A Higher Resolution!
“I can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person.” That’s a sentiment that
probably applies to most of us when it comes to our annual assessment of those New Year
resolutions we made and, once again, failed to keep. Of course, there’s nothing new in this.
In ancient times, the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that
they would return the farming equipment they’d borrowed from their neighbours during the
year, something they wouldn’t have had to do if they’d sent their ards, winnowing scoops and
model hoes back to them in the first place!
In Medieval times, knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each
year to reaffirm their ‘commitment’ to chivalry – doubtless a case of locking the door after the
horse has bolted!
But while our resolutions may have got more sophisticated in modern times, they share the
common trait of remaining notoriously difficult to stick to with their predecessors’. Which
begs the question: why?
It is argued that the main reason people jettison their New Year resolutions very early on is
that they were simply too unrealistic to begin with. Too big, too transformational, too
aspirational. Psychology Today points out that the majority of resolutions are way out of
kilter with our internal view of ourselves and are thus unworkable. Making a resolution work
is essentially about changing our behaviour and to do that we have to change our thinking or
“rewire” our brain. It’s all very well to say ‘I want to be a better person’ or ‘I want to get
promoted’ but actually seeing this through is quite a different matter.
Leadership theory can help by offering a systematic and focused approach to implementing
our resolutions and helping us to stick to our plans for a new version of ourselves.
To help ease you back into January then here are some suggestions on how to use leadership
skills to ensure your New Year resolutions stick, and with that ensure that 2018 brings the
change you are looking for:
1. Focus On One Single Thing. In your role as a leader you wouldn’t prepare a strategy
with a bunch of different goals. Do the same with your New Year Resolution. Focus
on one single resolution, the one that keeps you up at night, and stick to it.
2. Don’t Expect Change Immediately. A small change, say once a week, will help you
form a new habit. Check your progress frequently and make the change part of your
lifestyle rather than a post-Christmas fad. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
3. Break The Resolution Down Into Bite Sized Pieces. Research proves that the
practice of setting goals has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing
and similarly setting realistic and measurable goals is a golden rule in business
planning. So rather than resolving to ‘get a new job’ how about starting off with ‘dust
down my CV’? Make the steps to achieving your resolution small enough to celebrate
progress between milestones. Take a tip from RTE’s Operation Transformation where
contestants celebrate (very) small losses in weight, that make up a larger achievement.
Break down your resolution into bite-size pieces. At the end you’ll find that the whole
has become much greater than the sum of the parts.
4. Make The Change Resonate Longer Term. In the same way as you will have created
a clear vision for your business in 2018, make your resolution part of a broader plan
for change. If you’re unhappy in your job and seek a change, think forward about a
career change that will transform the future rather than just the next few months. Are
you using your top strengths? Is the real you showing up in the office? If you’re not
doing something that reflects your personal values and utilises your strengths, you’ll
5. Get Help. In the same way as you ask for feedback from your manager to improve
your performance at work, seek out a resolution buddy, someone close to you to
whom you can report success and get advice. This individual can offer guidance and
support but to also be there to listen. Being able to rely on an empathetic ear can be
particularly important when you feel like throwing in the towel.
6. Keep Learning. In business, priorities change and skills need to be adapted. Similarly,
continuous learning makes a difference to our mental well-being. Mental Health
Ireland recommends learning a new skill to give yourself a sense of achievement and
a new confidence. In the same way as having a meaningful career discussion with
your boss gives direction, so too does continued learning enhance self-esteem and
open up new opportunities.
7. What Can You Do Today? The business world is about immediacy. You’re drawn
into what’s happening now, today. The sudden resignation of a key employee. A
political crisis closing off a market to your sales team. This sense of urgency creates
clear thinking. What’s the one thing you can do today, right now, towards improving
your professional life?
Of course, following these steps requires one crucial input from the person making the
resolution and that is honesty. No promise or resolution should be made unless you are honest about confronting the need to change. Being honest will clear the way for you to achieve your goals and to set yourself up for something transformative, something great even, in 2018.
It might even prompt you to return that tractor you borrowed too!