Resolutions Downsized

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The way to keep a New Year’s resolution is to pick a good goal and then overhaul your life to in order to meet it. Duh.

But some of you are saying, hold it, my goal isn’t big enough to require an overhaul of my life. Maybe your goal is to, say, clean out your closet. But look, this is not material for a New Year’s resolution. This requires you to cross a day out on your calendar and tell yourself that’s your closet day. Done.

Do you know why most people don’t keep their New Years’ resolutions? Because the resolutions are terrible. The hardest part of a New Year’s resolution is choosing one, not keeping it.

Most resolutions are goals to change our behavior: Stop smoking, stop eating crap, stop being late. This is not a small change. This is a change that requires a massive overhaul of our daily life—hour by hour.

Most of you are saying that you can’t
afford to overhaul your whole life to meet your goal. You have a job, you have kids, you have friends who would think you have lost your mind. But you know what? If the goals you set are not worth overhauling your life for, then ask yourself why not?

Pick One: We can each meet one or two big goals a year. We can’t change a lot of bad behavior—the more resolutions we make the less likely we are to keep them, according to Roy Baumeister, psychologist at Florida State University. But we can change one. Pick the one that’ll mean the most to you. You will be pleasantly surprised to find that changing one habit actually requires so many small changes in your day that you also end up being able to change other habits, because the patterns of your life change.

A Worthy Goal Means You Can Imagine Life After Meeting the Goal: Jim Fannin makes a living teaching people how to imagine themselves doing behavior they want. Fannin says it’s nearly impossible to meet a goal if you do not know what you’d look like meeting it.

He takes this to the extreme and has his clients (many major league baseball players) play movies of themselves in their heads—movies of them meeting their goals. It’s a good test for you. If you can’t imagine in your head the moment when you meet your goal, then it’s probably not a good goal.

It’s Not You, It’s the Goal: I spend a lot of time trying things out to help me find my core goals. I am a big fan of writing things down to understand oneself. After all, that’s probably why I am a blogger. Sometimes I write lists of things that bug me, and I learn from that. One year I discovered that writing letters to odd people in my life revealed a core goal.

Even when I have my goal that I’m focused on, I check in with myself frequently to reaffirm that it’s the behavior in my life that is most important to me to change—like renewing one’s vows.

So think very hard before you make a New Year’s resolution. Because setting your goal is much harder than meeting it.

Penelope Trunk has launched new businesses for multinational corporations and she founded two of her own companies. Her most recent book is Brazen Careerist: New Rules for Success (Warner Books).

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