It's That Time of the Year Again: New Year's Resolutions

January 22, 2014


By Donna C. Coulson, M.S., PCC

Psychologists say less than 25% of people stick to their New Year’s Resolutions. (Ian Sample, The Guardian, 12/27/2009). A whopping 78% focused on the downside of what they didn’t achieve--like giving up smoking, losing weight, or growing their business.

Will power, fantasizing, or visioning will not make a Resolution happen. Making a change in your behavior has a better chance if you take smaller steps—defining what must happen first or next.

Many coaches and psychologists are opposed to Resolutions.  But others call Resolutions goals that are good to set for yourself.

Resolutions are not technically goals.  A “resolve” is a self-promise to change an existing habit that either needs to stop, start, continue, or be done differently. For example, I need to continue my weekly walking and stretching at the gym to maintain a desired fitness level and stop bypassing the gym when tempted by other options for my time. WIIFM? What’s In It for Me? My cholesterol levels go down and meds are unnecessary. So Coach Donna asks: What habit do you resolve to change by starting, stopping, continuing, or doing something different?

I like Daniel Kahneman’s concept of “Pre-Hindsight” about Resolutions--or goals:  He suggests using your emotions to evaluate how likely you’ll succeed six months from now.  If you don’t achieve that milepost, how surprised will you be?  The level of surprise is a predictor of whether or not you’ll succeed. (Angela Chen, “More Rational Resolutions,” Wall Street Journal Health & Wellness, 12/30/13) If you’re not surprised you missed the target, you didn’t expect to. If you are surprised, your intention was strong.

If you find yourself procrastinating on your resolution, Kahneman suggests “Structured Procrastination,” where you acknowledge the procrastination and do something else productive, like clean your office or go for a walk.

We are a doing society where “Results” and “Sense of Urgency” rule the office. We also have personal lives and make choices daily that may need changing. What do Y-O-U need to stop, start, continue, or do differently? Here are 5 ideas for moving your “resolve” ahead in 2014:

  1. Like Ian Sample says:  Break your change into smaller steps where you can have successes.  Scheduling time on my January calendar to walk structures me and makes this a habit rather than an avoidance.
  2. Identify an “Accountability Partner” to share your intention to change. Ask them to follow up with you. Reciprocate: What is their resolve?
  3. Understand your Resistance to the change. Self-resistance is natural. Deal with yourself using #1 and #2 above
  4. Tell as many people in your “Inner Circle” about your intention. Friends, family, or peers will ask how you’re doing and also hold you accountable!
  5. Identify someone who handled the same challenge well. Ask them for 1 or 2 hints that worked best for them.

I like Oprah Winfrey’s quote:  “Cheers to another chance to get it right!”

Donna Coulson teaches Rutgers Executive and Professional Development programs such as Essential Management Skills and the Leadership Development Series. She most recently worked with a company that requested Rutgers prepare customized training offered at their location. Please contact Rutgers EPE if you are interested in similar training customized for your company. Donna is one of more than 200 instructors we draw from when we receive such requests.