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The secret to making your New Year's resolution a reality

Updated: Mar 16, 2020

At New Year, it’s easy to become swept up in the celebrations and commit to personal change that never quite happens. Then, the guilt sets in. One more promise we made to ourselves (and others) but didn’t keep. So, how can you commit to personal change in way that makes it easy to live up to and delivers the desired result.

It’s that time of year. The time when we reflect on the year that was and how we’d like to be different or do things differently in the year ahead. We’d like to be fitter, spend more time with the family, travel more, go on more holidays. However, saying that we want change and making it happen, are two entirely different things. While statistics vary, they suggest that the success rate of New Year's resolutions is in the order of order of 10 to 20 percent. 

There is plenty of advice regarding how to make your New Year’s resolution stick. Break it down into smaller goals, be specific and make sure it’s realistic. However, much of the advice does not help us deal with the many converging factors that make personal change fail or succeed. 

So, how do you build momentum behind the personal change, regardless of the time of year or whether it relates to work or home? Here are five strategies for you to try this year.

1. Get the Core Right

Take the time to deeply understand the core reason you want a change to happen. The critical word here is ‘you’. It’s not your mother’s, your partner’s or your boss’ reason for the change. It’s yours. It’s the reason that creates energy inside you when you think of it. That’s the energy you need if you are going to power through, as the world around you reinforces the status quo.

This New Year ask yourself questions like:

  • Where is my current path taking me?

  • What does the end of this path look like for me and the people I care about?

  • If I were to take a different path, what would be possible?

For now, don’t worry about what the new path should look like. Just take the time to deeply understand your reason for the change. If you’ve done this and don’t feel a knot of dissatisfaction forming in the pit of your stomach, then I suggest that you reconsider your resolution. Either break it down into something smaller and repeat the process, or find another element of your life in which you want to create meaningful change, then focus on that.

2. Engage Others in Your Quest

I said before, that the world reinforces the status quo, and this applies equally to the expectations and habits of those closest to you. If you want to lose weight but your partner loves cooking unhealthy food, it’s going to increase the challenge. Some questions to consider here are:

  • Who’s help do I need to make this change happen?

  • What role are they playing in reinforcing your current path today?

  • How will shifting the path affect them?

Notice that we still haven’t talked about the new path yet. Engaging others in your reason for change and exploring how they could help you to move away from a path (that they are part of) does three things. First, it says that you value their opinion and gives them an opportunity to help you from the beginning. Second, they can help you define the new path. Third, you will encounter less friction when you behave differently because those around you will ‘get it’.

3. Let go of the old path

Creating sustainable change (whether personal, professional or in business) is like changing gears in a manual car. Before you can shift from one gear to the next, you need to disengage from the first gear completely. Failure to do this means that all the gears crunch together and the car invariably stops. 

How does this translate when you want to create a shift in your life? In order to shift from an older, less positive path, to a new one, you need to consciously release yourself from the former. By that, I don’t mean change everything. I mean consciously think about which elements of the path will help your future path (and therefore, worth continuing) and which ones will hold you back. Consider things like habits, environmental factors, assumptions, behaviours etc.

Thinking these through reduces the unintended consequences of change and means you keep the parts of your life that you love, but reduce the barriers that are standing between you and a more positive future.

4. Lock in the outcome, not the actions

If you want to create a new path that’s taking you in a more positive direction, you first need to know a) where you want the new path to take you and b) what you’re expecting will be there at the end of it. A common trap here is focusing too much on the action and not enough on the outcome that action is intended to deliver. For example, an action is “smoke less than 3 cigarettes a day, by the 3rd March”. On the surface, it looks like a perfect goal. It’s specific, it’s actionable and measurable. However, the problem is that this statement is describing the means to an unidentified endpoint. 

What if we used the outcome “Be fit enough to run in the July five kilometre fun-run with my kids without my heart-rate going above 153 bpm” instead? 

Can you see how this would ensure that any actions led to the desired outcome? Once you have your outcomes, it enables you to holistically identify the actions you need to take to get you there. For example, if being fit enough to run in a fun-run were your desired outcome, you might set actions such as:

Stop smoking cigarettes by 31 January

Walk three times a week at 6 km per hour for 1 hour

Run 1 km without stopping by end of February, 2 kms by end April etc

Another benefit of thinking through outcomes first, then actions, is that it gives you flexibility when life gets in the way. What really matters is the outcome? Your actions and plans are only one possible path you could follow? The secret, of course, is not to cheat by setting new actions that are wishy-washy and aren’t going to lead you to the desired outcome.  

5. Start Smart

As we celebrate the end of a year and turn our thinking to the new one, why not change the pattern that creates unfulfilled resolutions? Instead of committing to spur-of-the-moment actions that you’ll never do, simply commit to spending the time to think about point one in this article. Put time in your diary or do it while you’re sitting by the pool on holidays. You may be surprised where your thinking takes you.

Have a successful and fulfilling 2019!

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you’ve found it useful and you think others in your network would too, please remember to share it.


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