Monday, December 28, 2009

Making New Year's Resolutions That Stick


It's that time of year again, when we stop, look at ourselves, and say, "You know, this coming year I really ought to..." or "This year, I'm definitely going to..." We make lists of these things, and about a month later, they somehow migrate to the round file, and we go on as before.

There's a false sense of security in making resolutions, the idea that once we write it down, it will happen. Magically, that is, without us doing anything more than fixing the idea at a particular point in time.

So how does one make resolutions that stick?

Change Is Incremental

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Sound familiar? Sure, you've probably read it in some sentimental card at Papyrus or a chain e-mail. Despite the hackneyed phrasing, the idea is still fundamental: you can't go far if you won't take the first step. For New Year's Resolutions, you have to realize that big changes don't happen overnight, they take time and effort. Don't resolve to lose 100 lbs if you can't start with a single trip to the gym.

Start Small, Finish Big

We all know someone who's made a BHAG for a New Year's Resolution, along the lines of "I'm going to beat the company sales record this year!" At the end of the year, you look at the sales records and the would-be top salesperson is nowhere on the list. Why do people fail to achieve a these kinds of resolutions? Because they keep the goal ambiguous without creating an action plan for achievement.

If you want to add a BHAG to your resolutions, don't just shoot for the moon, build a rocket ship to take you there. If you want to break a sales goal, calculate how much you have to sell each month. Look hard at your clients and determine how much you can sell to existing customers and estimate how much will have to come from new sales. Spend time developing an implementation plan, and you can achieve a major goal each year.

Be Realistic

My resolution last year (singular) was a simple one: never have more e-mails in my Inbox than I could view on a single screen. My life at the time was really crazy with a part-time job and full-time MBA program, but after skimming through the classic David Allen tome, Getting Things Done, I had decided to implement this one idea.

It meant taking fifteen minutes every single day to look at the e-mails piling up in my Inbox and find homes for them in categorized folders. I even took out scrap paper and sketched an index for sorting folders. For ongoing projects, I created a main folder called "Project Name" and then created sub folders by month, so I could track a project's progress.

My time was limited, and yet I did achieve my goal, to the point that it's a habit for me. But I was very realistic in setting my goal, knowing that I didn't have a lot of wiggle room to be ambitious.

Don't Give Up

For the past ten years or so, my list of "things to do someday" has included two things: learn to ski and learn to golf. Another person might have given up by now, but I still haven't. But I'm becoming a little more realistic about these items. They both require time and money. Over the summer, I bought a used set of golf clubs from craigslist, so this year, I'm one step closer to golfing. This coming summer, I'm going to block off some time to actually take the clubs to a driving range to try hitting a few balls. Sure it's taken me the better part of a decade, but I'm making progress. Certainly learning to golf hasn't been as much of a priority as my MBA training, or getting married, but I'm still keeping it in my mind. Lots of people have "someday" goals, the important thing is to take them out of the closet once in a while and try and take a few steps forward.

This year, I'm resolving to lose 30 lbs, and I began by joining a gym last week. So far I've been 4 times, which I like to think are the first 4 steps in the journey of many many more. What are you resolving this year?

Image: Calvin and Hobbes © Bill Watterson

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