Redesign your mental model: Forget resolutions and reshape habits

Editorial Team

8 min read
January spelled in letter tiles

Welcome to 2020!

After popping a few corks and singing “Auld Lang Syne,” most of us resolve to change things up in the New Year—whether it’s a change in our businesses, homes, or selves. But as long as humans have made resolutions, they’ve also been dropping them—and fast.

This Business Insider poll, for example, found that about 80% of people who made a resolution in January 2018 had dropped it by February—of the same year.

Why do we drop resolutions so fast? Are we making impactful and realistic resolutions? Are we solving the real problem? Are resolutions even worth making after failed attempts at keeping them year over year? Maybe resolutions aren’t the best approach.

It’s simply not enough to resolve to make change. Lasting change is only possible if you’re willing to sleuth out the root cause of the problem behavior you want to change and reshape your habits.

So forget resolutions. Consider, instead, five questions you can ask—and answer—to reshape your mindset and your habits.

1. What are your goals?

Change starts with knowing what you need to change. And for small business owners, changing your business often means changing your own habits.

Start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What do you envision for the “new” you in the New Year? More patience with your employees and customers? More work/life balance? More self-care? Better delegation?
  • What do you envision for your business? Higher profits? More transaction volume? Greater customer and employee loyalty?

Remember, keep your goals simple, and set a manageable number of them. Set three key goals for the New Year.

2. What behaviors keep you from reaching those goals?

The key to setting and meeting goals is self-evaluation. And the key question to ask here is: What’s keeping, or could keep, you or your company from meeting the goals you’ve set?

Start with yourself.

What do you want to change about your behavior? Have you received feedback from others about something you habitually do that negatively impacts your business or those around you? How does that behavior keep you from meeting your personal goals?

If you don’t have a clear sense of what you need to change, ask someone you trust: a family member, a friend, a colleague, or an employee. Be open to feedback. Look for themes. And, remember, honest feedback can be tough to process, so be patient with your confidants and yourself as you sort through their suggestions.

Make a list of the unwanted behaviors you or your confidants have identified. Use a spreadsheet, notepad, or any tool you’re comfortable with and capture all the behaviors you want to change, and thoughts you might have about where those behaviors come from..

Now consider your business.

What is it about your business’ performance you want to change? Do you know how it’s actually performing? If not, use your sales data to get a feel for the health of your business—which days or months your sales go up or down, or how much demand there is for your products and services. Take an honest look at the weak spots in your business because they can point the way to opportunities for growth and change.

Not sure where to begin? Connect with customers and employees to see how they’re feeling about the business and what might be holding it back. Prepare yourself for tough answers.

Self-reflection isn’t easy, but it can help you and your business determine what’s holding you back from being a better you or a more productive business.

3. How are you using your time?

You’ve probably heard about the myth that says it takes 21 days to change a habit. It’s true, indeed, that change takes time, but it usually takes longer than 3 weeks. In fact, changing a habit can take 2 months, on average, and sometimes longer. So how you and your business use time becomes critical to change.

Interestingly, one survey discovered that business leaders were wasting up to 30% of their workweeks on low-value and no-value activities, like emails, checking social, or watching YouTube. To avoid that pitfall and set new behaviors, it’s crucial to take stock of how you spend your time—inside and outside business hours.

Where are you spending the bulk of your time? On high-value items like building your business, spending time with family, or improving your wellbeing? Or on low- or no-value activities? Ask yourself where you’d like to spend more time if you could, or what advice you’d give to a fellow business owner.
Now, take a look at how your employees use time. Pick a time period that’s typical of your business cadence—maybe it’s the last 30, 60, or 90 days—and pull time sheets. If you don’t use a time tracker for your business, check out Homebase Schedule and Time Clock. They work together to help business owners simplify scheduling, time tracking, and even hiring.

If your current time tracking doesn’t offer the detailed breakdown you’re looking for, talk to your employees. Let them tell you how they’re spending valuable work time. Cross reference their reports against their hours and the actual work performed. It’s possible that your team might be doing things that they consider work that actually hinder your progress or efficiency. Identify these undesired behaviors and understand that they may be separate from time-wasting activities.

The goal here is to understand how much time you and your team spend on low-value tasks, tasks not directly related to building your business, and to identify what can be streamlined, trimmed, or even cut entirely.

4. What leads to undesired behaviors?

Once you have a list of all the undesired behaviors and time-wasting activities that keep you and your business from reaching goals, capture possible causes of those behaviors.

Let’s say, for example, one of the behaviors you want to change is your short temper at work. What’s causing that short temper? Is it a carry-over from stress at home, a lack of exercise, poor nutrition, too little sleep, too many errors at work that need your attention?

Next, figure out what’s driving your unwanted behaviors by journaling your activities for a week or so. Be sure to note times that are especially stressful or when your goals aren’t met. Look for trends—day of week, time of day, or time of month—that may need extra attention.

Do the same for your business. Ask your employees to spend a week writing in a journal how they spend their days and where they run into time sucks. Or encourage total transparency through an anonymous employee survey.

5. What habits would set you up for success?

Rather than focusing simply on banishing an unwanted behavior, zero-in on its underlying causes. And work on changing those.

Imagine you’re trying to correct the behavior of eating too much fast food. Rather than simply telling yourself to eat less of it, consider instead the root cause and deal with that. Say, through your self-evaluation you’ve realized you eat fast food because you’re too tired to cook at the end of a long day of work and you often have nothing that’s quick to prepare in your kitchen. So focus on what you can do to prepare meals ahead of time. Can you take a morning, weekend afternoon, or evening to shop for and prepare simple meals that can be at-the-ready for you on long workdays? Can you hire someone to prepare and freeze nutritious meals that can be heated quickly at the end of a long day?

Getting to the root of the problem makes it easier and more likely for you to meet the goals you set for yourself.

When it comes to business, consider how you can set you and your team up for success. If, for example, you find that your team tends to get stressed out and short with one another during the peak-hour rush, try working in a 10-minute fresh-air or quiet-time break for each team member before the rush. That way, each person can diffuse any residual tension from earlier in the day or week before the crunch sets in.

Or maybe you’ve found that last-minute urgencies are running havoc with your schedule. Address your planning systems, so you can get ahead of the curve on big tasks—whether it’s inventory, food prep, marketing, or another task.

Or maybe you’ve realized that you need to nurture a deeper relationship with customers. Consider introducing a tool like CE suite to enhance communication with people and reward your VIP’s.


At some point, each of us will feel the pain of stress, too much to do in too little time, or customer dissatisfaction—especially small business owners. And each of us has behaviors that could use a little change-up. So let this New Year bring you the opportunity to ditch plaguing habits and make real change. All it takes is desire, thoughtful planning, and practice to make real change for you as well as your business.

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