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New Year's Resolutions

| January 6, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Happy New Year!

At the beginning of each new year, many individuals, particularly Americans, develop New Year’s Resolutions for themselves.  Doing this is neither new nor all that unique.  Babylonians made resolutions 2500 years ago, and since then, everyone has followed.

About 45% [1] of all Americans will make resolutions this year – typically to improve themselves in some way.  For example, popular resolutions will likely be to lose weight, exercise more, take on more responsibility, reduce stress, spend more time with families, be more polite, or listen better.  A 2007 study [2] by Richard Wiseman at the University of Bristol found that only 12% of the people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them even though 57% were initially confident of their success. 

Research at the Harvard School of Education by Professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey [3] has identified two general types of resolutions or goals – technical goals and adaptive goals.  A technical goal is something that you can develop – e.g., becoming a better listener.  To be successful here, you develop a plan with milestones and executive the plan.  Success comes through executing the plan.  Sharing the goal and your plan, and asking for regular feedback on your progress significantly increases the likelihood success.

In the case of an adaptive goal, success requires more than just a change in behavior.  It requires some rewiring in your brain and that can take some time (and may even feel like failure in the short run).  In these instances, the behavior you desire to change is also serving some other very important purpose that has positive benefits.  For example, to be successful you may have to change how you respond to a stimulus:  Dinner has ended and you have a strong urge to smoke after dinner.  And, while you know that smoking is bad for your health and you have a goal to stop, you enjoy your interaction with others while you smoke.  Your desire for the social interaction with others is a major impediment to success in stopping smoking. 

I’ve written all of this to set the stage for a request:  Will you consider taking the goal of becoming more intentional as a New Year’s Resolution for 2015?  The idea of being intentional should not be new to you since we talk about its benefit in our leadership programs.  Being intentional, or being more purposeful, requires that we understand that our attitudes, feelings, thoughts, and actions, both conscious and unconscious, directly impact every aspect of our experience.  

Becoming intentional will require each of us to turn off our autopilot and become more thoughtful as you go about each day.  It requires that you limit your scope (e.g., you recognize that you cannot become intentional in everything all at once), that you develop detailed plans (which include some element of self-monitoring), and that you elicit the support of a few colleagues and friends to help you hold yourself accountable in your work on your goal.  

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself – I have a granddaughter who is a distance swimmer.  If in one practice swim, she misses her targeted time, she’s still back in the pool for the next practice.  John Norcross, psychologist and author, puts it this way:  “It’s not whether you slip, it’s how you respond to the slip.” [4]  So, don’t let a slip-up keep you from continuing to work on your goal.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to focus on becoming more intentional with Tuesday Readings that focus on developing new practices, on saying “no,” on perfecting your calendar, and on focusing on results.

If you choose to work on this skill, you can get started now with an exercise:  Find at least 30 minutes in a place where you will not be interrupted and focus on what being more intentional in two or three specific areas would look like for you and what impact it might have on how you function as a leader.

Happy New Years!  And, do have a wonderful week.  .  .     jim



1.  “Why Are Resolutions So Hard To Follow?”  <>

2.  New Year’s Resolution Experiment  <>

3.  A Harvard Professor Reveals How To Make New Year’s Resolutions That You Can Actually Keep  <>

4.  John Norcross, “Changeology:  5 Steps to Realize Your Goals and Resolutions.”  Published December 25th 2012 by Simon & Schuster.