At the stroke of midnight, January 1st, thousands cheer, welcoming in the New Year. But what is all the excitement about? What’s new about the New Year? Isn’t it true that if we go on doing the same old things we’ll continue to get the same old results? So, it’s not the passing of time that’s a cause for celebration, but the promise of the future. And what is that promise? Simply this: If we improve ourselves in the New Year, our New Year will improve. That is, the promise or potential of the New Year unfolds when we give it an avenue for expression. And that avenue is NEW intentions, plans, and actions. In a word, New Year’s Resolutions. Do you agree? If you do, you belong to the group of about 42% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions.
But after making their resolutions, do they live up to them? I’m afraid four out of five will eventually break them. In fact, one third won’t even make it to the end of the month (January). Why are so many well intentioned people so unsuccessful? Well, most of the unsuccessful started out on the wrong foot. That is, they didn’t spend enough time thinking about what “resolution” means. A resolution is a commitment, not a wish. It is a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. Once you accept that definition and abide by it, you are committed to success.
If we wish to be successful, what is the only New Year’s resolution we need to make? It is to carry out our resolutions! There’s no point in making promises if we don’t keep them. Ben Franklin suggests we keep two resolutions (the one I suggested and another one). Here are his exact words, “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
How did you fare? Did you make any New Year’s resolutions last year? If not, why not? If you didn’t, here are five reasons why you should this year.
1. How can you achieve anything unless you first plan to? A resolution is the announcement of your plan to act and improve your life. It is your first step to success.
2. When you make resolutions and work at achieving them, you develop the key to success, which is self-discipline, or more aptly called self-leadership.
3. By making one or more resolutions, you acknowledge that what happens to you is your responsibility. This is an empowering position that leads to results.
4. Research shows that those who make resolutions are ten times more likely to reach their goals than those who don’t!
5. Although it helps to set goals any day of the year, setting New Year’s Resolutions is a good idea, for you are setting a milestone or reference point that makes it easy to track your progress and compare it with previous efforts.
But what if you made resolutions last year and were unsuccessful? Failure is not a cause of regret if we learn from it. If you were unsuccessful, here are some questions you need to ask yourself.
“Did I make a commitment or merely have a wish? Did I overreach; bite off more than I could chew?
Was I sufficiently motivated? Do I understand that motivation is mentally experiencing the benefits of our goals before we achieve them? Do I realize that by regularly visualizing the benefits in my imagination, I will become energized and inspired to take action? What did I do wrong last year and how can I correct my mistakes? Were my resolutions something I wanted to do or was it something I was pressured into? Were my resolutions believable? Were they meaningful enough to inspire me?”
Roadmap to Success
Here is a simple 13-step plan that will lead you to success.
1. Review last year by asking yourself the above questions.
2. Learn from your mistakes. When you do so, you stop thinking of yourself as a failure and lose the desire to quit
3. Create a “Victory Journal” and list your 2011 successes in it. Add a new list every year, so you can try to better your performance each year.
4. List the goals you wish to achieve in the New Year.
5. Prioritize the list in order of importance.
6. Break down the first item on your list into the steps you have to take to reach your goal.
7. Schedule the steps you need to take in your calendar.
8. Implement your plan by starting on the first item.
9. Don’t just start, but, follow through on all the necessary steps.
10. Monitor your progress. Doing so keeps you focused on success.
11. Take corrective action as the need arises.
12. Add your successes to your 2012 victory list in your Victory Journal.
13. Celebrate your success and reward yourself.
Improving Your Chances for Success with the Rules of C(huck)
1. Work your plan constantly, continually.
2. Be consistent, stay focused.
3. Apply concentrated effort.
4. Remain committed.
5. Take considered, careful, and calculated action.
6. Confirm that you are taking the right steps by monitoring your actions.
7. Be conscientious; do the right thing because you are the beneficiary.
8. Your success is more important than fear, so don’t let it block you. Stay courageous.
9. Avoid wishy-washy, ambiguous action. Take clear action; precision is called for.
10. Work toward completion, carry through.
11. Don’t be afraid to be conciliatory or to make concessions. After all, half a pie is better than no pie.
Example Case Study
Let’s consider how the words and sentences we use can color or shape our perception. Our perceptions are important because they play a major role in the decisions we make. Let’s look at the case of Mortimer, who is middle-aged and overweight. So, he made the following resolution, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to join a fitness club and workout several times a week.”
Although well-intentioned, his resolution fizzled out in less than a month. He quit exercising. What went wrong? Well, the words and phrases he used were self-defeating. He started by saying, “I NEED TO lose some weight.” His statement may be factual, but the trouble is that words like I NEED TO, MUST, HAVE TO, SHOULD, or OUGHT TO automatically trigger a response of RESISTANCE. After all, we don’t like to do what we HAVE TO. We don’t like to be bossed around and told what to do, even if we are the ones giving the orders! So, rule number one, drop NEED TO and its variants from your self-talk because they are lead weights that hold you back.
Even if Mortimer had said, “I’m going to lose weight,” that also would have been self-defeating. Why is that? That’s because he would be focusing on the problem rather than the solution. Instead of thinking of what you are now (overweight), think of what you wish to become (slim). Also, we don’t like to lose anything, but prefer to gain something. So, focus on gaining good health rather than losing weight. Here’s another example. Suppose you wanted to quit smoking and decided to repeat several times a day, “I will quit smoking! I will quit smoking! I will quit smoking!” What would that accomplish? The only thing it would do is make you think MORE about smoking and increase your craving.
So, rule number two is, rather than focusing on what you DON’T WANT, focus on what you DO WANT. The importance of this rule cannot be overstated, for the only things we do are the things we WANT to do. It’s not about willpower, it’s about want-power. So, what is it that Mortimer wants? He doesn’t want to LOSE weight because that involves the perception of LOSING the pleasure of eating. It also brings up an image of the EFFORT (ugh!) we have to make in order to LOSE weight.
Well, then, what is it that he wants? He wants to become more physically attractive, gain confidence, and increase his health, well-being, and longevity. Now, those are things to get excited about. Those are things to WANT. Now that Mortimer is thinking correctly, he decides to go a step further by dropping the word WORKOUT from his resolution. After all, no one wants to EXERT EFFORT or do WORK.
Compare his original resolution with his new one. His original resolution was, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to workout several times a week.” Mortimer changed it to, “I want to enjoy life to the fullest, so I’m going to take a few HEALTH (or FITNESS or LONGEVITY) BREAKS each week at the gym.” Can you see the dramatic difference? Can you see the change in perception?
Did you see what else Mortimer did? He replaced “several” times a week with “a few” times. Don’t you think repeating something a few times is easier than doing it several times? Many people mistakenly overreach in their resolutions. This leads to failure. It is not realistic to expect go from zero workouts a week to many a week. Going from zero to many is HARD. Going from zero to a few is EASY. And the great news is, as Mortimer discovers how wonderful it feels to take “fitness breaks,” he will automatically be motivated to increase his visits to the gym.
After revamping his perception and thoughts, Mortimer is now in charge of his life. He even changes uncomfortable bodily sensations into positive thoughts. For example, although some newcomers get discouraged and give up because of the aches and pains that follow long, grueling ‘fitness breaks’ on the treadmill or Stairmaster, not Mortimer. He relishes the discomfort because it is a signal that his body is being resculptured, muscles are toning up, blood vessels are widening, his heart is growing stronger, and his general well-being is improving. He even rejoices when he has to slosh through a rain or snowstorm to get to the gym. “Wow,” he says, “the nasty weather will keep half the people away, so I’ll have all the equipment to myself. Besides, only the dedicated members will attend, so by joining them, I prove that I have just as much self-discipline as they do.”
A Closer look at Success with New Year’s Resolutions
1. Don’t let brick walls (obstacles) stop you. Rather, welcome them, for they weed out the weak hearted and prevent your competitors from succeeding. In a word, they allow you to prove you have the commitment others lack.
2. Stop making excuses and take responsibility for your life. Remember, you are the CEO of YOU Inc. Your future is created by the decisions and choices you make.
3. If you run too many computer programs at the same time, your computer will slow down and grow ineffective. Those who have that problem can install more RAM and improve the performance of their computer. However, we can neither buy nor install more memory for our brain. Trying to remember the countless tasks, projects, and responsibilities we have will result in mistakes and failures. To take full advantage of the processing power of our brain, write everything down. And once you have done so, schedule time to regularly review your notes so you can remain in control.
4. Remain focused on what is important. Don’t be led astray by distractions. Often ask yourself if what you are doing is in your best interest.
5. Impatience is the ruin of many. Often, people give up when they would have succeeded if they had only persevered.
6. When you, your work environment, or both are disorganized, productivity falls and opportunities are lost. If you need help in this area, your local bookstore or library can provide material that will guide you to an organized life free of clutter and distractions.
7. Even the best of intentions can be defeated if you lack the energy to work effectively. To prevent this from happening, eat balanced meals, exercise, get sufficient sleep, and practice relaxation exercises to reduce stress.
8. The average person does not follow a success system. Any system will do in the beginning. By system, I mean a guide to success which can come in the form of a book, audio program, or seminar. The advantages of following a system include being introduced to ideas and practices that would take many years to learn by yourself. Studying a program also keeps you focused on success and reduces the likelihood of failure.
9. Ultimately, the major cause of success is action; it is the key to transforming a wish to a goal.
10. The best of us occasionally trip and fall. Expect a relapse; don’t be surprised by it. Just because you slip back into a bad habit, it is not a reason to stop trying. Rather, it is a sign to remain alert. It is also a reminder to monitor your progress on a daily basis. This way, if you do slip, you will lose only one day.
11. Avoid behavior, people, and places that may lead you away from your goals. Keeping a resolution is difficult enough; don’t add to your problems by exposing yourself to temptation.
12. Work with goals that depend on your efforts rather than ones that depend on circumstances outside of your control.
13. Like stars to a mariner, your goals should guide you, not govern you. At times, life plans more for you than you do, so don’t keep your eyes too firmly fixed on the goal or you may miss a greater opportunity. Remain open and flexible.
14. In his 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs made a memorable statement, “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.” He was referring to the fact that life refreshes itself, brings in new blood and new ideas by eliminating the past and creating a future with new generations. I also find death to be a great invention of life, but for a different reason. I find it to be the agent of change because as we sense the nearness of the Grim Reaper, we are spurred on to take action while we still have time. For this reason, I believe it is a good idea to remind ourselves of our mortality. I’m not suggesting a morbid fixation on death, but just enough awareness that we are motivated to act now.
15. Don’t set your goals in stone. Rather reevaluate them from time to time. Circumstances change. Ask yourself if your goals are still aligned with your dreams and the times you live in. Do they still excite you or do you have new interests that clamor for your attention?
16. A plan carried out in haste can do more harm than good, so don’t act too quickly. For as Matthew Prior (1664~1721) wrote, “Who walks the fastest, but walks astray, is only furthest from his way.” Therefore, take your time and be thorough. On the other hand, don’t get stuck in the planning stage. Don’t become paralyzed because your plan isn’t perfect. Just make sure you have a clear destination in mind and have listed all the steps you have to take to get you where you want to go.
17. Set goals that make you stretch. If you’re overweight, trying to lose one pound a year is an example of a poor goal. To be worthwhile your goals should lead to significant improvement. But don’t overreach either. Trying to lose ten pounds a week, for example, would most likely lead to failure. Far better to set your goal to one pound a week. Overreaching ends in failure, while goals that are too easy prevent growth. Strive for balance. Your goal should stretch you, yet be attainable.
18. How will you benefit from achieving your goal? Why is it important? Write down the answers to these questions and keep them handy. Why? Well, there are two voices in your head, and both are saying, “I want…” One is saying “I want to do what feels good” and the other is saying “I want to do what is best for me, even if I have to make an effort to do it.” Both voices are competing for your attention. One is focused on immediate gratification. It is the voice that urges you to avoid your responsibilities and seek pleasure. For instance, if it is time to go to the health club to exercise, the voice may say, “I can go next week. Instead of exercising, I want to watch TV, or go drinking with friends, or go shopping, or take a nap.” To avoid listening to the wrong voice, refer to your answers to the two questions mentioned above. Focus on the benefits and remind yourself why it is important to maintain your exercise program. Focusing on the reasons to change will help you to stay motivated.
19. Set deadlines. Without a date, it’s not a goal, but a wish. Each step you have to take to reach your goal should have a completion date. Each task is a mini-goal, and as one is completed, the next one begins. Each task or step you take brings you closer to your major goal. As long as you keep taking steps, it is impossible not to reach your destination.
20. Subject each goal to a reality check. Are you fully committed? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to succeed? Do you understand that anything worthwhile needs some effort to achieve? Are you willing to pay the price? If not, instead of wasting time, switch to a goal that you can commit to.
21. Make sure your goal is measurable. That is, you need to have a way of measuring success. For instance, your goal may be to lose 1 ~ 2 pounds a week, drink 8 glasses of water a day, walk 10 miles a day, or read 15 pages of a book each day.
22. What are the obstacles you have to overcome? How will you overcome those roadblocks? What other hurdles could appear and how will you get over them? Anticipating and preparing for the obstacles you are likely to face will increase your likelihood of success.
23. Plan your work; then work your plan. If your plan is completed, carry it out. Put it into action. Implement it. No matter how small, do something each day to bring you closer to achieving your goal. Check off each task as you complete it. Seeing your own progress will inspire you to continue.
24. Monitor your progress weekly. What are you doing right? Keep doing it! What are you doing wrong? What is the cause of the problem? How can you correct it? Also, set milestones. For example, if you’re going to lose 8 lb. by the end of May, that works out to 2 lb. per month. Confirm your standing every month. By keeping a watchful eye on your progress, you’ll be able to make corrections as you go along.
Life is synonymous with change. Expect the unexpected. Changing circumstances may make it impossible to stick to your original plan. Remain flexible. Look for options, solutions, and opportunities. If you can’t do the best thing, do the next best thing. Adjust and adapt your plan when necessary. You can change your direction as often as you wish, as long as you keep moving forward (closer to what you want or what is possible). Review your goals daily to remain focused on them.
25. Nothing succeeds like success. Let your achievements fan the flames, keep you motivated, and spur you on to bigger and greater goals.
26. If we make a resolution, we are resolving to do something we are not yet doing. Why aren’t we doing it? There must be reasons. It may be difficult to do, involve some effort we have to make, or sacrifice we have to carry out. So, expect resistance. Prepare for it. Accept the short-term pain for the long-term gain. After sticking to our resolution for a month or two, it will become a habit and much easier to carry out. So, it will no longer be a matter of working harder, but of developing good habits which will propel you forward. Keep your eyes on the goal and anticipate the success that is yours.
27. Don’t become unrealistically ambitious. True, it may be great to improve your golf game, lose weight, hang out more with your friends, take a computer course to improve your productivity, learn ballroom dancing, make a rec room in the basement, and design a flower garden for your backyard. But wait a minute! Do you have the time? Don’t engage in wishful thinking. Instead schedule each activity so you know exactly how much time is available. And don’t forget to include extra time for emergencies.
28. Here is a powerful technique. At the same time you make your New Year’s resolutions, change your routine. For instance, take a different route to work, have lunch at another place, open the door to your office with your left instead of your right hand, and so on. Why do so? Because each time you act out of character, you are forcing yourself to remember that you are living in a new way. It is easy to change your routine, and the changes will act as powerful cues, reminding you that you have resolutions to follow.
29. Make your goals as specific as possible. Don’t say, “I’m going to lose some weight” but say “I’m going to lose 10 lb. by May 30, 2012 by drinking more water, cutting out junk food, eating balanced meals, and exercising.”
30. Do it for yourself. Don’t be pressured into anything. Remember, to succeed, your plan must be a passionate one. How can you be passionate about something you don’t want to do? Decide on what you WANT from life and focus on those goals. Granted, there may be things you should be doing, but don’t want to. That’s fine; it simply means you’re a human being. The good news is that as we accomplish goals we WANT, we develop self-discipline. In other words, you’ll have the strength to work on bigger goals later.
If you wish to experience a truly successful 2012, abandon the notion that “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one (y)ear and out the other.” Rather, follow Ben Franklin’s advice, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.”
Happy New Year!