Big Goal for 2014? What Works (and What Really Doesn't)
With the new year just weeks away, many people will start thinking about resolutions for 2014. But for most, by the end of January, that resolution will be all but a distant memory.
The intention of new year’s resolutions is good: You want to do things differently—do your job better, be kinder at work, find a new job, or commit to leaving work on time. And it seems that some magical quality of the start of a new year will help us succeed in these things—something the other seasons clearly lack.
Yet still, we fall short. In fact, 88% of those who set resolutions fail.
So, instead of making resolutions and setting yourself up for a likely failure (who wants to start a year that way?), try a different approach. You see, in my book, it’s not about the magic of a new year that helps you do something differently or adopt a new behavior; it’s the power of the thinking and the commitment you put behind that desire.
Before you start making those resolutions, read on for three reasons why resolutions fail—and what you can do instead to truly start the year off right.
1. You Have a Fantasy Rather Than a Realistic Expectation
Research shows that using positive fantasies (that is, simply hoping something will happen) to achieve goals is wholly ineffective. That’s because these hopes usually aren’t built on any sort of firm foundation—like making a resolution to leave work on time without being willing to tackle procrastination, clearly identify priorities, or discuss your bulging workload with your manager.
On the other hand, when you set a realistic expectation, you set the stage to actually exert the effort required to achieve the desired outcome. You understand that you’ll have to take certain steps and make a conscious effort to do things differently.
To set that kind of expectation, first think about what you want to do differently next year. Then, write down all the actions you’ll need to take to support creating that new behavior. What new habits will you need to develop? What routines should you amend to bring that expectation to life? What support do you need from friends and family members?
For example, if you want to get a maximum raise this year, you’ll need a game plan. You’ll need to keep meticulous track of your accomplishments, identify how to go the extra mile, and maybe develop a specific skill that will enhance your performance. Then you’ll need to keep your manager up to date on how, specifically, your work is making a bigger impact in the organization and quantify your results whenever you can.
Once you know exactly what you’ll need to do, you can focus on and celebrate small wins—and you’ll be much more likely to achieve your desired outcome.
2. You Go For Quantity Over Quality
Have you ever started a new year with an entire list of things to do differently? Lose weight. Find a new job. Make time for family.
There’s a certain joy in wanting to change all those bad habits you’ve acquired over the past year. That’s because your brain actually gives you a hit of dopamine when you set those goals. No wonder that list of resolutions is so long!
However, when it comes to working toward those goals, your brain can only process so much willpower at one time. And so, when overloaded with too many resolutions or personal change manifestos, your resolve breaks down—and before you know it, you’re back at the office candy bowl.
Here’s my recommendation: Instead of brainstorming everything you want to change, identify one thing you want to do differently, improve, or build on for next year, and focus on that single goal. Having just one thing to concentrate on will greatly enhance your likelihood of success and build your confidence along the way.
3. You’re Looking for an “Easy” Button
According to the laws of physics, the path of least resistance is the one that will be taken. In human behavior, that means we tend to avoid personal effort and confrontation whenever possible. And since making big life changes takes effort, it’s a lot easier to just stick to the easy route and tuck those resolutions away until next January.
Too often (especially with the fresh start of a new year), change seems like it should be easy. And when it’s not, you give up—and then beat yourself up for being weak. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Yes, changing anything is uncomfortable, whether it’s a personal habit or a situation at work. But if you talk to successful people, you’ll hear them talk about how many times they started over, failed, were bullied, got rejected, and then some. New year or not, very few things going to fall out of the sky and land on your lap.
Nope, there’s no easy button.
So instead of focusing on the outcomes you want to enjoy (e.g., what you’ll buy with that hefty 12% raise), start thinking about the hard work it will take to achieve what you want. It’s not quite as glamorous as thinking about the end game, but starting there will give you a much better idea of what’s realistic to achieve—which will truly set you up for success.
There’s a philosophy in marketing that says people will not pay money for something they cannot first visualize themselves doing—and I believe this is also true of behavior change. So, start the year by seeing yourself take the steps to make a real change in your life. Then, each day, focus what you can do to bring your intentions to life!
Photo of notebook courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lea McLeod coaches people in their jobs when the going gets tough. Bad bosses. Challenging co-workers. Self-sabotage that keeps you working too long. She’s the founder of the Job Success Lab and author of the The Resume Coloring Book. Get started with her free 21 Days to Peace at Work e-series. Book one-on-one coaching sessions with Lea on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author