New Year’s resolutions that stick

Most New Year’s resolutions start out with fiery ambition on January 1 but soon dwindle to a weak flame, easily extinguished by the demands of day-to-day life.

Sound familiar? It should. According to StatisticBrain only 8% of people successfully achieve their resolution. I wonder how many of those abandoned goals cause angst. Especially after having publicly proclaimed a determination to lose weight or stop smoking or get a new job.

Is it lack of willpower—or something else?

Willpower is necessary, that’s for sure. Especially if one is aiming at a significant behavioural change like zapping an addiction to nicotine. New habits take anywhere from 30 days to 6 months before they become ingrained which means there’s a period of time when our mind and body send us signals to tempt us into the old behaviour. Willpower is our ability to withstand the temptation until such time as it loses its hold on us.

But lack of willpower isn’t the main reason so many goals are dropped. There are two other causes that I think are more pervasive. Fortunately they’re easily remedied once you recognize them. They are:

  • Poorly defined goals
  • Unrealistic expectations

What does a poorly defined goal look like?

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success. ~ Pablo PicassoPoorly defined goals are nothing more than a wish. The intention is present, but it has no teeth.

They sound like this:

  • I want to lose weight
  • I want a better paying job
  • I’m going to spend more time with my kids/spouse/friends

The problem is a lack of measurement. If you don’t say when and how much, there’s no way to know if you’re on track or to recognize when you’ve arrived. Even worse, without a time element it’s impossible to make an effective plan. Deciding to lose 50 pounds calls for a different approach than a need to lose 10 pounds.

Do these goals look better?

  • I will lose 10 pounds by March 15.
  • I will update my resume by February 1 and will attend one networking event per month to secure a job delivering a 15% increase by the end of this year.
  • I will sit down with my family before the end of January to design ‘date nights’ where we will do things together with no email or text interruptions.

It’s way easier to draft a plan once you’ve chosen a specific measurable result and given it a time limit.

Unrealistic expectations

Unrealistic expectations set us up for failure. So why do we do it? Many times the resolution started out as a poorly defined goal (see above). Because it was never assigned a timeline with a specific success measurement, the fact that it’s unrealistic goes unnoticed.

For example: Stating that you’ll spend more time with family while also committing to taking a night course could create competing goals.

Deciding that you will take two vacations with your partner this year may not be realistic if he or she wants to focus on saving for a down payment for a house.

Planning helps

Before you commit to anything, discuss resolutions with others whose input or buy in is critical. Make an estimate of the financial investment and the time that each goal will require. Schedule your new activities into your budget as well as your calendar. Can you make it all work? It’s better to find out early that you need to do a little trimming.

I wish you all the best with your goals and resolutions.


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