How many of us hate New Year’s resolutions?

Resolutions are some of the biggest ‘shoulds’ this time of year—you should lose weight, you should be nicer, you should spend more time with your family, you should make more money, etc.  These shoulds represent what you believe everyone else thinks you should do, like your Mom or your first grade teacher.  (Didn’t know they were in there, huh?)  Shoulds aren’t bad in and of themselves, but it’s really important to focus on the actions that line up with we want to be, not what we ‘should’ do or who we ‘should’ be.  There’s a difference between pleasing others and being our authentic selves.  One is easy, the other requires a bit of courage and sacrifice.

One of the reasons our New Year’s resolutions fail is that they are imposed on us by others—we’re not really that motivated to accomplish them, but feel guilty if we don’t.  The ‘should’ voice is not really our own, and we often secretly resent it.

There’s a reason why most of us set resolutions at the beginning of the year, with the best intentions, and then give them up two weeks later.

If you want to set resolutions you will stick to, start by choosing a resolution that lines up with what you value and who you want to be.  If you don’t value fitting into your jeans, resolving to lose weight may not be for you

Keep in mind, you may have to learn a new set of skills to accomplish your goals, so you may want to choose a learning goal instead.  I’d like to compete in a triathlon one day, but I’m not a great swimmer, I don’t own a road bike, and I’m constantly taking care of my knees.  (Now that I think about it, maybe triathlons aren’t for me.)

Pick something that challenges you, but is not impossible.  We succeed at goals when we are motivated and competent—picking impossible goals reduces motivation and makes us feel like big dummies.

Next, write down your goal—be specific—and share it with others.  We’ve been doing goal research for decades, and setting vague goals is a fast way to fail.  “Be healthy” is a lot less effective than “Lose 10 pounds by March 1st, 2014.”  When you share it with others, you build your own commitment to the goal, because you’ve raised the social stakes in not achieving your goals.

Finally, consider setting micro-goals.  Rather than setting a goal of “losing 10 pounds by March 1st, 2014,” set a goal of “Today, I am going to workout for 30 minutes.”    Tomorrow, you can set another goal.  Do it enough, and not only will you feel success, you will achieve your long-term goal.

To sum up, if you want your resolutions to survive past mid-January, pick something that aligns with who you are and something you are genuinely passionate about.  Be specific, tell someone else, and consider making a bunch of small resolutions.

For me, triathlons are out.  But what about my ‘should?’ I should be nicer, and I should lose weight.  Who wants to bet I’ll be heavier and meaner by January 15th?



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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