It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? Time to determine something about your life or business you want to change, figure out how to make it better, and then shout to the world “gosh darn it, I’m really going to do it this year.”
Most people tend to associate health, weight-loss, or financial goals with their New Years Resolutions. A common theme is resolutions tend to be personal in nature. You may have similar goals, or you might have tied them to your new startup or personal achievement milestones in your current job.
Whatever the case, here we are 4 weeks into the New Year and if you are like the other 9 out of 10 people out there you will not succeed. Statistics show you are destined to fail at to your resolution. You might have even already broken it, just one month into the New Year.
So I guess it’s better luck next year.
Or is it?
The Problem With Resolutions
The problem is people really suck at keeping New Years resolutions. According to the University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 8% of any population making a resolution actually succeeds in achieving what they set out to improve.
Those numbers don’t sound promising to me. And apparently 38% never even make a New Year’s Resolution; maybe that group is smart enough to know it’s not worth the effort… Or maybe we just need to rework how we approach resolutions and commitments all together?
I have a different perspective on setting goals and commitments that might shed some light on a better way. A previous career in the health and fitness industry gave me a glimpse into the human psyche and revealed some quite interesting phenomena.
One of the first problems I saw with New Year’s and people making resolutions was the fact that it was temporal. It was an artificially set start date and they were placing a time emphasis on it. The prevailing logic says since it is a New Year it just seems like the right time to change something about ourselves. The problem is it’s a forced decision. People think, “Well, it’s a New Year so I need to choose something I hate about myself and make sure I change it starting today. Unfortunately this leads to short term thinking which is easily observed by 1) stepping into any gym in America during January and noticing how busy it is and then 2) doing the same thing the first or second week of February. You will see quite a different picture just a month later.
Support Systems Are Required
Counter to common practice, just determining “OK, it’s a new year and today is day 1… Here I go!” will do no good unless you have thought through the decision and put a solid support system in place to provide a method to the madness. Any significant life change requires well a thought through decision in addition to support mechanisms strategically in place, which is why trainers, psychologists and nutritionists greatly improve achievement of health and fitness goals.
Support systems for executives and startup founders can actually be anything or anyone you want them to be – they just have to be there and be accountable. As a CEO, I tend to lean on my core group of advisors over team members since I can talk more freely with them regarding sensitive information. If it’s a new project or milestone associated with our business, teammates work really well. And even though I haven’t used one (yet) meeting regularly with a therapist or personal confidant would probably help keep you on track. The point is to employ others in your quest, thinking through how, why, and when you will need their help.
I also noticed people would make very large goals requiring major changes to their lives without taking full consideration of what they are actually embarking on. Poorly thought-out resolutions tend to involve totally new activities or disciplines rather than tweaks on existing practices. New activities require much more energy and attention when performed, placing increased stress on the individual to maintain the routine when everything in them is screaming just the opposite. This is probably the number one reason resolutions are broken and why a full 25% of people don’t even make it past 2 weeks.
To use an overused analogy in the startup world, positive results are easier to achieve if the activity is similar to what is already being done. Depending on the focus of change a better idea would be to pivot around what you are already doing, only making small changes in key areas so significant results can be seen.
Twists, tweaks, and “pivots” on existing practices are easier to complete since the individual is already used to going through the motions and thinking about the problem. Back to the fitness example, rather than saying “I need to lose 50 lbs this year so I am going to go to the gym and workout everyday” a better strategy would be to “I am going to take the stairs whenever possible when I enter a building” and “I will stop eating when I am still hungry during meals so I don’t overeat anymore.” In terms of weight-loss goals, those practices are much easier to adhere to than working out everyday of the week.
Make A Commitment Instead of A Resolution
Finally, most people fail on resolutions because their goal is kept private and no one is holding them accountable. Rather than a personal, private resolution, make a public commitment. Making a commitment towards something bigger than yourself – be it a company, a family, or a cause – is the single most effective way to secure your success.
Why is this?
If done correctly, the adherence to your commitment has an inherent and direct affect on others around you. Most likely these people count on you daily; maybe even gauge their success on your success. When you involve others in your commitment you actually create a natural support system to help you stay committed along the way.
So if you are a founder or a leader in your company, it might be best to wrap your team into your New Year commitment and decide on something that will move both you and your team forward. Then go tell your entire team! Get them into a room, shut the door, tell them your commitment for the year and ask them to agree to a no-holds-barred agreement to keep you in-line and accountable. Even better, ask them if they want to make their own commitment and add to the team effort.
That is just one of many ways to make (and keep) a commitment. At minimum, you will have a great conversation with your team and probably see your company move forward as a result. At best, you will remain committed through December 31st 2013 and beyond.
Commitment. It’s the first step towards success.
Nick Hughes is CEO of Seconds, a mobile payments startup located in Seattle, WA. He also writes at SoEntrepreneurial.com and you can follow him on twitter @jnickhughes.
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