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I Resolve to …… YES, Again

| July 11, 2017

by Jim Bruce

Six months ago, at the beginning of the New Year, the first Tuesday Reading, I Resolve To …, focused on New Year’s Resolutions.  This has been my custom.  In that essay, I referenced research reporting that though 57% of the individuals surveyed were confident that they would be successful in achieving their goals, only 12% actually were successful.  This, our July 4th holiday last week, as well as an essay Our Year Is Half Over:  How Are You Doing On Those New Year’s Resolutions? which was in my reading today,  re-focused my attention on the importance of resolutions and goals, and their role in our achieving results.
So, how are you doing on your New Year’s Resolutions?  Either on resolutions you made then or on other goals, either personal or associated with your work?  The fact that I’m writing again on this subject, can be taken to suggest that I have not done as well as I had planned.  I suspect that many of you might be in a similar position.
In last January’s Tuesday Reading, I noted that research points to two different kinds of resolutions or goals – technical goals and adaptive goals.  I wrote there:  “A technical goal is something that you can develop – e.g., becoming a better listener, developing a new skill, etc.  To be successful in your work on such goals, you develop a plan with milestones and execute the plan putting in the hours of hard work to become proficient.  Success comes through executing the plan.”  Most of our goals fall into this category. 
For adaptive goals, “success requires more than developing a skill or a change in behavior.  It requires some rewiring in your brain and that can take some time.  In these instances, the behavior you desire to change is also serving some other very important purpose that provides positive benefits to you.”  For example, your urge to grab a candy bar or a cookie from the vending machine in the middle of the afternoon, might, according to Charles Duhigg’s work, be more effectively deflected to taking a short walk with a co-worker, than simply trying to stop buying the cookie or candy bar.  In the Tuesday Reading, The 5 Whys, I used as an example Duhig’s goal for him and his wife to have dinner each evening with their children.  This is also an adaptive goal.
There are lots of approaches to working on your goals.  In my January essay on Resolutions, I suggested a process you might follow in getting to success.  Since then, I’ve refined the process somewhat based on my experience.  Here are eight steps you might follow to be successful in achieving your goals or resolutions:
1.  Clearly define your goal.  Identify both the what and the why you are working on this goal.
2.  Define the steps, large and small, you will need to take to reach the goal.  It’s helpful to write the plan down, and put it on a timeline and in your calendar.  Tools like the 5 Whys, mentioned earlier, can be helpful.
3.  Take the time to walk mentally through the plan.  Verify that you have identified all the steps and obstacles you will likely encounter.  How will you navigate each obstacle?
4.  Keep track of your progress.  Always know what your next step is.  A former President of the University of Pennsylvania always ended her work on a project by writing down what her next step would be.
5.  Have patience with yourself.  Drop the all-or-nothing attitude.  “Get up, when you slip up.”
6.  Enlist help.  Publicize your goals to family, coworkers, and friends.  Give them permission to ask how you’re doing, and to encourage you to continue making progress.
7.  Put time to work on your goals on your calendar/schedule, and honor that commitment to yourself.  It should be one of the most important commitments you have for the day.
8.  Take stock and celebrate your progress. 
So, if you, like me, are behind in your goals, set aside time this week to regroup.  Determine where you are in your work on the goal, do some updating of the plan, schedule your next step, and restart your work.  That’s my plan.
I hope that you had a wonderful celebration on the 4th.  We celebrated the holiday at our oldest son’s house with family and friends and watched his town’s 4th of July Parade.  Such times give us a pause to reflect on and celebrate the historic uniqueness and promise of our nation.
Do make it a wonderful week for you and those who work with you. 
.  .  .  .   jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.