How to Change Your Life in 1 Year
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Today at a Glance
- Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a day and underestimate what they can achieve in a year. The truth: The massive, positive change you're hoping to make in your life is always just one year away.
- 4 Steps to Continuous Improvement: (1) Establish the desire, (2) Create a plan, (3) Execute the plan, and (4) Track and adjust.
- How to Stay the Course: Zoom out regularly, create micro rewards, and force yourself to look back at old work and cringe.
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“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” - Bill Gates
With all due respect to Bill, I'd like to propose an edit:
“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a DAY and underestimate what they can achieve in a YEAR.”
I don't know about you, but I find the idea of ten years wildly intimidating. I'm 31, so maybe it's just the fact that ten years represents one third of my life, or maybe it's my silent understanding that ten years ago I was doing embarrassingly immature stuff on a regular basis. Whatever the reason, I have a very tough time thinking on a ten year time horizon.
What's more, I think its completely unnecessary!
You don't need ten years to accomplish something spectacular. You don't need five years. You don't even need three years.
The truth: The massive, positive change you're hoping to make in your life is always just one year away.
I don't say this in a cliche, self help, "you can do anything you set your mind to!" manner. I say it in the literal, tactical, "here's exactly how to lock in and make the change!" manner that I hope you've all come to expect from me and my writing.
So with that as context, let's talk about how to change your life in just one year...
A Brief Personal Story
I started thinking about the power of one year for a very specific reason.
On September 10, 2021, my wife surprised me with the news that she was pregnant.
Like many people out there, most of whom suffer in silence, we had been uncertain as to whether we would be able to conceive naturally. As you can see in the video, the surprise and joy of the moment poured out of me uncontrollably.
Fast forward one year, and my world looks very different...
I took a long walk on the one year anniversary and reflected on my emotions and learnings from the year that was.
What I kept coming back to: The idea of something from nothing.
An entire life was created from nothing in the span of a single year. What started as a nothing—a few cells and a line on a testing device—has become a babbling, head-wobbling something.
It made me think: If an entire life can be created in a single year, what other massive changes are we all capable of making in that same, seemingly short time horizon?
A Year of Possibilities
Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning improvement. In practice, the term is used to convey continuous improvement.
The concept of Kaizen began to build a mainstream following with the works of Masaaki Imai, a Japanese organizational theorist and consultant.
In 1986, he published a best-seller, entitled "Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success” and founded The Kaizen Institute.
Kaizen prioritizes a focus on small, daily improvements, rather than large, step-function leaps. It teaches that progress and growth are the result of daily actions to drive the small improvements.
James Clear has a brilliant visualization of the impact of continuous improvement:
There are a two key takeaways from this image:
- Compounding is Magic: 1% daily improvements for an entire year will result in a ~38x improvement by the end of the period. This is one of those "a-ha!" moments on the power of compounding. My other favorite is that if you invest $1,000 and generate a 15% annual return, you'll have $1,000,000 after 50 years.
- Compounding is a Double-Edged Sword: Compounding cuts both ways. If you get 1% worse each day, you're going to be in a lot of trouble after one year.
The conclusion is that dramatic change is possible in one year through making consistent, tiny daily improvements.
Ok, but how do we get started on a path of continuous improvement?
How to Make Continuous Improvements
My framework for continuous improvement is four steps:
Step 1: Establish the Desire
The first step towards continuous improvement is establishing a desire to make the improvement.
I deeply believe that 90% of becoming great at something is just really wanting to be great at it. When you have the desire to make progress at something, you'll find the energy and motivation to make it happen.
When you're getting started, write down exactly what you want to do. Be specific about your desires. Put this in a place where you can see it—it helps with vision.
Step 2: Plan
With your desire established in Step 1, create your plan in Step 2.
My core belief is that consistent, continuous improvement requires consistent, continuous action. For me, this means that if I want to improve at something, I will do that something every single day.
It sounds so simple, but it just plain works:
- If you want to improve your cardiovascular health, do some form of cardio training, every single day.
- If you want to improve your writing, write, every single day.
- If you want to improve your thinking, read, every single day.
- If you want to improve your relationships, spend time being present with those people, every single day.
Your plan should be brutally, painfully simple.
What are the 2-3 daily actions that you would need to take to create tangible, compounding progress in your area of choice? These should be the SIMPLEST daily actions.
Step 3: Execute
There are two paths to choose from to execute:
- 30-for-30: My 30-for-30 approach is very simple: Do the daily action for 30 minutes per day for 30 straight days. 30 days is meaningful enough as a commitment that you can't be half-in, but 30 minutes is short enough that you can convince yourself to take it on. 900 minutes of effort in a single month is enough to create tangible progress that will keep you pushing forward. This is my favored approach for getting started on any new area of progress.
- Deep Work: Deep work means carving out 1-2 blocks of time per day when you will enter a deeply focused state to make progress against your area of choice. These blocks are generally 1-2 hours for most people and should be completed without distraction. This is the favored strategy for big professional goals, which often require more time and focused energy, but it can feel intimidating given the requirements. Note: Cal Newport's book on this is great.
My recommendation: Start with 30-for-30 and then transition to Deep Work after a few months if you feel motivated and energized to go harder.
Step 4: Track & Adjust
Your execution has to be trackable and adjustable.
Jerry Seinfeld would famously hang a huge calendar on his office wall and use a red marker to put an X over every day that he completed an hour of writing. It wasn't about the writing being good, it was simply about the daily action.
Leverage community to hold you accountable on your journey. There’s nothing more powerful than community when it comes to goal setting and achievement. Create a Google Sheet and track your process goals with others. Forced accountability is a powerful weapon in your arsenal!
Avoid becoming dogmatic—allow yourself to adjust as needed along the way. A few common adjustments that you may find useful:
- Downward Adjustments: Overly-ambitious daily process goals should be adjusted down. Set them to be overly-achievable. The human psyche responds well to wins—manufacture them early and benefit later.
- Environmental Adjustments: Environments that are unsuited to achieving daily process goals should be adjusted. If my daily process goal is to eat a balanced, nutrient-dense breakfast, a kitchen full of junk is an environment unsuited to my goal. Deliberately adjust your environments to match your goals.
The goals we track and adjust are the goals we achieve.
How to Stay the Course
One observation I've had on my own journey: It's often very difficult to see and feel progress in the moment.
This is the leading cause of lost motivation, habit reversion, and stalled progress.
When we fail to see and feel our progress, we lose hope. We start to experience the negative internal feedback loop. It usually sounds something like this:
"I'm not making any progress. Why am I not making any progress? Probably because I'm not smart or talented, so I was never going to make progress. Why am I doing all of these things every single day if I'm never going to make progress? This is stupid. I'm going to stop."
The problem is that this is all about perception vs. reality. If you are taking the right daily actions (and refining them as needed), you are making progress (reality), it's just hard to see it sometimes (perception).
Three ways to fight back and stay the course:
Remember this mantra: When in doubt, zoom out.
Life is a first person game. You live zoomed in. The issue with this is that the zoomed in view fails to provide perspective on where you started, where you are, and where you're heading.
When we lose sight of the delta between where we started and where we are, we fail to appreciate the progress and growth our actions have created.
Zooming out is your first line of defense for staying the course.
Action Item: Set a weekly reminder to look back at your starting level and compare it to your current level. Doing this weekly will keep you on track.
Give yourself micro rewards for completing the process.
We often fail to incentivize process, instead focusing all incentives on actual goal achivement. This is the wrong way to go about it.
Start incentivizing your completion of the daily actions that will contribute to the long-term achievement.
Action Item: Establish a weekly micro reward (one that doesn't set you back from your core goals). Write it up on your screen or whiteboard so that you know what you can look forward to if you stick to your plan.
Look Back & Cringe
My favorite strategy for staying the course: Review some of your old work and cringe at how bad it is!
As discussed around the zoom out strategy, it's easy to lose sight of the progress you're making when you're living in the moment. Reviewing old work in detail is a good way to force the progress to the top of your mind.
If you're trying to become a world class writer, go look at some of your writing from 6 months ago. Assuming you've been writing every day since then, you can safely assume that the old writing will make you cringe at how bad it seems.
Action Item: Establish a monthly cadence to review your old work. Embrace the cringe.
I am consistently blown away by the change that is possible in a single year.
In one year, you can:
- Build and scale a solo business. Build a relevant audience of 10K+ around your topic of interest, create landing pages for services you plan to offer to that audience, and monetize your services.
- Dramatically improve your health and vitality. Lose weight, build muscle, improve your performance, and extend your lifespan.
- Get that promotion you've been dreaming of. Pay off the debt that has been hanging over your head. Set yourself and your family on a better financial course.
- Read 50+ books. Build a scale newsletter around a topic of interest. Launch and scale a top podcast.
The possibilities are—quite literally—endless.
By leveraging the strategies discussed in this piece, you will put yourself on the path to creating continuous improvement and staying the course through the challenges along the way.
Don't wait for the new calendar year to get started. Maybe the best time to start something was January 1, but the second best time is TODAY.
I'd love to hear from you:
- What do you plan to focus on for the year ahead?
- What change do you want to create in your life?
- How will this change impact your life for the better?
Reply to this email or tweet at me @SahilBloom and I'll do my best to get back to everyone!
Oh, and I'll leave you with a picture to give you a good, hearty laugh—a still shot of my face when I found out about the baby news...