From Resolutions to a New, True Course

Michael Reddy

Dean Michael Reddy

We’re a month into the New Year now, and the crowds at the gym have started to thin. For many, the resolve to work out, eat better or declutter has petered out. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, the research is imprecise, but we know — often from personal experience — that most are abandoned well before they’re achieved.

If you still have 10 pounds to lose, don’t lose faith. The problem is not the intent as much as it is the approach.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Trust the process.” It’s sometimes hard to sustain that trust in the face of society’s instant-gratification, immediate-results mindset, where we focus on hitting big goals in a short time rather than the process or intention that can propel us there.

The distinction between goals and intentions is more than semantics. The idea of intention honors effort and process, not just results. An intention is more forgiving, without the all-or-nothing dynamic that seems to accompany most New Year’s resolutions.

Think of how an attitude of gratitude should be a year-round practice rather than relegated just to Thanksgiving Day. In the same way, setting intentions for improvement are more sustainable if we continue the effort throughout the year. For example, I could have resolved to start a formal exercise regimen. Instead, I swapped my briefcase for a backpack and committed to walking to work and taking the stairs.

This is why I like the concept of True North. True North refers to what we try to do, not what we must do. It is a process. If I stray off course and miss a day, I just redirect myself: the job and the stairs will be there tomorrow.

True North is a term used in Lean management to describe the ideal or state of perfection for which a business or university should be continually striving. The point of pursuing True North is the incremental improvements that take place along the way, not an absolute destination. To put it another way: We will never achieve perfection, personally or as an organization. But opportunities for improvement never end, and it is only when we take the next step in improvement that we see possible next steps.

This is a far cry from the typical New Year’s resolution, where we are supposed to be perfect after 21 days. (Incidentally, there is no evidence for the myth that you can make or break a habit in 21 days.) We never are going to be perfect. But we all can take steps in that direction.

Likewise, as the new UCSF strategic framework evolves, True North will be the visionary signpost to which we work to draw nearer each day, benefitting from the improvements along the journey. I trust this process will lead us to become a better place to work, learn, discover and seek care.

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