The phrase “New Year’s resolution” has become almost synonymous with good intentions that don’t last. It’s easiest to pledge to cut down on our drinking or eating right after a night of overindulgence. Others who may be more ambitious promise to get their bodies into shape, or to learn that new language or musical instrument. But, once the hard work begins of taking the steps needed to actually get into shape, take language or music lessons, or practice or work out, the rate of follow-through is low. The Wall Street Journal reports that gym use, which spikes right at the start of the New Year, is back to usual levels around the third week of January.
Blogger and entrepreneur Mark Manson distinguishes between being in love with the process needed to reach a goal, and being in love with the results. People in love with the process are successful in reaching their goals; those who are in love with only the results are not. A similar phenomenon is known in the world of dating coaching as outcome dependence, which is what happens when a man, during an early interaction with a woman, is so concerned with where the conversation is going that he forgets to enjoy the moment. But whereas a man in the grip of outcome-dependence is still taking action to produce the results he wants, someone in love only with results doesn’t always take any action at all to reach his goal. Or he reads everything he can about his chosen topic, then does bits and pieces; or he puts together a list of twenty goals for the year; or he creates goals that are mutually exclusive; or he creates the structure – joins the gym or gets the instrument or the Rosetta stone CDs – but then fails to fill that structure with the time and effort of practice.
Instead of New Year’s resolutions, consider setting an intention for the New Year: a brief description of what kind of year 2016 will be for you. How do you want to remember 2016? Do you want to remember it as the year you broke through your dating slump? The year you actually learned that new foreign language or musical instrument? Once you set your intention, consider the goals and objectives you need to take to move you towards your goal. These steps should be specific and measurable. Here are some tips for success:
- Keep expectations realistic. Don’t try to go from being severely overweight to having a six-pack within three months, and stay away from diets or routines that promise it. Choose goals and processes that are likely to see small results over short periods of time, but that will yield bigger results over the next twelve months. If you’re an absolute beginner on the guitar, you won’t be playing like Jimmy Page within the year, but you might get “Stairway to Heaven” under your fingers by the end of June.
Be sure also not to begin too many new projects all at once. If this is your year to learn guitar, this might not be the year to also start that new business, learn Spanish, and begin dating a bunch of women all at once.
- Choose goals and objectives that are time-limited and measurable. A favorite coaching question is “What will you do, when will you do it, and how will I know?” “I will eat more vegetables in 2016” is a good intention. But what’s better is “I will eat one cup of broccoli rabe or fresh tomatoes, three times per week.” If you set this goal on Sunday, you’ll know by the following Saturday night whether or not you’ve followed through.
- Develop a daily, weekly, and monthly rhythm. Each day, come up with small steps you can take to further your goal. Find an ideal time of day to take these steps, and take them. You will need to mix these steps with necessary tasks you need to fulfill your obligations to yourself, your family, and your friends and co-workers. Devise a daily list every morning, or (even better) the night before of tasks and chores, and include some of your objectives in your list. Set yourself short-term goals for the week, medium-term goals for the month, and long-term goals for the middle of the year. Don’t be afraid to modify these goals at any point if they seem out of reach, but be sure to push yourself and challenge your limits too. A coach can be of immense value in finding your “sweet spot” between overreaching beyond your capacity and complacency.
- Become an early riser. Research shows that the most difficult tasks of the day are best accomplished when the day is young. Beginning your day when the rest of your family is still asleep, the TV and other devices are turned off, and you have plenty of energy is the ideal time for working out, writing, or studying that new language. Resistance is low, and you have less time to ruminate and come up with excuses not to do the activity. If you’re tired on waking, you might not be getting enough sleep, or the quality of your sleep may be low. Look at changes you can make at night to increase the chances of a good night’s sleep.
- Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. All habits consist of three components: the cue, the behavior, and the reward. It’s difficult to change the cue and the reward, but it’s relatively easy to change the behavior. This book, based on a ton of research on the behavior of both individuals and organizations, goes into a lot more detail about how this process works. Part 1 is of immense practical value in changing a personal habit.
Forgo New Year’s resolutions in 2016. Instead, set an intention, and back it up with a short list of realistic goals and objectives. Establish a regular rhythm of activities that will move you incrementally towards your goal. By the end of the year you’ll have accomplished a lot, and you’ll look back on 2016 with satisfaction and pride.