Don’t Make Goals, Make Resolutions

Every New Year’s Day, nearly half of Americans participate in the tradition of promising to better themselves in the upcoming year. Most of these improvements will be personal: lose weight, spend less and get organized were the top three resolutions of 2014.[1] Career-related ambitions follow a similar pattern with popular resolutions being get a promotion/new job, reduce stress/improve life balance and, you guessed it, get organized.[2]

Despite this enthusiastic drive for self-improvement, only  8% will be successful, with more than a third giving up after the first month. 24% fail every year leading some to suggest that the practice could actually be harmful.[3] In a society as productive as ours, why the high failure rate?

Consider this: The dictionary definition of a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” The definition of a goal is “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.” Now look at the list above. They’re all goals.

The best way to make life changes is to concentrate on actions. It’s easier to contact a cold sales lead every day, than to make more sales, for example. A resolution allows you to form habits that will drive you to your end goal. Here are some tips to help you “do or not do something” this year:

Bribe Yourself

Psychologists share that all habits have cues that trigger the behavior and rewards that help your brain associate the behavior with something it enjoys.[4] Take advantage of that knowledge to solidify your resolutions into long-term habits. Plan the task at the same time of the day, or in sync with another recurring activity. Then, identify a “reward” that will help you look forward to completing the task. Make your cold sales calls right after lunch, for example, then give yourself permission to read an article in your favorite professional magazine. If someone asks why you always go for coffee after you’ve finished your reports for the day, tell them you’re training your brain.

Play Offense

From food commercials and vending machines to time-wasting websites, our resolutions are constantly being tested. A 2012 paper by the American Psychological Association[5] suggests that rather than being better at resisting temptation, people who are the most self-disciplined are, instead, better at avoiding temptation. They play offense.

If you want to lose weight, you play offense by keeping snacks out of the house and cooking in. Playing offense in a business setting might not be as obvious. You will have to look for the temptations that sabotage your resolve and work to avoid them. If your resolution is to make it home for dinner with the family, then you might need to close down your email an hour before you want to leave so you aren’t sucked into “that one last thing”. Block those time-wasting websites in your firewall and let calls go to voicemail when you are reading that professional magazine that will help you land a promotion.

Visualize Your Goals

If “seeing is believing”, find ways to see what you are working towards every day. Want to stay organized? Tape a picture of a neat, tidy desk to your monitor. Working for a promotion? Clip a magazine article that motivates you and post it on your bathroom mirror. Make your desktop background a picture of your kids or your favorite non-work pastime to remind you to make healthy life/work balance choices. Visual reminders of your goals can be powerful motivators to keep the resolutions that are getting you there.

See how others have turned their goals into inspirational vision boards, here:

The Good News

People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t. Each person will find a different technique that works. One man found the key to changing his life by setting a challenging password.[6] By typing the reminder of his resolution over and over, every day, he found the courage to tackle depression, kick a smoking habit and even ask his future wife out on their first date.

What are your resolutions for 2015? (Are they really resolutions?) What are you doing to keep them?