Is it Time to Reboot Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Did you make New Year’s Resolutions this year? How is it going? Are you frustrated? Do your habits have a vice grip that you haven’t been able to shake? Have you already given up? Perhaps it's time to reboot and turn your resolutions into goals.  Here are nine secrets to setting and achieving goals.

(c) Ann Thompson

(c) Ann Thompson

Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

According to research done by the University of Scranton, only 8% of people accomplish their New Year’s Resolutions.  If that isn’t bad enough, the study also states that those who made explicit resolutions were 10 times more likely to achieve their goals than those who did not.  If only 8% of the resolution-makers achieve their goals, then fewer than 1% of the rest of us do.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  If you don’t clearly articulate your goal, you can’t expect to reach it.

How can we turn frustration into success?

Make them memorable.   StatisticBrain lists the top 10 Resolutions for 2015. When I reviewed the list, they were singularly unmemorable. Here are some examples: lose weight, get organized, spend less, learn something exciting. There are four reasons why these goals aren’t memorable.

    1. They aren’t specific
    2. They aren’t emotionally compelling
    3. They aren’t grounded in the person’s current life
    4. They focus on what’s wrong with us.

Memorable goals are something that we instinctively relate to and remember. Because they relate to our lives right here and now, and are emotionally compelling, these goals add to the story that is our lives. They are not an interruption. Memorable goals focus on growth, rather than repair. And specific goals enable us to evaluate our progress, or lack thereof.

Here are some examples of memorable goals:

  • I want to be healthy enough so that I can do an all-day hike with my spouse in Glacier National Park by July, 2016.
  • I want to save enough money to afford a 2-week vacation in Europe, including a 2-night stay at a 4-star hotel in Paris.

You can see that these goals are emotional, specific, and you can picture yourself enjoying the fruits of your labors.  With a goal like this, you can post a picture of what you want on your fridge, above your desk, or make it the wallpaper on your computer.  Much more memorable than “lose weight” or “save money”.

Reach for your discomfort zone.
Take inventory of where you are, and make the goal something that you can possibly reach, and will require considerable stretching. If the goal is too easy, you may not treat it with proper respect. You may simply coast. If it is too far beyond your reach, you are setting yourself up for failure. It may take some practice to determine what the sweet spot is – that discomfort zone. As we said in Finding Your Groove Episode 11, a certain amount of Eustress is great to help push you beyond where you’ve been before. Past the tipping point, however, it becomes Distress.

Take specific actions.
Goals are not actions. They are what you want to achieve. To achieve your goals, you must decide on and take action. The beauty of this is that there are several different approaches you can take to achieve the same end. If one doesn’t work well, you can try another.

Another benefit of this approach is that you can start with tiny, almost imperceptible actions. According to Clement Stone, a noted entrepreneur, “Big doors swing on little hinges.” Any action, no matter how small, will move you toward your goal. Consistently practicing small changes sets you up for bigger changes ahead. By taking small actions, you can also break a big goal up into small, manageable bites.Make the first actions something you can easily succeed at. Nothing breeds success like success. If you make the first actions something difficult, you set yourself up for failure right from the beginning.

Make it easier to act.
Shawn Achor talks about this in his book “The Happiness Advantage”.  He describes trying to stop turning on the TV when he comes home from work. Because it was such a habit, and easy to do, he removed the batteries from the remote and put them in a drawer in another room on the far side of the house. He also put his running shoes where he would have to trip over them to make it easier to exercise. If you’re trying to eat more healthy, listen to Podcast Episode 10, which helps you learn how to eat vegetables first.

Make it fun.
If you can turn your goal into a game, find the humor, add a play element into the goal, all the better. Some co-workers were recently discussing a kickball league in our area. That was my favorite game as a kid. Playing in an adult kickball league would make getting fit and healthy a lot more fun than some other activities I could think of.

Find a buddy.
Research shows that working with someone else markedly increases your chances of success.    It’s also a lot more fun. And it doesn’t have to be in person either. You can hire a coach, share with your spouse, find friends with similar goals, or an online community. You will want support, encouragement, and a good kick when you need it.

Adjust as needed.
Give yourself permission to change your goals if you have set them improperly. There is no failure in that. In fact, that’s a sign of wisdom – the ability to take in new information and change course where appropriate. Lazlo Bock, the man in charge of hiring for Google, calls it “intellectual humility” – the ability to shift your position when you learn new facts. You may or may not make a huge change to your goal. If it isn’t working for you at all, you may need to simply reframe it to make it more memorable.

Using my “lose weight” goal as an example, if my first attempt to tell the story by saying I want to hike in Glacier National Park isn’t memorable enough, I can reframe it. I still have the same goal at its core. But the story around that goal has changed. Make sure to be honest with yourself. Don’t change your goals simply because you haven’t succeeded right away.Or if you’ve gone too far in or out of your comfort zone, you may need to dial it up or back just a bit. Feel free to experiment as much as necessary. Goal-setting is more of an art than a science.

Treat your goal as a lifestyle change, rather a temporary event.
If I have a goal to lose 20 pounds, what do I do once I’ve lost them? You already know the answer. Only about 20% of those who intentionally lose weight keep it off for more than a year. Many people continue a cycle of lose-gain-lose-gain. The same is true of getting organized, spending less, and most of the goals listed in the top 10. Turning your actions into a positive habit turns your goals into a lifestyle. Imagine what you could do with more energy and better health? You would have a lot more fun in life, as you’d be able to be more active. You would spend less on healthcare costs. Could keep up with the kids or grandkids. Imagine living life debt free? You could start the business you’ve always wanted, or take a vacation and make precious memories.

Celebrate success.
Acknowledge right now that you will not achieve 100% perfection. Do not focus on what you do wrong. Celebrate what you do right. Learn from experience, both positive and negative. Commit to doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. And celebrate every success, no matter how silly or small it may seem. Positive reinforcement goes a long way when the going gets tough.

Perhaps it’s time to reboot those resolutions.  Make goals memorable, aim for your discomfort zone, take small actions, make it easier, treat them as a lifestyle, have fun, find a friend, adjust as you go, and celebrate success.  And let’s have an awesome New Year’s celebration at the end of 2015!

How do you plan to reframe one of your goals to make it memorable?  Please share in the comments below.  

To Go Deeper

  1. List your goals for 2015. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Are they memorable? Could I repeat them off the top of my head without looking them up? Do they tell a story?
    • Have I planned specific actions to further my goals? Are they simple enough that I can remember them, and have I made it easier to do them?
  1. Are you tracking your actions, and the progress against your goals? If not, how best could you do that?
  2. How can you add an element of fun or play to your goals?
  3. Where have you already succeeded this year? What can you learn from those successes?

Additional Resources to help you succeed!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ann Thompson

    Perfect time of year for this discussion. Although I see Jan 1st as a milestone event which allows us to assess what we want to do or accomplish in a new year, I don’t often make resolutions. I’ve found I haven’t been that great at keeping them. Perhaps I should have had Kathleen’s tips sooner!
    I usually use Lent as my period for introspection and change. I use it as a cleansing period, figuring I can do just about anything or without something for 40 days. Sometimes my self-sacrifice becomes a new habit that I continue beyond Easter. Sometimes it was just good to stop something for awhile – like eating chocolate or drinking too much tea.
    One thing I started right before the new year was yoga. I had always said I’d give it a try, and the timing seemed to be right. I had a Groupon for a one-month, unlimited membership….and I took full advantage. This was definitely outside my comfort zone. To Kathleen’s point, I didn’t go into it saying “I’m going to try yoga”; I went into it saying I want to be stronger in mind and body. Every practice my intention was to celebrate my strength and get stronger every time I went. It’s amazing what a change in your thinking, and committing to an intention rather than a resolution, can do to help you succeed. My goal to take full advantage of my one-month membership is slowly, but surely, becoming a lifestyle change.
    Thanks, Kathleen, for the reminder, and keep on sending your tips.
    I’d love to hear how others have succeeded with their resolutions.

    • Wow! Thanks for sharing your insights, Ann. Congratulations on adding yoga to your lifestyle. What sort of difference have you see thus far as a result?

      • Ann Thompson

        Stress has been a big part of my life the last year, and I think yoga has helped me to better manage that. I’ve also started to sleep better and hope that continues to improve. Physically, I see small changes in my body as it responds to the new activity and gets stronger.