How to achieve your New Year’s resolutions

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By this time next year....
By this time next year....

In my experience there are two main reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail:

  • Aiming too high
  • Not taking action

Let’s look at them in turn

Aiming too high

Let’s take a fairly typical example of Mike who wants to lose weight and improve his health.

At the moment Mike’s lifestyle has him doing an office job with 90 minutes of commuting each way. Breakfast consists of toast and toothpaste, lunch hasn’t happened since his boss declared that “lunch is for wimps” and his evening meal is most usually something from the Bengal Lancer on the way home as he is usually in so late.

Mike’s exercise regime is limited to lifting cushions off the sofa looking for the TV remote.

One day, during his Christmas break from work, Mike is at his laptop checking his emails when he decides that in the New Year he is going to make some changes.

He decides that from now on he is going to get up at 5am, jog to the gym, put in an hour on the weights, then jog home again for a breakfast of berries and a homemade smoothie which he intends to concoct the night before.

Mike actually manages this once; on his first Monday back at work after the holidays. Just as he is about to leave for the day, his boss asks him to get in early for an important meeting on the Tuesday. Mike knows that he will not have the time for his jog and gym in the morning and so is really downhearted. He cheers himself up with a dinner of chicken tikka massala and egg fried rice. The 5am start never happens again.

If I were coaching Mike I’d have him setting much more realistic aims to begin with. Perhaps 10minutes or so of gentle exercise to begin with. Maybe making sure one meal a day is a healthy one for now. I’d want him to be able to introduce his new habits in a way that his lifestyle couldn’t highjack and from which he can build.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Mike’s resolve to do all that stuff at 5am, but he can’t go straight to that point; he needs a series of goals that lead to it. Achieving goals is hugely motivating for most people and it is likely that making small accomplishments will give Mike the encouragement he needs to make the major changes.


Not taking action

Remember this old chestnut?

Three monkeys are sitting on a log when one decides to leave. How many monkeys are left?

The answer is three because we’re only told that one monkey decided to leave not that he actually got up and left.

This builds nicely from my previous point about realistic aims and suggests that we need resolutions that are easy to take action upon and get started.

There is nothing like taking action to help us achieve our aims and intentions.

Do something; do anything to make a start.

Things feel much more motivating once we’re moving. It’s much easier to change tack, to be flexible and to adapt once we’re already underway.

My two favourite coaching questions are:

  • What exactly are you going to do?
  • When exactly are you going to do it?

For New Year resolutions it’s nice to add another:

  • How will you reward yourself once you’ve done it?

Want to run a Marathon next year? Go and buy the trainers now.

Want to lose weight? Go and get the outfit you’d most like to be able to fit into.

Want to change jobs. Get on your computer and update your CV. Now!, No, Now!!

I could go on, but I guess you get the point. Take that first step, difficult thought it may be or you’ll have the same New Year’s resolutions this time next year.

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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2 Responses

  1. Love the idea of three monkeys sitting on a log! You’re absolutely right, making a decision to do something and ACTUALLY doing it are two completely different strategies and yet everyone needs them both to make changes. Although it’s not easy to make a decision and not easy to start doing things they are very different!!

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