It’s another new year which means another season of resolutions. Many of us will make some promises to ourselves for what we will do differently this year. Yet many of us will never quite achieve what we intended, despite our good intentions. Here are some ideas for how to improve the likelihood that you reach your goals.
Know your destination. With my executive coaching clients, we spend a lot of time defining “what success looks like.” The first cut at goals is often somewhat nebulous, like “be more strategic.” With some additional effort around clarity and specificity, the final cut might be more like, “In meetings with senior leaders, I will shift my contributions away from project-level operations and execution and instead focus on the 6-12 month timeframe and organization-wide objectives.” With the second version, you know exactly what you are aiming for, and you (and others) can see when the desired end state has been achieved. If you don’t know where you are headed, how will you know when your journey is finished?
Make the commitment. At one of my recent mindfulness talks, an attendee said, “I’m constantly using my smartphone – texting, Twitter, games – and I know I’m just mindlessly passing time. Do you have any tips or tricks for how to stop my phone addiction?” My response was, “Yes – put the phone away.” It’s that simple. You own the phone, the phone does not own you. Now if “simple” meant “easy,” new habits would develop overnight. She said, “I honestly want to practice mindfulness, but on my evening train commute, I’m tired and hungry, and my brain is fried.” So I suggested she spend five minutes of her morning commute, each day for the next week, with her phone away and doing a mindfulness practice instead. Figure out what commitment you can make, and do it. (BTW, she agreed).
Lower the bar. I don’t mean sell yourself short on what you can achieve – identify how you can decrease your obstacles to success. There is a thermodynamics term called “activation energy,” which means the amount of energy that must be put in to get a specific activity to occur. It is usually drawn as a hump that must be overcome. The smaller the hump, the lower the activation energy, and the less difficult it is for the event to happen. Joining a gym is exciting and new, but will you really make the effort to drive there five days a week? What about buying running shoes and hitting the trail near your home? Going from nothing-but-fast-food to cooking everything from scratch might be ambitious. How about adding in a few healthy, ready-made meals from your grocery store? What’s the easier path to meeting your goals?
Find support. As a coach, that’s exactly the role that I play – helping someone else to set goals, be accountable, work through challenges, and celebrate successes. You can find this in a number of places: a friend or a like-minded group, or even by connecting with a virtual community, through a social network or an app. One study found that people who get an exercise partner end up working out more. And other research shows that both emotions and behaviors are “contagious,” meaning present in the same social networks up to three degrees of separation. So if you want to adopt new habits, you’ll be more successful if you find support and interact with others with shared goals.
This is the time of year for renewed energy and fresh starts. Change your approach to change, and increase your odds of turning intentions into accomplishments.