of what I’m doing is sharing my work in live events. Those are the four speeches each month. That adds up to around 50 a year. You can see last month I was green on all three of these areas.
The other thing I’m trying to do is learn as much as I can, as fast as I can, to enable richer thinking, writing and live events. So my goals here are to read eight books a month, have one unique experience a month and do one weird project a month. What do I mean have one unique experience? Well, in the past year those are things like doing pro bono work with teens on mental health, putting all my books into the Dewey Decimal system or going to a Flaming Lips concert. It’s pretty open ended. It just has to be something I haven’t done before. And the weird project? Here I’m looking for failure because as Malcolm Forbes said “Failure is success if we learn from it.” So I’ll prepare the world’s first TED Listen (a TED Talk comprised entirely of questions) and performed it at TEDxToronto. I’ll write up a new podcast idea and pitch it to Panoply. I’ll throw my hat in the ring to speak at Summit Series. I’ll basically go for something I don’t expect to get just to learn more about how to go about getting it.
This is the box missing from all the corporate charts hanging around your office. Your best self starts at home. For me that means not being away from home more than four nights a month, having one deep uninterrupted airplane-mode Family Day each weekend, and going on one Family Adventure together. In this particular month I was travelling a few weekends in a row which earned me a yellow and red on the dashboard.
Do you know how the airlines always say you need to put the oxygen mask over your mouth before putting it over your children’s? That would be difficult for any parent! But the airlines know something most parents don’t. They know you’re no good to others if you’re no good yourself. Best Self is the taking care of you box. You can see by all the red circles I didn’t do a great job last month! I hit my workouts (thank you, hotel gyms) but my meditation practice and NNOs (“Neil’s Night Out” once per week) took a hit.
And that’s it! That’s my monthly dashboard. There are a few things I love about the dashboard system. First, it’s for me, by me. It’s not a hard-and-fast contract. It’s a system of course correction that lets me identify trends and make adjustments to my life. If I miss meditation three months in a row, it’s time to think: do I forcibly insert it in my calendar, sign up for a refresher course or drop it completely? But, if it’s just red one month, I know it was just a little bump, and I can aim to improve it as I go.
To close, I want to talk about that old famous quote attributed to all sorts of people, which says: “The days are long but the years are short.”
Have you heard that before? It’s so true. I love it. But by talking about days and years it’s missing an important middle ground.
In our fast-paced, frenetic world, months are the perfect amount of time where you can roughly scratch out how you’re doing on a dashboard, take a minute to zoom out and see how you’re doing, and then make any course corrections along the way.