You have not yet reached your potential. Lucky for you (and the rest of us), we get another chance to go for it, in 2021. And 2021 will be amazing. Or at least that’s what the self-help posts on social media tell us. 

I used to think about time like a conveyor belt. I would imagine something I wanted to have or be, set a date in the not-to-distant future, on which I would acquire or achieve it, and wait. The date would arrive, because the passage of time is a 1st Principle, but of course, the conveyor belt would be empty.

This might be tied to Santa. As kids, our parents told us to wish for presents and wait for Christmas. Yes, they did often include the admonishment to “be good, for goodness sake,” but the metric for good was ambiguous, and we got more presents than lumps of coal, so the relationship between performance and reward was murky, at best.

2021 will not automatically be better, but the New Year does offer us a little boost. It’s what behavioral scientist call a temporal landmark. Temporal landmarks are significant dates that help us structure our perception of time, like a birthday or the first day of a new year1. Research suggests this works because we divide our lives into mental accounting periods.

In business, at the end of each year, we close that year’s books and open the new year’s books. The revenue and expenses for the current year are in the current year but the revenue and expenses for the past year stay in the past year. Similarly, in our personal lives, we relegate previous results to past accounting periods and see the new accounting period as a fresh start2. The stumbling block is that you’re still you (I’m still me) in the New Year. So if we want to leverage the boost, we must change ourselves.

Backsliding by February is axiomatic. So what will be different this time around? First, acknowledge that change is achieved in small steps. You cannot jump to the top of the mountain. You have to climb up, incremental step by incremental step. I know, it seems daunting. The trick is to focus on the best next step. And, for goodness sake, do not depend on willpower. Willpower is like an external booster rocket. It’s powerful, but short-lived. It won’t get you past February. Instead, create daily and weekly habits.

The conveyor belt of time does not bring us what we want. The opposite, it carries us away. Aging and apathy conspire to convey us into decline. The good news is that the conveyor belt is not moving too fast. We can run faster forward that it is moving backward. I’m sure a treadmill just popped into your mind. A treadmill is great for indoor exercise, but also analogous to not making progress. The difference in our time conveyor belt analogy is that the belt is long and does lead to a destination. But only if we’re willing to run faster forward than it’s going backward. By the way, none of us can run continually. In fact, more progress is made by stopping, periodically, to get the right amount of rest and recovery.

A great way to structure all of this is with a tool called a Daily Habits Checklist. You don’t have to buy anything. Just create a spreadsheet that has the days of the year as 365 thin columns and each habit you’ve identified as useful to the achievement of a goal as a row. Each day that you do the habit, put an “X” in the cell at the intersection of that day and that habit. Jerry Seinfeld famously does this with writing comedy. He said the “X’s” form a chain. Don’t break the chain!

If you want to achieve what you want to achieve (Yogism intended), you cannot sit idly by. 2021 will not be better, unless you make it so.

Learn what to do. Do it. Keep doing it.




  1. Peetz, Wilson, 2013
  2. Dai, Milkman, Riis, 2014


Engaged Banker eXperience delivers these and many other strategies, from behavioral science, to all of your bank’s employees, in bite-sized bits, in every learning style, using spaced repetition and synchronous communication. In other words, in a way every person can easily absorb and immediately apply, to their individual success and to the success of your bank.