New Year’s Resolutions
By Aaron Sugarman
New Year’s Resolutions are a form of declaration, a verbal act with great potential for starting, or concluding, something. If this annual tradition works for you, by all means, let it rip. If, however, your resolve tends to dissolve in the days or weeks following New Year’s Eve, here are three questions to consider:
1. What kind of promise am I about to make? Is it a…
Strong Promise: One I am absolutely committed to keeping.
Shallow Promise: May sound Strong on the surface, but what I don’t say out loud is “unless X or Y happens”—I reserve a private out for myself.
Criminal Promise: One that, as I make it, I know I have no intention of keeping.
A good, honest assessment here lets you know where you stand, and what your odds of success are, right from the get go.
2. Which will help me succeed, a deadline or a practice?
For some people, in some circumstances, a looming deadline generates motivation and focus. In this context, making progress towards your goal generates a positive spiral of supportive brain chemistry. But for others of us, a deadline can trigger anxiety and the emotion of resignation (“It’s never going to work out, so why bother trying?”), launching a negative spiral of diminishing confidence and action-busting brain chemicals.
In the latter case, it will likely be more productive to focus on a new practice rather than a big stretch goal—for example, “I will write for 30 minutes every day” vs. “I will write a novel in six months” or “I will replace those daily sugary snacks at work with a short, energizing walk” vs. “I will lose 20 pounds by summer.” The point is to encourage action, no matter how small the steps. The way the brain is wired, following a regular practice builds good habits and gets easier and easier over time. For those of us who don’t respond well to deadline pressure, sustainable practices can offer a kinder, gentler path to accomplishing goals.
3. Who can I enroll in my cause?
Modern neuroscience is clear on this score: We are social creatures. Enrolling someone, whether a friend, family member or coach, to support you in acting consistently with your new declaration dramatically increases your odds of success—as well as your pleasure along the way. Just be as clear about what you are requesting—things like “Text me around 3pm and say _____,” or, “Let me know if you see me doing X, or hear me saying Y,” or, “Let’s check in at the end of each week and share our progress,” can make a huge difference.
(And if you feel resistance to this idea? Go back to question #1!)
Aaron Sugarman is a Newfield Certified Coach and has garnered numerous awards for his creative work online (Webbys), in film (Key Art), print (National Magazine Awards) and advertising/marketing (Cannes Lions).
He works with individuals and teams across North America who are committed to excellence and willing to make strong promises to achieve their goals.