Want To Create Real Change in 2015? Ditch the List!

Sure, it will take some deep thinking to figure out how you are going to become a better version of you. The good news is that this January...

Photo: Sander Biehn, founder of Thought Horizon; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Sander Biehn, founder of Thought Horizon; Source: Courtesy Photo

Happy New Year! Now that your 2014 hangover is subsiding you will look back on the past year and may find that not much has changed professionally. You may be on much of the same trajectory as you were last January. And even if it is on an upward curve, it could always be better.

With a brand new year ahead, you are looking for a brand new you; a way to invigorate your business and your life. Once again, it’s time to reach for the “New Year’s Listicle” – the infamous lists surrounding your life and the New Year.

They read like neon signs along a dark highway “5 Ways To Improve This” or “6 New Ways To Supercharge That”. They beacon us in. What can we do better or different? How can I change the path I am on to become happier or richer? The advice is there for the taking, so why not dive right in?


Real Change is Not On A List

The problem is, no matter how many New Year’s improvement articles we read, we never seem to see the real changes we want in our life. Like the Sirens along a craggy shore, these listicles slow our voyage and draw us closer to an unexpected danger.

Instead of freeing us up to be better, much of the prescriptive advice in these eponymous January advice columns only serve to shackle us with a to-do list that makes us feel like we are changing for good while freezing out the real change we seek.

Consider my friend Debi.


Her small business was thriving, but she couldn’t seem to get out from underneath all the clutter and paperwork that haunted her daily life. She decided enough was enough. She grabbed “11 Ways to Get Organized And Get More Done” and was off to the races. She followed the advice as if she was assembling a complicated toy one of her kids had received from Santa. A scant few months later, her desk was clear and she was raving about the “11 Ways” on Twitter and to her customers. “Congratulations!” We all cheered. The trouble is that when I visited her in October her desk was a disaster. “What happened?” I asked. “I dunno.” She shyly replied.


In our heads we immediately want to rail on the “11 Ways” she was following: number 4 was no good … there were too many anyway … a 12th way was needed! Instead, I think we need to rethink how we program our lives for success.


Why New Year’s Lists Don’t Work

Often, following others prescriptive advice to change ourselves just doesn’t work. About the only thing those articles are good at is selling books and products. Why don’t they work? Because we always slip back into the person we are with the habits that have been ingrained in us over decades.

By doing things differently we are not changing ourselves, we are only acting in an unnatural manner. Long run failure is almost certain and valuable time is wasted. Just ask Debi.

And yet, we go back to the next self-improvement listicle hoping it will be the one that will finally create that change we desperately seek.

Does this mean that most of the New Year’s listicles out there are probably a waste of time? Yes. Does it mean there is no hope for meaningful change? No. We just need to take a different approach; an approach that doesn’t exist in any numbered schlock we read in Q1.


Real Change Looks Like …

Let’s go to the mirror for a minute.

Take a good hard look. What do you see? After you note all your faults and problems, let them go. Look deeper. Look for the essence of what is, not what isn’t, young Jedi. What you see is what you have to work with. Sure you can force yourself to do any number of things each day in a rote manner, but this person you see before you in the mirror is the one who will have to carry that water.

Look closely. This is also the person who will surprise you, your customers and your colleagues with great new ideas and a unique approach to business and life. All you need to do is nurture that person you are looking at in the mirror.

Why would you want to take your eye off that ball?

Fixing your weaknesses will not net you a million dollar idea. It will only make you less incompetent than you are today in the things you don’t really excel at anyway. Why not take the time to assess your strengths and apply them more fully to your life and business. How could they help you develop a new product or break out of a dead-end job? Where could your fresh ideas take you and the rest of us along with you?

I am sorry. I can’t answer those questions for you. Neither can a New Year’s list of things to do to improve your life. Sure, it will take some deep thinking to figure out how you are going to become a better version of you. The good news is that this January you have some extra time because you won’t have to read all those New Year’s advice articles anymore.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Sander Biehn owns and runs Thought Horizon, a B2B social selling consultancy based on principles he learned while working for a major telecom provider for the past 17 years. Sander’s proven approach helps B2B sales and marketing teams work together to create content and engagement with target markets and customers. Sander holds a provisional patent in Social Media and has published a book on workplace innovation entitled, “The 30 Year Paycheck”. He has spoken at conferences and on the radio about innovation. Sander loves amateur geology and astronomy. Sander graduated from Duke University where he holds a degree in Philosophy and Classical Studies. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two children.


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