It’s well known that New Year’s resolutions have a dismal chance of success. Average shelf life is often described as under two weeks. By this time in the month, you’re a real one-percenter if you’re still doing whatever it was you committed 2023 you to doing differently.
Many of us have abandoned New Year’s resolutions, which is fair. However, most of also have behaviors we’d like to stop doing, and others we’d like to start doing. For good reason – they’d make us happier, healthier, more impactful, or more fulfilled.
It’s this last incentive that’s the right one to tap into. If you can identify the legacy you want to leave, or how you want your world to be different because you were in it, your likelihood of success with New Year’s resolutions, or any behavior change, skyrocket.
Clearly, most of us aren’t tapping into the motivating power of legacy, also known as purpose or our ‘why’.
Error #1: Your Resolution is not Yours
The downside of our hyper-connected world is that we see a lot of other people’s idealized version of themselves or even ourselves. And we have, or make, less time for thinking about our own ideal version of ourselves. Thus, many resolutions have more to do with what other people think we should be than what we really aspire to. Resolutions must explicitly touch our Me dimension – the things that are authentically the most important to us.
How do your kids, employees, or friends respond when you tell them to do something ‘because I said so’? How do you respond when someone tells you that?
Not very well, right? Well that’s essentially what you’re doing to yourself when you adopt a New Year’s resolution based on a media image of your body, society’s perception of your career progression, or your boss’s ideas about your next role.
We have a hard time getting motivated to do something ‘because someone said so’.
On the other hand, if you want nothing more than to work remotely six months a year to visit your new grandchildren across country, or explore hot springs in the Andes, I promise you’ll get really good at managing remotely or coding or whatever skill will enable that lifestyle change. Similarly, if you know you need to be more agile to play with those grandchildren or hike to the springs, your new eating regime will not feel so restrictive or burdensome.
Error #2: Your Resolution is not Connected to Your People
Even the most introverted among us are social creatures. And therein lies the power of the We dimension of our model. So include your people in your resolutions. Of course, starting a new habit with someone else is great. It makes it more fun, provides accountability, and maybe even a two-for-one or referral discount.
But if no one will join you for Dry January, Meatless Mondays, or a new weekly boxing class, think about how you’re doing it for the people you love. So that you can be more rested to support your team in a hectic month, less stressed when you come home to your partner after work, or proud of the way you contributed to less carbon emissions threatening your future grandchildren’s access to nature. Linking your resolution to the impact they’ll have on others makes them more motivating and stickier than if you think you’re just doing it for yourself.
Finally, maybe the connection to others is a divide and conquer approach. You’re going to try cooking gluten-free meals, and your partner will take on the new shopping requirements. Or you’re working on mindfulness for your team, and a colleague has stepped up to lead a breathing exercise to start each meeting. Your resolution doesn’t have to be their resolution, but if the two connect, you’re setting each other up for success.
Error #3: So What?
Finally, you don’t have to be a not-for-profit employee or seven-digit philanthropist to connect your resolutions to the good they’ll do in the world around you. The World dimension is ultimately where we find that sense of fulfillment that makes resolutions truly sticky. But be careful – it’s not just about jumping on the bandwagon for the latest ‘global issue’.
If you resolve to use less plastic after feeling shamed by a colleague or news story, but don’t have any direct connection or passion to that issue, I promise it won’t stick. To be effective, you must connect your resolutions to a local or global problem that you truly care about.
Which news stories that make you angry? What current events video makes you tear up? What do you come across on your morning commute that breaks your heart? Tap into these questions to identify something that will motivate you to keep up with your resolution, whether it’s composting, studying the history of an ethnic group other than your own, or standing up for parental care coverage at work.
Start Over, In 3D
January 1st might have come and gone, along with the Lunar New Year. But there’s no time like the present. Why not start over, and recast your resolution today for the rest of the year – maybe even just for this month. And do it in three dimensions. With this new framework, think of a new habit you’d like to build. Consider it in each of the Me, We, and World dimensions, and watch the motivation grow! If you’re really feeling generous, tell your colleagues and friends how you’re doing it when they admire your discipline and progress.