Unleashing Your Potential | Doug Young, MBA
With the end of the year approaching, perhaps you’re getting ready for your annual ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. Am I right? If so, I have some unsolicited advice for you - put the process on hold! If you’re like most of us, you aren’t prepared to make any lasting promises to yourself just yet.
This goal-setting ritual dates back to Roman times, but how good is its track record? According to CNN, the answer isn’t very promising. In a survey of diet and fitness goals, 30 percent of those making resolutions had given up on them by February. Only 20 percent maintained their commitment for six months or more. Not very encouraging, is it?
It reminds me of a riddle. Four frogs are sitting on a log. Three of the frogs decide to jump off. How many frogs are left on the log? The answer is ... four! Why? Because there is a world of difference between “deciding” and “doing.”
Does all this mean you shouldn’t play the New Year’s resolution game? Of course not. Goal-setting is always valuable, and setting goals at the start of a new year makes sense. But unless you put some things in place first, that’s usually all it turns out to be - a game. Converting deciding into doing doesn’t automatically happen while you’re watching the Rose Bowl parade. If only it were that simple!
When in Rome
The Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the mythical god of beginnings. He was depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back. On New Year’s Eve, the Romans imagined that Janus would look back at the old year and forward to the new one. The lesson is clear.
Before you can begin to blaze a trail to a better future, you must reflect back on where you have been. Your purpose is not to live in the past, but to learn from it. What has 2006 been like? What has been working well? What hasn’t? What does it all mean to you? Before you can move forward, you must clearly identify where you are now. Before you can become more, you must catch up with who you have become.
Confidence and commitment
A New Year’s resolution pledge often requires behavior change. You may also need to invest two of your most scarce resources - time and energy. Achievement will be challenging, and discipline is essential. Therefore, it is worthwhile to consider whether there are any predictors of success. A study conducted at the University of Washington revealed two keys concerning a change in behavior.
The first key is possessing the confidence to think that you can actually make the change. This is worthy of comment, because it is counter to what I used to hear as a child. People would tell me, “Doug, set your goals so high that you probably won’t achieve them, but they will stretch you and improve your performance.” I now regard that advice as nonsense! Yes, some goals will stretch you, and attaining them will be challenging, even very difficult and certainly not guaranteed. But attempting something you regard as unachievable sets you up for failure. It only hastens the time when you’ll abandon the effort.
Even more important, the second key is a strong initial commitment to making the change. This may seem obvious, but it emphasizes that hastily conceived resolutions, especially those formulated late in the day on Dec. 31, are not likely to be successful.
A commitment is a personal promise, and it carries with it a sense of obligation. When you make a commitment, you are pledging yourself to a specific action or behavior. But the strength of your commitment depends on the foundation on which you are standing. If it is a firm and resolute foundation - based on your core values and purpose - and if your resolutions are consistent with these principles, you are more likely to persevere until you accomplish your goals.
Commitment is a major component of exceptional human performance, but it is not an automatic condition. It is more likely to occur when the outcome you seek is deeply important to you. This tells me that the choice of a particular resolution must be the result of thoughtful reflection and analysis about the current state of your life. This explains why Janus looked back at the old year before making decisions about the year ahead. Would this approach be helpful to you?
“Everything that happens to you is your teacher,” says Polly B. Berends. “The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it.” With this wisdom in mind, what are you searching for when you look back? The answer is clues - clues to help you clarify those things in your life that are currently most important to you. Once the clues have been found, they will guide you in choosing the most appropriate resolutions. Focus your detective work in three areas:
- Identify and explore your personal and professional highlights from the past year. Think about meaningful achievements, educational progress, the quality of your relationships, impactful experiences, serving others, etc. Your purpose is to better understand your sources of satisfaction, fulfillment, and renewal. What do these highlights tell you about yourself?
- Identify the hardships you experienced in the past year. Hardships can be our finest teachers. Why did you choose these particular hardships? What did you learn from them? How are you now stronger because of them?
- Reflecting on the year, did you have any disappointments? What hopes did you not realize and why? What should you have done differently? As you close out this year, what is left undone?
What has this reflection and analysis taught you? Who have you become? What pleases you, and what must you improve?
Using these insights, move forward by identifying the outcomes you want to achieve in the next year, as well as the benefits that will come with them.
Now it’s “commitment time.” You may be tempted to take on every change that you ever dreamed about. Don’t! Choose one resolution, and make it the one that offers the greatest payback. You can always add another later. Make sure that your chosen resolution supports your core values and purpose, and that you believe it is achievable.
This resolution can’t stand alone, so tie it to a specific action plan. Expect there to be inevitable challenges along the way. They always appear, don’t they? Do what you can to anticipate these roadblocks, and identify the coping strategies you will employ to tackle them head on. Solid preparation like this will keep you moving forward. So will monitoring your path to achievement. Regularly assess your progress, and look for small wins. The small wins will energize you and keep you on track.
I’ll admit that I’ve outlined a serious process, but think of how satisfied you will be when you have achieved such an important goal! Are you ready to jump off the log? Do it, expect to be successful ... and have a memorable and productive year!
Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse, Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They co-author this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Marlyn’s insights into people and relationships and coaching skills complement Doug’s motivating and mind-expanding presentations. Contact them by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 877-DMYOUNG, or visit their Web site at www.dmyoung.com.