Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
Vincent Van Gogh
At 12am, 1st January 2013, in a bout of alcohol induced euphoria you may have resolved to turn your life around. Perhaps today you find that you did – 360°, right back where you started. You’re not alone. A study at the University of Bristol, involving 3,000 people showed that while 52% of people are confident they will achieve their New Year resolutions, 88% will fail. Does that mean resolutions are a waste of time? If they’re made anywhere near popping champaign corks – probably. However, translate your new year’s resolutions into clear, well-formulated, written goals and (assuming you’re sober at the time) you will significantly increase your chances of success. Here are six tips to turning your new year resolutions into new year realizations:
#1 Have a plan. Most people don’t achieve their goals because they don’t have any, they’ve just got some vague notion of what would be nice. Write the goal down. Make sure it is specific and measurable. It’s not good enough to say “I want to lose weight” you need to specify the exact amount. Break the goal into manageable subgoals, setting time frames to each one of them. One study found that men were 22% more likely to achieve their goals when they had a clear goal setting plan. Goals don’t work, you work, but working without goals is like sailing the high seas without a sail, wherever you think you’re headed well you’re going to land up somewhere else. When you set your goals, you set your sail.
#2 Know why. There are four key questions that need to be answered about any goal. The most neglected and perhaps most important of all of these is “Why?” If you don’t have powerful reasons for realizing your goal you won’t put in the hard work necessary for any great achievement. In explaining how some people could endure the horrors of the holocast, surivor and psychiatrist, Victor Frankyl, used to say: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”. What are your reasons? What do you stand to gain if you do achieve this and what do you stand to lose if you don’t?
#3 Embrace failure. Success usually only happens after a string of setbacks. Failure is only terminal when you don’t get up. A group of billionaires was asked to summarize their key to success in one word. The word that came up more than any other was: persistence. It’s easier to persist if you see failure as a teacher. Thomas Edison didn’t say he failed to invent the light bulb nearly a thousand times, he said he just discovered nearly a thousand ways that didn’t work. As the Dalai Lama says: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”
#4 Get social support. A University of Pittsburgh program urges weight loss participants to enroll with a goal buddy. Throughout the program the goal buddies have to provide support and encouragement to one another. At a ten month follow up, 66% of those with the goal buddy had maintained their weight loss compared to just 24% without the goal buddy.
#5 Take action. The worst labour saving device ever invented is called “tomorrow”. Goals aren’t achieved in the future, they’re achieved through daily action. As the old saying goes: “What’s the best way to eat and elephant? One bite at a time.” What are you going to do today to achieve your goal?
Finally, #6 build your willpower muscle. Goals such as weight loss, debt reduction or even a healthy marriage, require a change of habits and that requires self control. Willpower is located in the most evolved part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is also responsible for focus, short term memory and solving abstract problems. A study at Stanford University found that people who have to memorize a seven digit number are twice as likely to give into the temptation of a high calorie cake than those who only had to remember a two digit number. Mental tasks sap our self-control. No wonder after a long day at the office we’re more likely to indulge in high fat food, booze or even overspending.
To add to our self-control challenges, the profrontal cortex needs glucose to function. Roy Baumeister, a Florida State University psychology professor, found that when our blood sugar is low, our self-control is more likely to fail. Kind of defeats the purpose if you need your willpower to reduce your calorie intake! What this means is that regular meals and healthy snacks are necessary to maintain the willpower required for weight loss.
The good news is that willpower is like a muscle, one that we can build through exercise. In one study, students who followed a simple self-control task like straightening their posture for two weeks, showed a marked improvement on other areas of self-control. But the best way to build your willpower may just be meditation. According to Kelly McGonigal, author of “Maximum Willower”, meditation increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex much like weight lifting increases blood flow to the muscles. One study found that just three hours of meditation practice led to improved stress-management, self-awareness and self-control and after eleven hours, researchers could detect more grey matter and neural connections in the prefrontal cortex. (A little later this year I will be launching my new meditation-based personal power program – Thrive. Watch this space.)
You don’t need a New Year to resolve to improve your life. In fact you’re a bit like an app, to improve your health, wealth and happiness you need to regularly download the new improved version. Except this is one app we don’t just download we have to develop it. A group of people over the age of ninety were asked what they most regretted about their lives. The two most common responses were “I didn’t take enough risks” and “I didn’t reflect enough”. Why not take out a few hours of your life to reflect on the calculated risks required to sew the seeds of your greatness. Just make sure you’re sober!
This article is based on Life Coach 3: How to Achieve Great, Big, Hair-Raising Goals (And why most people don’t)
I recently returned from Illinois, from my first event for the American Society for Training and Development. Thanks to the ASTD folks in Chicago and Peoria who made my stay so warm and welcoming, and thank you for your wonderful “feedforward”!
I have seen a lot of speakers and sat through a lot of breakout sessions. Justin Cohen is the most informative, entertaining and inspiring that I’ve seen. He is the key reason that this year’s annual convention was rated the best in our chapter’s history.”- Dave Goranson, President, American Society for Training and Development, HOI
“Justin knocked it out of the park! The audience was enthralled, engaged, laughing, and on theverge of tears at times which in my book makes a great presentation and a great speaker. There were a lot of a take-aways for the entire organization.” - Ellen George, Dean, Corporate Education, Illinois Central College, USA
”Justin’s presentation was fresh, relevant and engaging. One of the things I like best is that he is well researched. You could tell he did his homework before he came to our event. He knew all about the group of people that he was speaking to and adapted his content to the audience. Justin is an incredible speaker and very genuine.” Angie Houck, Director, American Society for Training & Development, USA