How to make your resolutions stick
New Year’s resolutions remind me of the riddle “Five Frogs On A Log”. Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left? Answer: Five Why? Because deciding and doing are not the same thing.
As we enter the new year, we start the year with the best of intentions. We are like the frogs on the log. We decide to do something and make it our new year’s resolution. We proclaim it to our friends and family. “This is the year that I will:”
- Lose 15 lbs
- Finish my degree
- Spend more time with my family
- Eat healthier
- Stop Smoking
- Drink less Alcohol
- Find a new job
- Improve my finances
One or more of these items sound familiar? We all start the year with the best of intentions, but then life interferes with our plans. We get caught up in the day to day and quickly turn our resolutions into dreams rather than realities. Setting an aspirational resolution sounds great in theory, but in practice very few people hold true to their resolutions. They lack the resolve to see them through.
Success in making a personal change and following through with a commitment requires cognitive discipline. It starts in your mind. You must start out with the right intention and maintain your level of commitment. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a habit as “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity” Habits can be both healthy and unhealthy. In order to make your New Year’s resolution stick, one must create a behavior pattern, frequently repeat it until it become committed to habit.
Self-awareness is critical to any self-improvement initiative. Start by reflecting on past successes. Recall a time that you set a personal goal and accomplished it. Try to find three or more examples. Then look for a pattern. By reflecting on past successes we can often identify common themes. Was there accountability to other people? Were the goals time-bound? Were they measurable?
When setting a new years resolution apply the same approach that companies use for setting individual performance goals by applying the acronym SMART. Make your resolution Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
Specific: State exactly what you want to accomplish
Measurable: How will you demonstrate and evaluate the extent to which you have accomplished the resolution? Create a tracking mechanism to measure progress
Achievable: Be realistic when setting your resolution. Stretching and challenging resolutions are ok, but don’t fool yourself by over-promising
Relevant: How does your resolution tie to what is important in your life? Don’t be overly selfish. Think about your resolution as it relates to your family, your career and your lifestyle
Timely: Set one or more target dates, “by when” to guide you. Create milestones along the way and mark them on a calendar.
Success is about execution. The frogs made a decision but failed to execute. The hardest part is taking the first step. Some people find that they do better when they have a partner or a coach. Find someone to help? Share your plan and solicit their assistance. As an executive coach, I find that many of my clients rely on me to help drive their accountability to themselves. By having me watching over them, they take more responsibility. This might be a helpful approach when setting a resolution. Rely on a friend or family member to help.
As you prepare for the year ahead, be realistic and be self-aware when setting personal goals. Remember that deciding to do something and taking action are two different things. Start the year off with action and wait until February before proclaiming the resolution. By the time you share your resolution with others in February you will already be one month ahead on your path to success.