Now that that’s over, let’s start again.
Statistically, about 40 percent of us have given up on our New Year’s resolutions before the end of January, and by March, 80 percent will have vowed to try again next year. Why do we even try, given this dismal performance year after year? Why can’t we just make it happen? The answer is easier than you may think. Drumroll please…
Your resolution has to be a positive declaration of specific action to be accomplished at a set time.
On its face, my simple sentence is just a very brief summary the immortal and irrefutably successful SMART goals model: Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Time sensitive
But you and I know that it really is harder than that, isn’t it? Of course, it is! If it wasn’t, we would all be very thin and fit nonsmokers who read a book a week in our time off from our skyrocketing job performance and deeply meaningful volunteer work. So, just to make it clear, here is what we do wrong:
We focus on what we don’t want.
We all do this. In fact, it is the most natural thing that moves us to action. We notice that we are getting fatter, of lazier, or losing ground to some other person at work or in life. Don’t misunderstand me: Wanting to get unstuck is a great motivator and an effective way to get personal leverage. Unfortunately, it is a miserable goal setting tool.
If you spend all your time focused on what you are not going to do then it typically leads you to the bitter observation that, when you stumble (and you will), that you are incapable of change.
The better tactic is to ask yourself what you do want, and, most importantly, what consistent action will produce that outcome. Do this and you have a resolution that will work.
We make the outcome the goal of our resolution instead of the practice.
As I mentioned above, you have to break your resolution into actions. What most of us do instead is get on the scale every day or start frantically applying for promotions or looking for some immediate payoff for our grueling 72 hours of effort. We have a hard time reconciling our overwhelming optimism with society’s glacial observational skills.
Here is the point:
We have the habits of a person who has the thing we aspire to have.
If we want a promotion, we are much better off doing simple things like being on time to meetings, getting organized, building efficient habits, and looking for ways to be supportive and unselfish. If you are focused on these observable and measurable behaviors you will either get a promotion or an observant and better paying competitor will offer you a job. The same is true for getting fit (seek out healthy foods, get more exercise, pick an activity that you enjoy, join a club or ask friends to support you) or dropping a bad habit (change your routine, make new friends who don’t have the habit, replace the habit with something that will make you happier or healthier).
We expect ourselves to be perfect.
This one is the resolution killer. Have you ever said this? “oh crap, I messed up today! I’ll start again in the morning…on Monday…after the first of the month…when things settle down at work… (fill in your own subjective time frame that you probably will not respect)” Why do we quit so easily? Is it because we think we should be perfect? Surely not, since it is highly likely that we have very few episodes of perfection that we can use as evidence that we should even try to be perfect.
I think the biggest issue, is that we tend to think they are perfect. You know them, the ones who have it easy, the naturals, the people who already have what you want. They never falter. First and foremost, there is no “them”: it’s just you. They have their own problems and shortcoming that you can’t imagine and would not want. What they also have, that you should be interested in, is a group of prevalent behaviors that produce the desired result. Those behaviors are your goal.
Every life hacker and book writer will tell you the key to success is persistence. When you do fail, start again immediately. Don’t make excuses for failing: start again and do better next time. We do not have to be perfect! We only have to be consistent!
Everyone fails some of the time. It is what they do most of the time that makes them who they are.
Strategies for Effective Resolutions
Action solves problems. Making excuses and waiting for a better, easier, or less expensive solution is just another way of being complacent and resolving to stay in the same uncomfortable place you are already in. You can do this. If it is important enough, if your relationships are important enough, if you are important enough…you can do this.
Now that you have given up on that resolution, or you, at the very least, feel it slipping away, start again. Refocus your intention on who you want to become this year. See yourself as you could be in twelve months if you did the right thing most of the time. That person that you always wanted to be is in you, you just need to give them a break and some good advice.
For more information on building a better, mentally stronger you this year, read this article from Psychology Today