Sorry to be a downer but only about 40% of people follow through well enough to keep their new year’s resolutions according to Psychology professor John Norcross at Scranton University. We don’t need a research study to know that most people fail when trying to make change by utilizing resolutions. Having coached more than a hundred leaders and managers across multiple continents, I’ve seen a lot of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creating personal change and achieving goals. So here are 4 reasons resolutions struggle to work and how you can make change happen in 2012.
1. Resolutions fail to include clearly defined behaviors that must change. So you want to lose weight and get healthier this year. Great! This goal is one of the most popular resolutions created each year. Unfortunately, the resolution stated as a goal is only a small piece of how to create personal change. What most people fail to do is to specifically identify the behaviors that must change in order for this goal to happen. This is critical to achieve the desired change because you have to know what behaviors support and what are currently hindering you related to the goal. You can increase your chances of creating the change by defining 2-3 behaviors that you will focus on changing or substituting with behaviors that will support your progress. For example, you may choose to change the behavior of eating everything on your plate, to eating only half of what is on your plate. Likewise, you might choose to drink water rather than sodas with meals.
2. Resolutions fail to have a written plan. Defining the goal and the behaviors that must change is not enough. Most people do not create a written plan for how they will progress towards their goal. Successful plans include the goal/resolution, key behaviors, smaller sub-goals that provide small wins and leads to the overall larger goal, and 2 or more actions that will make the smaller goals happen. For example, if you want to spend more time with your kids you might create smaller goals of setting aside every Thursday night and Saturday morning for fun with the kids. Another goal would be to set a sub-goal of leaving the office every evening by a specified time.
3. Resolutions are not closely linked to your life purpose. Most people fail to think about the connection between their resolution and how it will really contribute value to their life. Resolution setting is a left-hemisphere cognitive activity and often fails to include emotional engagement. For example, you might think about how finally writing that book you have in your head can be used as a vehicle to communicate to your children the principles you have always wanted to share with them and the world. By thinking about how keeping the resolution will help you live your purpose, you will generate emotional energy that will drive motivation to stick with your plan and ultimately achieve your goals.
4. Resolutions don’t employ a system of accountability. Slippage naturally occurs with goals and vision. When life gets busy and our focus dulls we lose track of our goals and other priorities slip in. The resolution is eventually abandoned after a period of months without progress. Successful change occurs most often when you build a system of accountability for your personal change. This can be done by creating an accountability partnership with someone who can help you with consistent progress checks. An accountability partner is most effective when you can give him or her a list of 2-3 questions you would like to be asked every 30 days. This monthly check-in can be the spark you need to remember your goals and reconnect with the reason you decided to make the commitment to change.