Want Real Change? Give It A Week.

Recently we visited Mount Vernon—the home of George Washington. I was impressed as never before that President Washington was one of the world’s great men and I asked myself, “How did he get that way?” After an hour in the estate’s excellent (and air conditioned!) museum I got at least part of the answer: He made himself into the man he wanted to be. He saw what he wanted to change in himself and made those changes.

My daughter admiring George Washington
George Washington was a man who knew how to improve himself.

We have all heard ourselves say things like, “I wish I could speak to a crowd like him”; “I want to be as gracious as her”; or “Wow, running a marathon would be so cool.” How many times have you seen or read about a characteristic of someone else and wished you had that trait or skill? Are there 10 things you want to improve on? 100? 1000? If the number of ways you want to improve seems impossibly high, I’ve got good news for you: it’s not.

The theme of this blog is “New and Improved” based on the idea that lives can be changed one week at a time. The week is the ideal timeframe for implementing real and lasting improvements in your life. Here are three reasons why:

1. A significant number of opportunities for improvement

I don’t know how many traits, habits, skills, or characteristics George Washington strove to develop (I know that at 16 he had at least 110 of them, but how ever many things he aspired to, he had time to accomplish many, if not all of them.

One of the great things about weeks as a timeframe for improvement is that there are a lot of them, even if you have a hundred things you want to improve. Let’s do the maths:

You can realistically focus on 3-5 things at a time. If you decide that you want to make four improvements and set four achievable goals each week, you will have made 208 substantive improvements in the course of just one year (52 weeks x four goals). I’ll talk about to to set weekly goals in a future post, but for now just think about what setting and achieving 208 goals would do for you.

2. A week is just the right length of time

Successful improvement requires goal setting, focused effort, and evaluation. A week is the perfect length of time for this because:

  1. It is not too long. You’ve heard of Parkinson’s Law—work expands to fill the time allotted to it. If you set the a goal “This month I will write letters to both my grandmas,” one of two things will happen: you will spend the next 29.5 days thinking about what to write before actually writing, stamping, and mailing the letter, or you will spend the next 30 days thinking about what to write before giving up because, “After 30 days, these letters would have to be really good.” Either way it will be an experience too painful to repeat. In one week you can either succeed or fail fairly painlessly. You will be able to evaluate your effort and make changes quickly.
  2. It is not too short. When I was younger, daily planning was all the rage, but daily goal setting doesn’t adapt well to chaos (what happens when the boss gives you an unexpected assignment or your daughter gets sick?), and real change doesn’t happen in a day. A week allows flexibility and the opportunity for improvement.

3. God likes weeks

In his telling of the creation of the world, God uses the allegory of a week’s work finished off by a day of rest and evaluation. Follow His example and you too could find yourself deciding that your efforts during the week were “very good.”

What improvement have you been hankering to try? Don’t think you have enough time? Not sure it will work? Give it a week and see what happens.

Now, here’s a question for you: What one important thing do you think you could make progress on if you focused for one week? Share your answer in the comments below.