My dear Friends,
I’ve never really been a person to make New Years resolutions. My thinking is that if there is something that you want to achieve, you should go start to implement that change as soon as you can. But I can see the allure of making a few changes at the beginning of the year, making a fresh start if you will. So maybe you’ve got a few resolutions that you’ve made, and maybe those resolutions have already gone down the drain. Or perhaps you need to revise your strategy of change. If a new approach is in order you may want to try to view it as a regimented lifestyle improvement plan.
Let me preface the following with a bit of my personal history, I have a Masters in Software Engineering. The focus of the degree is project management (initiating, planning and design, executing, monitoring and control, and closing) in a nutshell we look at software projects from beginning to completion as a life cycle. I think that this process, software development life cycle, can be translated to personal goals, so I am going to give it a try.
- Planning – the start of any undertaking is best served with good planning. Plans serve to give us direction and help us if we are ever to get lost. In software it depends on what school of development you want to adhere to, but I am going to lay out some general good practice planning ideas.
- Requirements engineering (my favorite part) looks at what you really want to achieve. Say you want to lose weight. You sit yourself down and write down that goal. As much as you can, make your goal measurable. Measurable goals allow you to see your progress. Within your end goal build in some smaller milestone goals, so if you are trying to lose weight, set an ideal body weight goal and set realistic weekly weigh-ins and monthly goals. But also consider why you want that goal, what you will be achieving when you accomplish that goal, and how achieving that goal my help other aspects of your life. This will help you stay focused as well as motivated. You will also want to consider your constraints, i.e. what do you have to work with, as well as what may be a pitfall for you. When you know what endangers your goal it can’t take you by surprise and you can plan for it. Some popular constraints for weight loss may seemingly be a lack of time and money. But really how cheap and easy can it be to throw together a Salad Niçoise or maybe throw something in a crock pot the night before and you have lunch. That gives you more time during lunch to relax and enjoy yourself.
- Now that you have an idea of what you want to achieve, why you want to do it, and what you need to avoid, you have are ready to move on to design. Designs can go through many versions, so don’t limit yourself, and also build in some flexibility. You may not reach your weekly weigh-in goals, but you did lose some weight. Let that difference be the tolerance, so a difference of plus or minus 5 lbs for example. Also build in allowances, if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t completely deprive yourself of yummy foods. Maybe allow for a portion of desert once a week, or however often you feel is appropriate. Design the plan so that you can achieve your goal, be kind to yourself. You don’t want to feel like you are being mean to yourself, that sort of goal is just abusive.
- Implementation, testing and documentation – now that you have your plan it’s time to make it happen. Remember this change is for you, so if you need to change at any time, sit down and revisit the plan and make it work for you.
- Implementation – try to stick to your plan as much as possible. If you see that there are problems or that there are issues, examine those problems and determine what the best solutions are. For example if you have a friend who is an enabler, maybe it’s better to limit your time with them. When you’re just starting out it is good to limit time with people who reinforce the opposite of what we want to achieve, till we’re strong enough to resist on our own. This helps to break bad patterns.
- Testing – we engineers like to test things. We run a variety of tests, including validation (are we doing the right thing) and verification (are we doing it the right way). Periodically, ask yourself is what I am doing the right thing and am I doing it the right way. Translation, am I eating the right thing and am I eating the right portions and at the right time? We also test things to make sure that things work right and what could go wrong. Pretty much we want to see if we can break the thing (no, I’m serious, that’s what we test for). You may want to see what things are tempting or preventing you from eating right, like those darn office birthday cakes or treats. Also as you progress and your patterns have changed, some people may want to test old behaviors to see their reactions. But that’s a personal preference.
- Documenting – normally this is reserved for creating manuals. But in this case I want to reserve documentation as part of the monitor and control part of the process. Writing down your progress, taking notes of what helps and doesn’t help, as well as your findings during testing, all these things are great for understanding your own personal process. You can see your own patterns and the progress that you made, you begin to understand yourself and what you can accomplish. It’s a wonderful thing to behold.
- Deployment and Maintenance – also known as the rest of your life. All those other steps were just a way to change your lifestyle and hopefully get to know yourself better. It’s also amazing how wonderful you can feel when you realize your goal. Along the way you may see yourself change and making different choices. The critical aspect of completing the goal is how will you maintain it. What other changes do you need to institute in order to keep yourself at a healthy weight. Your lifestyle needs to support your goals in the now and thereafter.