“I can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person’. A sentiment that 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. This was something they wouldn’t had to have done 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 New Year 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 a different matter.
A systematic and focused approach to implementing resolutions helps 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 to ensure New Year resolutions stick, and with that ensure next year brings the change you are looking for:
1. Focus On One Single Thing. 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. The practice of setting goals has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing. Similarly setting realistic and measurable goals is a golden rule in business planning. So rather than resolving to ‘get a new job’ start 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. 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. 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 help when you feel like throwing in the towel.
6. Keep Learning. In business, priorities change and skills need to be adapted. 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. In the same way as having a meaningful career discussion with your boss gives direction, so too does continued learning enhance self-esteem.
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 something transformative, something great even, in 2018.
It might even prompt you to return that tractor you borrowed too!