How To Stick To Your Resolutions

January 24th, 2012   •   no comments   

How To Stick To Your Resolutions

Peter Bregman (courtesy of WaterStones)

Happy New Year!

In the time-honoured fashion, the start of the year signifies a time for us to make our new year resolutions.

These can be as massive as writing a book, scaling Mount Everest to something more manageable like losing 10 pounds, exercising every week, or having dinner with your family every fortnight.

Unfortunately, many of us falter along the way. There are just so many distractions, side-tracks and urgent things that need to be done daily, weekly, and monthly. Often, these less unimportant matters take us away from achieving our lofty and noble goals.

In fact, you probably can’t remember what resolutions you made last year to begin with!

How then can you manage and keep to your resolutions?

Peter Bregman, a highly popular columnist on Harvard Business Review, provided some useful advice on sticking to your resolution in a HBR Ideacast on “How to Keep Your New Years Resolution”.

The author of 18 Minutes, he shared some useful tips on how we can set better resolutions and see them through in the course of the year. Here are some highlights for you to chew over.

Stick to 5 major accomplishments

The first thing to note is that you shouldn’t overdo your lists. Having too many things on your plate will result in you ending up with indigestion or worse – throwing away the half eaten food.

Rather than have a laundry list, focus on only five major accomplishments for the year, and stick to your guns as much as possible to achieve these five items. These items could either be in the professional, personal or social areas of your life.

Create a 6-box “To Do” list

Now that you have agreed on what the five major accomplishments should be, it is time to create a 6 box “To Do List” for keeping new year resolutions. One of them – the sixth box so to speak – would be the other 5%, ie the lower priority list of items which you should keep away from.

These items would be like sugar or candy. They are stuff that are nice to do, but not critical to your personal road map of success.

An example of such a list can be seen below:

6 Box To Do List

Courtesy of Life-Long Learner

Two ways to overcome fear of failure

One of the major stumbling blocks to achieving your goals is what Bregman called the fear of failure.  This is usually proportional to the the size of your undertaking.

Often, the larger and more visible your endeavour is, the greater your fear would be. And we do know that fear paralyses us from taking action.

To overcome this, there are two tricks that Bregman teaches:

a) Visualise worst case scenario

Visualise what’s the worst thing that could possibly happen.

Would failure result in possible death?  Loss of your livelihood?  Or perhaps just cause some minor embarrassment to you amongst your friends and family members?

Often, your worst case scenarios are not as bad as you imagine them to be.

b) Do smaller projects first

Start with the smaller projects first. There are often less painful if you manage to screw them up. Use these as a learning ground to gauge the reactions and outcomes of others.

The good thing about starting small is that you can learn and adapt without suffering the consequences of massive failure. After you’ve practiced with the smaller projects, you’ll find out that “Hey, it isn’t that bad after all!”

Over time, you’ll be able to surmount your fear and build your confidence before surmounting those larger audacious projects.

Keep your list highly visible

Now that you’ve done your list, you need to keep your list somewhere highly visible so that you can view it, preferably every day.  This will then serve as a constant reminder of what needs to be done each time, and you can tick them off one by one.

A little each day

Do a little every day to build up your respective areas. See if you can work on each area wherever possible rather than attempt to close the gap only towards the end of the year.

Be relentless too in paring away tasks that fall into the other 5% and leave these luxuries for later.

Share priorities between employees and bosses

In a work context, it may be useful to share the priorities between employees and bosses. This helps to ensure that there is common understanding on what should and should not be done while clarifying intents.

Doing so also reduces the possibilities of last minute work being dumped on you as an employee. While that may sometimes still be inevitable, having this discussion early does help to minimise such ad hoc projects.

Schedule specific times for activities

Whatever gets scheduled, gets done. Schedule specific times and deadlines for doing things. Failing to do so would often result in these items being left out cold.

Wish to go for a run after work every other day?  Put that in your calendar!

Working on a book?  Include some “writing time” in your calendar. Make sure you’re uninterrupted or distracted during that golden hour.

As part of the process, make it a point to clear your emails/facebook messages/Whatsapps only at specific periods in a day. Maybe you can do so once in the morning, afternoon and evenings?

At work, find a way to control your own time. Reach an understanding with your boss or staff on what would work best – and stick to it!

Be truly present when the time comes

Finally, be truly present when the time comes to perform certain specific activities. This can be anything from speaking to a colleague or a customer, or being with your family members.

Put away those smart phones and leave your emails or Whatsapp messages to later. Where possible (and I’m telling myself this), don’t be enslaved by that 4 by 2 inch screen at the expense of those whom you love and care about.

Are there other strategies which you’d adopt to stick to your resolutions – and improve your personal productivity? I’d love to hear from you.

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