I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago, and for good reason. According to Business Insider, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. Forbes declared 92% failure rate based on a University of Scranton research suggesting that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. Despite these dismal statistics, the $11 billion self help industry suggests humans possess a strong innate desire to become better versions of themselves. It’s the getting there that’s the tricky part.
The problem with New Year’s resolutions are that they work in a framework very similar to the waterfall model, a sequential design process that originated in the manufacturing and construction industries and eventually adapted for software development. The progress flows steadily from top to bottom like a cascading waterfall in linear fashion. Progression to the next step can only occur when all the requirements in the previous step have been met. With so many internal (i.e. stress, low self esteem, depression) and external (i.e. limited resources, education, time) variables, it’s no wonder goals like losing 20lbs or finding a new career are abandoned within the first 4 weeks of setting them. Essentially, the ability to move to the next “phase” is virtually impossible if no visible progress is seen in the first 4 weeks.
We are often met with disappointment and frustration when goals don’t pan out the way we hoped or even worse, get overwhelmed with the daunting task of turning life-changing goals into a reality. In her book, Emotional Agility, psychologist Susan David asserts: “Traditional self-help tends to see change in terms of lofty goals and total transformation, but research actually supports the opposite view: that small, deliberate tweaks infused with your values can make a huge difference in your life. This is especially true when we tweak the routine and habitual parts of life, which, through daily repetition, then afford tremendous leverage for change.” [If you’re looking for another good book to read this summer, I recommend The Power of Habit (2012) by Charles Duhigg who digs deeper into why creating healthy habits are so powerful.]
Ambitious goals require smaller, realistic and attainable goals very much like in Scrum. Scrum is a framework for developing and sustaining complex products. Ken Schwaber (Scrum.org) and Jeff Sutherland (Scrum Inc.) created Scrum as an answer to the limitations of the waterfall model in software development. Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk. While Scrum was created to help address the complexity of software development in a rapidly changing environment, the core principles behind Scrum can help anyone achieve personal goals.
Taking an incremental approach, starting with tiny changes and shift in mindset can help boost your confidence, become less overwhelmed, and minimize the stress and risk level of changes in larger investments like a new career. To one day quit an unsatisfying job to return to school, one usually must take on take on financial debt and commit several years of study. This can be terrifying with so many uncertainties ahead in an unknown future and too extreme for anyone responsible for paying bills, rent, and food.
A Scrum way of thinking would be to commit to attend at least 2 networking events a month around a field of interest or industry. Follow up with people you meet and offer to buy them coffee to ask them what they love about their job, the challenges, and perks. You’ll soon get a better understanding of what you’re after and learn how to get there; so if and when you are ready to dive into that new career, you will have some safety devices set up to keep you afloat.
The idea of losing any amount of weight may seem impossible to some. Instead, take David’s advice and make small tweaks in your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator every day or get off one stop earlier from your actual train stop so you get some extra steps in your day. According to David, tiny little adjustments in our mindset, motivations, and habits add up in huge ways with profound, lasting changes to our lives. You start to slowly feel better and gain confidence to take additional step towards achieving your goal.
Scrum has much to offer teams, organizations, and anyone seeking to be nimble in a world that is constantly changing at an alarming speed. According to David, “The ultimate goal of emotional agility is to keep a sense of challenge and growth alive and well throughout your life.” Scrum embodies 5 values for Scrum teams to adhere to: commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect. These values can easily be transferred to one’s own life journey to become emotionally agile and achieve greater goals in life with small increments. Scrum on!
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David, Susan. (2016). Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. New York, NY.