The dawning of the New Years brings with it a thrilling and miraculous excitement to our lives. On New Year's Day, an exciting future awaits us. It's like a rebirth for many of us – a chance to wipe one's slate clean and start life anew. We eagerly anticipate the year unfolding before us.
Many New Year resolutions involve improving one's health, physical fitness, and/or appearance. These include losing weight, quitting smoking or drinking, and/or eating sensibly and exercising on a regular basis. Others include making a commitment to enjoying a more gainful and productive lifestyle, like saving more money, preparing for retirement, and not spending money extravagantly.
And still others involve leading a more rewarding and fulfilling life, like making time to give of yourself with your significant other and children, managing that stress and burnout that accumulates in your life, and being more of a contributing member of your community.
What all of these things have in common is that everybody who makes resolutions resolves to make the upcoming year better than the year before. It also means that we're all engaging in the process of personal development.
What did you resolve to change for 2008, and how likely are you to achieve your goals?
The irony for many of us is that the goals we have for this year are strikingly similar to the commitments we made is years past. It makes us feel uneasy – like we've failed – because we didn't live up to our intentions and expectations. Furthermore, we asked ourselves: "Wasn't I earnestly determined to follow through on those commitments I made? Where did I go wrong?"
What happened? The problem usually isn't one of intention. It's one of execution.
According to ACNielson, a global provider of marketing research information services, 56% of people around the world made New Year’s resolutions for 2007. Of that fifty-six percent, 51% were seeking a better work and life balance (second only to those who wanted to exercise more at 62%).
If New Year's resolutions are about execution, how did we follow through on our declarations?
According to the article Implementing New Year's Resolutions by Suzanne van Gils, here are statistics on how we maintain our resolutions throughout the year:
- Past the first week: 75%
- Past 2 weeks: 71%
- After one month: 64%
- After 6 months: 46%
Simply and straightforwardly, the secret to achieving your goals is to turn them into habits.
You know what habits are. They're activities we engage in without really thinking about them because "it's just what we always do." Nobody was born with habits ingrained in their psyche. Behavior is first learned, and then later becomes habitual. So, how do you turn goals into habits? You must train your mind into engaging in the desired behavior on a regular basis.
Let's say that you are concerned that you haven't properly planned for retirement. You're worried that you aren't doing the right things today to ensure that you'll be able to continue to enjoy a life and lifestyle that you desire. So now what can you do about it today? Simply clear your mind, take a deep breath and plunge into taking your inventory and self-introspection. This helps you to come to grips with where you "went wrong" the first time around, and, with that knowledge, you’re well-armed to correct what needs to be changed.
Once you do this – once you do the heavy lifting and dig deep - you realize that you have a "habit" of spending money on extravagant items, and that you procrastinate when it comes to thinking about your finances. You secretly know that these are all just ways to avoid dealing with more pressing issues - situations where you need to use your brain for complex problem-solving.
Once you've taken the time to identify the problem, it simply becomes a matter of getting rid of what doesn't work for you and implementing a plan to replace it with what does. In the beginning, motivation will be high, and this change will be easy. But there will be a point where you get "too comfortable" and want to slack off, maybe go back to your old behaviors. If you feel yourself getting sucked back into old (negative) habits, resist. Remind yourself of what you're doing. Envision what it will be like to feel safe and secure in your finances.
I know you’re a realist. Your next question is a good one: How long will this take me?
Most major studies show that it takes 21 – 30 days to change or break a habit or to change a pattern of behavior). There’s no doubt, for that initial period of time, it will be easier to fight change and digress from your chosen path. Although knowledge alone isn’t enough when you want to break a habit, it is the first necessary step to change.
When you’re in a rut, deliberately and consciously prime and organize your mind before you do anything further. Remember that you have to change your mind through learning, conviction, and determination before you can change your behavior – your actions and sustained effort toward your goals.
So what are you waiting for? You’re absolutely ready to create your own formula for turning behaviors into habits and realizing your New Year's resolutions.
What's your New Year's Resolution? Do you have a plan or are you going to wing it and hope it works?
Written by David B. Bohl