The word ‘Resolution’ has gotten a bad rap in recent years. It is true, research conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton points to this reality: only 8%, of the 45% of people who actually make New Year’s resolutions, both maintain their goals past the six month mark and then proceed to achieve them.
With success rates being so low, it is easy to write off the 8% as being mutant-uber-achievers, the freaky competitive sort with no soul or life. However, one of the things I’ve found is they define resolution differently. These uber-achievers have realized the key definition of the word ‘Resolution’ is “the act or process of reducing to simpler form” (Merriam Webster, 9th edition). In other words, they’ve learned how to keep it simple; to break down their goals into manageable action steps.
Like most people, I have been most familiar with the common definition of the word resolution as “being a formal expression of will or intent”. And this is where most of us get stuck. A declaration of intent or will is not the same as doing. Resolving to do something – no matter how determined – is not the same as taking action towards a particular goal. A joke which illustrates this perfectly is: There are five frogs on a log. One decides to jump off. How many are left? Five – because deciding isn’t doing.
The secret to keeping one’s resolutions, past the three-week mark and well past the six-month time frame, is to break them down; reduce each goal to a simpler form. In fact, the best strategy is to turn your individual resolutions into HABITS.
Harnessing the Power of Habits:
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, defines habits as “the choices each of us deliberately make at some point and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day”. Duhigg also points to research published in 2006 by Duke University researchers, who found that more than 40% of the actions we make each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits.
Turns out activities like driving a car, once we’ve learned how, becomes a habit – which is why it is easy to get into a car, turn the key in the ignition, back it out of the garage, point it towards Target and then seemingly zone out until you reach the parking lot. Consider grocery shopping; most of my shopping is done by habit – I usually purchase the same 15 things – spinach, apples, broccoli, clementines, snap peas, peanut butter, coffee, organic ½& ½, … you get the idea. It takes a special ingredient for a dish on a dinner-party menu to have me deviate from the list in my head.
Think about how easy it is to drive a car from point A to B. Think about how quickly you move through the grocery store, tossing the essentials into your cart.
What if we could make our choice of resolutions this year become so deliberate, that eventually, we stop thinking about them, and yet continue to do them every day?
Here are the five steps to SIMPLIFY and SYSTEMIZE your resolutions:
- Adopt the correct mind-set: Habits aren’t created in a day. In fact, unless you’ve tried to break a habit, you may not have thought about how long it took you to form it in the first place. Much of the goal-setting research suggests it takes anywhere from 21 to 90 days to create a new habit. Recognizing it takes time to develop a habit, let alone a positive one, allows you to forgive yourself when you are less than perfect. Forgive and recommit to your resolution.
- Keep it simple: Instead of writing down a long list of things to work on or change about yourself in a year, consider focusing in on one or two key areas of your life. It is easy, especially if life feels like it has fallen apart, to want to rush in and fix everything at once. I know, I set 13 goals for myself one year; turns out that was 10 too many. I only achieved three on my list. Consider picking a theme for the year. For example, declare: “This is the year of Self-Care”. And then pick one or two healthy actions you can take to support this theme.
- Choose actions: This is where breaking things into simple steps is crucial to your success. For example, for the last two years I have set the goal of running a 50K the second week of May. In order to make this happen, I write my training schedule into my calendar with the specific distances and level of effort expected: Tuesday, 6 miles, 3 hill repeats. When I check my calendar the night before, I know what workout to dress for in the morning.
- Choose timelines: One of my mentors encourages setting 90 day goals and the specific action steps towards their achievement. Consider a year as being divided into quarters – 90 days each – Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall. By focusing on establishing one new habit a quarter, means you’ll be able to give dedicated attention to developing each of your resolutions, one at a time. Once a new habit is established – it takes approximately 90 days to turn an action into a habit – you’ll be able to tackle the next one. A 90 day goal will only take you past the six-month mark if you maintain it. Once the action steps become routine, will it become a habit you can sustain for a whole year and hopefully, longer.
- Create a three-step habit loop: First there is the cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. (This can be your running shoes left in the middle of the bedroom floor and your running clothes laid out before you go to bed.) Then there is the routine, or series of actions, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. (When the alarm goes off and once you are out of bed, seeing the running shoes gets you out the door.) Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if the action was worth it. (Initially, when I am starting a new habit – say, meditating twice a day – it is helpful to create a “Star Chart” where I am able to log my progress until the actions I am taking begin to feel more natural.)
That’s it. Pick your theme for 2014. Choose three or four resolutions to support it. Choose one and work at establishing it over the next 90 days. What is the cue or trigger reminding you to take a specific action? What will be the routine or series of actions you will need to take? What will be your reward? Patience, forgiveness, and commitment will be your friends.
Here’s to YOUR thriving!