If your life is perfect, skip this column. Send me an e-mail sharing your secrets to a fulfilled life. If by chance you are one of the 100 million Americans that makes a New Year’s resolution or helps to fuel the 2.5 billion self-help industry, read on.
First know that according to surveys, a very high percentage of resolutions remain unfulfilled. If you are a cynic you might rightfully conclude that given the odds, it makes no sense to bother making one in the first place … unless you read this column, which is aimed at improving your chances of resolution success.
There are two important fundamental that need to be understood:
- First, setting new goals means changing something. Change by definition means making room for something new. It also means giving up something old. It seems fundamental, but too often we wish upon the new without establishing what we need to give up in order to make room for the new. As an example, if you want to leave a legacy during your retirement, you might have to give up playing golf every day and devote time to your ambition.
- Secondly, we need to understand that WILLPOWER is scientifically no longer regarded as a metaphor but defined as a real form of mental energy powered by glucose in the bloodstream, which is used up as one exerts self-control. So we have to take into account the possibility of our own mental fatigue and not regard it as failure, but as a something that needs to be replenished and trained.
Now for the practical part. Here is my seven-step outline to a better you:
- Step 1: Make time to think about what your ambitions are. It’s a common mistake to skip the most important step and superficially pick something that seems obvious instead of doing some soul searching.
- Step 2: Be ambitious. Wish for something that would have a long lasting effect and improve your quality of life.
- Step 3: Define the purpose, not just the goal. Often we set a goal without truly thinking about the purpose. As an example, we might say we want to lose 10 pounds. What we truly need to define is the purpose. Would it help my cholesterol level and make me a more agile tennis player? Understanding the purpose will help to achieve the goal and open up multiple avenues to get there.
- Step 4: Document your plan. Studies have shown that people that document their plan visibly are far more likely to achieve their goals compared to people with the same intentions who simply think about it in silence. Be smart about the goals and the time it may take to get there. Too often people give up because they set unrealistic targets and don’t allow for the inevitable setbacks.
- Step 5: Commit to it. Unless we truly commit to it, our chances of success are very low. This seems obvious, but we need help by making a contract with ourselves or placing a bet with friends. Enter it into your calendar and make it non-negotiable.
- Step 6: Stay with it. Chances of sticking with a plan vastly increase if we are accountable to someone about it; build a support team and reward ourselves for success. Try to pre-commit and plan in such a way that you have to use your willpower sparingly. Go running before your first coffee, don’t keep bacon in the house if it is not part of your diet, choose to watch one football game instead of the entire afternoon if you want to read a book, etc.
- Step 7: Review and revise. Writing out your goals will allow you to review them and keep track of your progress. Some ambitions are very measurable, such as achieving a high test score. Others are more vague, in which case setting some milestones and checking them off as you pass them is useful. Finally, be ready to revise the plan as you gain new insights, as long as you stay committed to the initial purpose.
Armed with all this knowledge, the only obstacle remaining to achieve success is our own persona.
Onwards to a great 2014!
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