All over the world, people like you, busy people with many calls on their time, will be thinking about changes they want to make, aka New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs). Most of these will fail. Lists will remain unread after 5th January, though they will niggle at the back of your mind until at least the end of the month. Diary prompts to develop new habits will be ignored on a regular basis, firstly with an optimistic “must do next month” type thought and by Easter, without even acknowledgement. And in December the whole cycle will start again. For most people, the likely outcome of having written a New Year’s Resolution will be the sure and certain knowledge that “it didn’t work”. So why do NYR’s fail?
There are only two reasons!
Why do otherwise successful people consistently fail to achieve a particular set of changes on an annual basis? There are only two headline reasons. First up is that some NYRs are unmotivating. In our busy lives, what doesn’t really matter to us, what doesn’t have a sense of urgency (underpinned by fear or joy) simply doesn’t get done. If your NYR lacks a clear outcome, if it’s non-specific, the same as last (every) year, not ambitious enough, not related to what you really need, I promise you it will not compete successfully for your affection or your time.
The second, huge, reason for unfulfilled ambitions (aka NYRs) is that they are Unrealistic. Whichever way you dress it up – and there are five main types of Unrealistic which I’m about to unpack – none of us is super human and if our NYRs are unrealistic in any way, they will not be achieved.
Guilty as charged?
If your NYRs have failed in the past, check out these possible causes and find out what you’re guilty of:
- Too many; if you write too long a list of NYRs, you risk feeling overwhelmed, and failing to prioritise.
- Too top level; if your NYR is a single line but doesn’t establish the detail of what needs to be done, you risk not engaging with it in sufficient depth to achieve it. Motivating though that top line outcome may be, your energy will be dissipated through lack of a road map.
- Inherent conflicts; it is entirely human to hold different values which sometimes compete and conflict. Unless you work through these tension points your NYRs will cancel each other out, and by Spring you’ll be wondering why you’ve failed – again – to achieve what appear to be, individually, highly appropriate goals.
- Deeper beliefs. If your plans and intentions are the part of the iceberg which appears above the waterline, the beliefs you hold about yourself are the substantial mass which sits beneath the surface, out of sight but nonetheless active. Some of them may be holding you back, informing your mindset daily and hourly. Invariably, a shift in mindset is needed to create a shift in behaviour.
- No accountability; most of the changes in your life will have occurred over time and supported by other people. NYRs are no different. Without appropriate support, they simply don’t happen. Some of that support comes down to carving out time, writing a plan, holding yourself to account, but some of it may need to come from outside. Being held accountable by someone who wants the best for us is a fundamental part of our make up but is an option not everyone chooses to put in place.
Addressing the problem
What follows is a tried and tested way of addressing the annual problem of NYRs and it boils down to just three things:
Reflect. Plans for the future need to be rooted in the present and the immediate past. A short review of the year that’s just gone is therefore needed. Ask yourself, In what ways has this year been better than I expected? How has it gone less well than I wanted? And how do I feel about that? These powerful questions will frame your thinking so that you are concentrating on facts and feelings. A dialogue which doesn’t encompass both will not result in future change!
Restrict. Distil your reflections on the past by focusing on just three things for the year ahead. Ask yourself, What one thing should I continue to do just the same? What one thing will I do more of? And What one thing will I do less of? These questions, in this order, build on the strengths and achievements you already have. No matter how small the habit that you want to continue with, no matter how seemingly insignificant the changes you’ve identified, these are the differences which will make the difference. Allow yourself to feel relieved and excited at having only three things you have to do in order to succeed! When did you last have permission to have such a short list?!
Resolve. Commit to making the change by writing it down. Once the idea of a change exists outside yourself it becomes more real and can be shared with others. By choosing words which resonate for you, you will be focussing your energy, channelling it into the differences which will make the difference. As well as writing a statement of intent, you’ll need a description of the sequential steps needed to achieve your change. And finally, you’ll need to describe the support needed to make this change.
Few of us think we’ll need a critical friend when the going is good, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the going is not always good! What would you look for in a critical friend? How would they work with you and how would that help you?
Here’s what three people have said recently about working with me and the impact it’s had:
“I tested a number of new strategies. Shirley offered insightful reflections throughout our sessions. I still find myself repeating her wise comments months later.” Meghan, arts sector
“I was focused in clearly on an objective each session. Shirley maintained momentum without me ever feeling I was part of a process. I successfully completed the piece of work I had chosen to focus on as part of my development journey.” Sardip, Non Exec Director
“Shirley provided helpful insight and practical examples which I found beneficial and used to formulate my own action plan.” Kate, Non Exec Director