Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Great - If You Make Them Great

Will 2015 be a truly great year for you? No, really. There’s no reason for it not to be great.

There’s a point around midnight on New Year’s Eve when you can almost smell everything the new year has to offer, and yet many of us end up having a year that is not bad, but also not great.

Now, how can you achieve genuine results from New Year’s resolutions?

The short answer is: people usually talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk because New Year’s resolutions aren’t ordinary decisions. There’s no clarity, certainty, right motivation, or commitment involved, and this makes it easy for anyone to steer off course, feel disheartened and give up.

I hope this post will help you understand the nature or “sticky” resolutions and think through the implications that the execution of your resolutions will have on your day-to-day life.

Why we break our New Year’s Resolutions

In many countries, a New Year’s resolution is a semi-holy thing. We vow we’ll stop drinking or being late to meetings. We pledge to stop wasting time or swear we’ll learn a new skill. One of the most popular resolutions is to lose weight.

You can see it in any residential neighborhood. On January 2, it seems like the entire neighborhood is out walking. People walk in the morning, but also during the day, often wearing new tracksuits and athletic shoes which they’ve purchased for the occasion. It’s like some sort of early Easter Parade. It has a celebratory feel to it. By the second week, about half of the people are out walking. By the third week, we’re back our regular number of walkers and runners, basically the crowd that was there before the New Year.

It’s interesting how we choose some arbitrary moment in time to give ourselves a fresh start. Shoot off fireworks, stay up until the wee hours and get up late- perhaps with a hangover. Then, on January 2nd, we start our new life. Then by the third week, we’re back to business as usual, repeating our bad habits on a regular basis. Why is that?

I think there are two reasons. The first is that most New Year’s resolutions are not real decision. They’re often made because people think they’re supposed to make them, just like you’re supposed to drink champagne and shoot off fireworks. Not a lot of thought is put into them, and, we soon discover, they were never very serious to begin with.

The second reason is that there are a lot of subconscious forces at work inside ourselves, which make us engage in the pre-New Year behavior (not exercising). Harvard professor Robert Kegan, a leading scholar in adult learning and development, has studied this phenomomenon and uses a term called “immunity to change.” Kegan says that even though many New Year’s resolutions are quite honest in their intent, they rarely stick. He reasons that people have several, often conflicting intentions or “commitments,” as he calls them - some of them not conscious. We want to lose weight, but we also want to feel good. And one of the quickest ways to feel good is eating something nice when you don’t feel so good.

Sounds simplistic, but it happens all the time. So, there are many forces at work, often canceling each other out, even when the intention to change is honest. Hence the term “immunity to change.” Psychologists more commonly also call it “secondary or hidden gain.”

As long as we haven’t at least recognized the presence of these forces, then we don’t stand much of a chance. Fortunately, it is not so difficult to understand the inner influences of such “odd” and seemingly irrational behavior. Taking them under control is tougher, but certainly possible. So what I am saying is that if we want to change behavior, we have to recognize that there’s a good reason why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them now. It’s not only because we’re lazy, though surely that’s one component. So if change doesn’t come to you immediately, despite you really wanting it and working for it, don’t be too hard on yourself.

We are not going to focus on the idea of those competing intentions here. What I’d like to help you do is improve the chances that your resolutions and decisions stick using a different approach. It is from thinking through your intentions, options, motives and fears to make a real decision. I am talking about a serious resolution, whether made at New Year’s or not, that is a promise you make to yourself. I want to help you take that promise seriously. I want to help you both formulate and keep the promises you make to yourself.

I don’t believe in simply wishing and the universe making something come true. Sure, it happens every once in a while, but I want to do my very best to make my dreams come true. I want to frame those dreams to that every day I can do something to help make those dreams come true.

The following is a statement I truly believe. Many before me have said it in some form or another. Most of my experiences in life have confirmed it, and it is something I can say that if you are serious about your dreams coming true and keeping promises to yourself, then you must embrace this statement and accept it as true.

Whatever thought or wish you focus on most, the thought that occupies both your subconscious and conscious mind has the highest probability of happening.

Yes, I grant you there still will be unconscious patterns or old habits that hold us back, but we can’t use them as excuses if we are really serious about getting something important done or changed. If you accept that statement as truth, then you can take your dream, turn it into a goal and make it a decision, and then plant that into your conscious and subconscious minds.

How to get from talk to action? Ask yourself these questions:

1. Have you made it clear to yourself what you want to achieve, execute and complete this year? Have you made it clear what results you need to achieve?

Choose the goals that are most important to you and commit to them. Usually, with too many goals, no specific target is important enough. The plural to priority didn’t exist until the twentieth century and there was a good reason for it.

The opposite side to that coin is having no goals. In this case people tend to just float along in life. How can you measure progress if you haven’t set a goal?

2. Have you thought through what, when and how you need to do in order to achieve every important goal you have set?

Devise an action plan. If you have a clear goal, but a nonexistent or a weak action plan, then you will lack execution, which you will undeniably need in order to get to where you want to go.

3. Have you acknowledged the current activities, which you will have to sacrifice in order to make space for your new efforts and activities?

This question refers to you becoming a better time planner. You will need to find your inner brakes and removing them. If you don’t assess your current use of time realistically, and don’t acknowledge that you need to bring about change and give up something, then you’ll find your efforts coming to nothing.

I’ll bring a few examples and spice them up with some provoking questions.

Want to achieve a better sales result compared to last year?

In order to accomplish that, you need to think through quite a few things.

  • What kind of changes in my day-to-day routine do I need to change first and foremost?
  • What do I need to learn?
  • When and with the help of whom?
  • Will I attain the better result at the expense of my home and family (and how will I guarantee that my domestic relationships don’t get affected)?
  • In order for the quantity to increase, can the quality (of client service) decrease? If so, at whose expense exactly and how?

Want to promise to start leaving work at exactly 17.15 to get to their families earlier?

  • What caused the longer working days last year?
  • Which needs did the longer working days fulfil?
  • What are the (hidden) beliefs that working longer was previously based upon?
  • Are these beliefs well-founded and true?
  • What is something smarter that I could (should) believe instead of it?
  • What will I gain and lose from changing my routine? What kind of a support system can and know how to create, which can help me achieve my resolution and promise?

You can follow the same logic in making any resolution or decision. But what I particularly like about this method in the context of sales results is how easy it is to measure results and check your progress.

I’ve used excerpts from my bestselling book“The most important question” in this post.

The book is about moving from dreams and visions to real plans and results.

Have a great 2015!