Almost half of American adults make one or more New Year’s resolutions every year and fail. That’s probably the reason that the other half of the population doesn’t even bother. Keep reading, and I’ll show you why so many resolutions fail, and give you a strategy to ensure that they stick!
The most common resolutions involve weight loss, exercise and smoking. I see this first hand in all of my speaking engagements. When I give the audience a chance to make commitments, the vast majority of commitments they make are for their health.
I remember speaking at an elite producer’s insurance conference, Forum 400. Attendees had an opportunity to share commitments for actions that they needed to take to reach their goals. I expected to hear about putting on seminars, prospecting for strategic alliances, meeting for financial reviews with their high net worth clients, gift tax and trust opportunities or succession issues. Instead what did I hear?
“I’m committed to losing weight.”
Problem No. 1: There’s no specific goal One reason that commitments don’t turn into long-term habits and actions is because the commitment is not specific enough. My precision probing model will solve this. It’s simple. For every commitment you make, business or personal, ask yourself “who, what, when, where” and then add the word “specifically.”
Let’s get back to the common goal, “I’m committed to losing weight?” When I hear this, I ask the client to give me specifics.
“How much weight, specifically, do you want to lose?” I’ll ask. If the client answers, “I want to lose forty pounds,” I’ll keep asking for more information. “When, specifically, do you want to have reached your new weight?” The client might say by the end of the year. At this point, we both have a better idea of what the client is trying to achieve.
Problem No. 2: The picture is too big
But there’s another problem with New Year’s resolutions: often, they center on long-term goals. For the client who wants to lose weight, thinking about the end of the year is too far out. The most attainable goals are short-term and involve many small steps. So, I ask the client, “What does this mean for this week?”
Let’s say the client replies that he would like to lose one pound. This seems reasonable, so I ask “How are you going to do this?” The client responds with another vague response, “I’ll eat less and exercise more.”
Any time you hear the words “less” or “more,” qualifiers, challenge them with the precision probing model. In this case, I would focus on one thing, exercise. “What specifically will you do for exercise this week?”
The client says, “I’ll work out five times this week.”
Problem No. 3: The goal isn’t realistic
As a coach, I could go several directions on this one. What don’t I know? What does the client mean by “work out?” However, to save time, I’ll take a different route. I’ll check for reality. “How many times did you exercise last week?”
The most common response I get back is zero. “How about the week before that?” Again, zero.
This is a third major reason that New Year’s resolutions fall flat on their faces: unrealistic commitments. I explain to my client that you can’t commit to exercise five times each week when your history is zero followed by zero followed by zero. If you do this, you’ll have about a zero percent chance of succeeding.
After talking your client through his goals, let’s say that he agrees to a minimum commitment of working out two days this week. He might like to work out four times, but he’s only being held accountable to two.
Accountability is important with any goal. There needs to be an intervention to compensate for human nature. We are all genetically coded to avoid the highest level of perceived pain and seek comfort. We are coded for survival. We are coded to be fat, not thin because of the scarcity of food in our ancestors’ environment. It’s a protective instinct.
The problem is that this protective instinct occurs regardless of the validity of the threat. Once you recognize this, you can work with your instincts and stop fighting them. Here’s what this means for your commitment to exercise two times this week.
You make the commitment to exercise twice a week. You’re specific about what exercise means.
A goal like this overcomes the first obstacle: it is specific. It also overcomes the second and third hurdles: it’s a short-term commitment and it’s realistic.
Besting human nature
So why won’t you do it consistently? Because you’re still only halfway there. You haven’t acknowledged your true competition: human nature.
Human nature states that all human performance is the avoidance of pain or the seeking of comfort. Your brain is designed to search like a computer to find any links to pain, and it will find them. Here are a few:
- Exercise hurts.
- I’m tired.
- I have aches and pains.
- I don’t have enough time.
- It’s inconvenient.
Your brain instantly links your commitment to exercise to life-threatening pain. It also impacts your perceptions. You don’t see opportunities to exercise; all you see is a perceived threat that you must avoid. To overcome this, you must implement an intervention.
We’ve already accomplished the first two parts of the intervention by making a specific declaration (exercise twice a week) and asking someone to check in on the status of that declaration. The third part of accountability is setting a consequence for non-performance.
There must be a painful consequence if you don’t do what you said you would do. This consequence must be more painful than the pain of the activity – say penalizing yourself with a $1,000 fine. Now you are tapping into our instinct to avoid the highest level of perceived pain. If the highest level of pain is the consequence, then you will be compelled to avoid that consequence. And how do you avoid it? By doing the activity you said you would do.
Making good on your resolutions
Here is a summary of what stops New Year’s resolutions from working. No, let me turn it around: Here is a summary of what ensures resolutions are kept:
- Your goals are specific.
- You have a short-term focus, with small steps and specific activities.
- Your commitments are realistic and based on previously established behavior.
- You recognize the true competitor, human nature, and you stage an intervention.
- You set someone to keep you accountable with an enforceable, painful consequence for non-performance.
These steps will work whether you want to expand your professional network or lose 30 pounds. Implement them with just one New Year’s resolution and you will be very happy with the result. In fact, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll hold you accountable for $100 if you don’t perform.