Yes, New Year’s resolutions are in the air. Perhaps you too are thinking of resolutions or, perhaps, have already made some. At least it’s too early to say that any one of us has failed following through. That will come later – for many of us.
Resolutions have developed a bad reputation, as they have become more often associated with failure than with success. I’m here today to add my two cents worth on what makes resolutions fail … and what makes them succeed. By being forewarned we are forearmed. I borrow the journalists’ article-writing conceit of “what, when, where, who, how, and why” to explain the ways the resolutions can go off track.
Let’s start with “What.” What is the change you plan to make? For example, maybe in the new year you want to get in better shape or write the book that’s been roiling inside you for years. The first step in successful resolutions is to define and operationalize your “What.” Getting into better shape is non-specific. Do you define it as losing 20 pounds, running a half marathon, getting your resting heart rate below 60, deadlifting 150% of your body weight? Writing a book seems more specific of a goal, but one can write a 20,000-word book or one ten times longer. How long will it be? Or better still, what is the outcome you seek for the reader? If it’s a non-fiction book, what information and lessons learned will the reader be offered? If it’s fiction, what experiences, emotions and lessons learned will the reader be left with?
Second, we need to confront the “When.” I assume you are a person with little free time on your hands. Imagine a timeline of your day, from waking to lying down to sleep. As you observe that daily timeline, do you see any gaps waiting to be filled? If you don’t, then no matter how compelling and operationalized you have made your “what,” you will fail. Most changes require additional time. Some changes, once fully incorporated into your life, may fit into the time slot of the behaviors it replaced. Even in some of these cases, the initial efforts at making the change and establishing the new habit often takes more time than it saves. There’s a hump of increased effort and time commitment you must cross.
What choices do you have when searching for your “When?” You can complete existing tasks in less time, you can drop some existing tasks, or you can (at least temporarily) add more committed time to your days. Solutions exist, of course, but they must be explicitly sought and established.
Next, let’s look at “Where” and “How.” Similar questions arise as when addressing the “When.” You must answer “Where” and “How” your new activity will do done. I won’t dwell on these further here.
Next on our list is the “Who,” which I will revise to “With Whom?” One success strategy for keeping resolutions is to engage in new behaviors with another person. If you wish to eat a healthier diet, engage your significant other in this resolution. Perhaps you can both cook together, or even take a cooking class together. Or if you resolve to go to the gym or jog early in the morning, get a partner or, perhaps better still, a small group of like-minded people. You will inspire each other and, by wishing to avoid shame in the event you’re not keeping up your commitment, you will more likely keep it.
And last and very importantly is your “Why.” To be able to keep up one’s motivation through all the hard times, the setbacks, the illnesses, and the breaks in routine such as those forced by vacations or business travel, you must have at your core a clear answer to, “Why am I doing this?” I ask that you start thinking about this now. To give it its full due, however, I will do an entire post just on the “Why” of change.
And a request before I sign off: please share with me (with all of us) your own experiences in following through on resolutions or change in general. Also, harkening back to the last post, let me know if you conducted your personal inventory of what might have gone off track in your life that you feel should be addressed.
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Thanks and take care,
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
– Nelson Mandela
“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”
– Elizabeth Kubler Ross
“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”
– Abraham Lincoln