If you want your New Year’s resolutions, quit making excuses

It’s that crazy time of the year again when many people finally decide to assess their lives and make some gesture to next year. If you’re one of the serious ones and want to follow through on your resolutions, do what achievers do.

I am not a self-help author but I made it my mission to figure out what achievers do (that I wasn’t doing!) While my findings are hardly original, I hope anyone reading this (all 3 of you) will find something of value here.

The trouble with New Year’s resolutions

This is a funny time of year. Out of nowhere, people begin to imagine what they would like to achieve in the coming year. This is strange behaviour for many who rarely take the time to think about next week let alone a whole 365 days ahead.

Therein lies the problem – if you’re not used to thinking and planning exactly what you want then you’re likely to only do this for the first week or two of the new year. Another thing working against us is the tendency to place huge importance on the new year – forgetting that each day is just the same as the last.

In other words, once we have a setback (say eating far too much cake one week when trying to lose weight) it is easy for one to throw their hands in the air and say, “well, that ruins the goal”.

  • Key #1: When suffering a setback into an old habit or something that works against your goal – refocus and resolve to learn and get back on track.

No excuses

Just get on with it!
But change is hard! It can be, but it helps to be aware that familiarity is an evolutionary in-built mechanism to help us feel a sense order and certainty and to conserve energy.

  • Key #2: Just get started – overcoming inertia of starting something gets you moving. Each time you take the correct action the more familiar it becomes. One of the strongest drives in a human is familiarity.

Stop being the victim
I know a handful of people who repeatedly violate this one principle: If you want some thing to happen, sitting there waiting for it to happen is a sure way to fail.

While the principle applies when you want to attain a skill or acquire something, it also applies to relationships and people.

  • Key #3: When setting goals, put the action steps in your sphere of influence. If goals require others then you need to clarify what it is that you can do to increase the probability of making your goal a reality.

**Warning: Watch out for subtle excuses and non-commitment. Sometimes people unconsciously engineer their own failure by expecting failure. Secretly, they don’t want to commit because then it gives them an excuse that will protect their own ego from the pain of failure.**

There is no try
Watch your language. People who set resolutions often say “I will try to lose weight” or “I am trying to…” Trying presupposes failure and shows a lack of committment. When other people use “try” with you, realise that they are basically avoiding promising what they say will happen.

  • Key #4: Be specific. What is it you want? State it in positive terms, put a date on its completion. “Sometime this coming year” isn’t really going to stir you into action. “I will” is much more definite than “I might” or “I’ll try”.

Review regularly and exercise flexibility
How am I doing? What problems have arisen in the past week/month? Am I on track? What do I need to do in the next week to make my goal a reality? Am I guilty of being lazy?

  • Key #5: Ask honest questions and be open to honest answers. If you’re sucking right now and falling off the path, find out what you need to get back on. It may mean correcting course a bit.

Consistency creates excellence
Create a daily/weekly plan. What exactly am I going to do to make this a reality?

It is okay taking the right actions for a week or two, but real achievement takes time, patience and consistency.

  • Key #6: Break down your goal into bite size pieces. Make it relevant for today by planning concrete actions.

Keep it in perspective

  • Key #7: Remember why you’re doing it. Your reasons must be real and powerful enough to stir you into action without hesitation.

Useful link – Richard Wiseman’s psychological research


2 responses to “If you want your New Year’s resolutions, quit making excuses

  1. I’ve been pondering this very thing recently (it had nothing to do with resolutions!). We are more fully embracing the Agile development method at work and I was thinking that there is a way that it can be applied to goal-setting. It’s a rather long winded theory, but it involves setting goals that are short (no longer than 2 weeks) and are almost impossible not to achieve, amongst other things.

    Like I said, it’s a bit long winded. Maybe I should write my own blog post 🙂

    • viewfromreality

      It sounds interesting Phil. I would be keen to read about it. My personal take is to actually set goals by underachieving – less is more. Often people set such high expectations that they can never actually feel like they are successful. I’m guilty of that – an endless cycle of overplanning and never reaching my targets.

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