As we enter yet another new year, I can’t help but feel a little jaded. Every new year, millions of people set new goals, only to give up on them by March 15th.

I know this because I analyzed the sales data of companies that depend on New Year’s resolutions for a sales boost — and sales cyclically drop by March 15th each year.

I find behavior change fascinating. 

When I was at McKinsey, I felt the firm was exceptionally good at figuring out what strategic decision a client should make. But, I think the firm was not nearly as good at getting clients to implement those recommendations as they could have been.


What is the difference between what a computer model says you should do and actually doing it in real life?

What is the critical “X Factor” that causes some great PowerPoint decks to simply gather dust?

The answer is…

Human Nature

The reason some great strategies don’t get implemented is because of the human factor. The reason other strategies do is also due to the human factor.

In my current consulting practice, my analytical work is far less rigorous than the work that I did at McKinsey. These days, I have my clients run 5% (at most) of the analysis I used to run at McKinsey.

Yet the results my clients get in increased sales, profits, or achieving lifestyle goals are nearly an order of magnitude higher than they were during my McKinsey days.

I’ve thought a lot about why, and it comes down to one simple idea. I’m able to get clients to take action and make changes happen. That, combined with a little bit of really good strategy, makes an enormous impact.

Here’s one big lesson I’ve learned that I’ll share with you.

When I’m trying to get clients to change and they resist, I make the amount of change that I’m requesting SMALLER.

In other words, the secret is BABY STEPS.

I laid out a new customer segment strategy for a client, but they felt awkward executing the strategy because it required them to learn new skills. I told the 5-person team to forget the financial goal. Just generate $1 in sales next month. Just one measly little dollar.

If you want to work out for three hours a week at the gym, don’t make it a goal to work out three times per week. Instead, make it a goal to drive to the gym 3 times a week and step inside the front doors for at least 10 seconds.

The hardest part about working out isn’t the working out. The hardest part is showing up.

The simpler and smaller the next step, the far more likely you will do it.

If you want to lose 15 pounds by eating healthier, don’t make losing 15 pounds the goal.

Make the goal to not buy any food at the store that comes packaged in a cardboard box. That’s it. Does it perfectly match the guidelines recommended by nutritionists and doctors? No, but it does capture the 80/20 of it.

(Most foods that disproportionally cause you to gain weight are foods that are made in a factory — and thus packaged in a box, rather than grown on trees or on a farm.)

If taking baby steps doesn’t work, then try taking micro baby steps to start. The key to initiating change is to have much smaller goals. Once you break the inertia from change, then raise the goals just enough to be useful, but not so much as to be intimidating.

Wash, rinse, repeat, and over time you will make the changes needed to achieve your ultimate goal.

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