What to Do When Your Resolution Fails

A new year is a great time to take a fresh perspective and renew your strategies and goals – both personally and professionally. However, often these “resolutions” fail, bringing us at best back to where we started or at worst feeling demotivated and unsuccessful. So what do you do to avoid taking two steps back when your resolution fails?

Rethink resolutions: We tend to make grand resolutions that require us to do things out of character or extend a great effort. These can not only be daunting, but are more prone to challenges and failure. If you find that your grand plan has failed, it’s time to rethink it.

Instead, set realistic goals. Don’t misinterpret this as lowering your standards, but instead as creating a path to achieving your ultimate goals. You have to walk before you can run, right? So take your overall goal and break it into smaller steps. What do you need to do to get there? What are key milestones along the way? How will you achieve those milestones? Then focus on the milestones instead of the finish line.

Habits weren’t built in a day: Much like Rome, habits take time. I recently changed my computer password and I can’t tell you how many times I started typing the old password automatically before my brain truly internalized the new one. Once it’s engrained though, it’s automatic, but as Jason Selk pointed out in Forbes, getting there takes work. And habits aren’t just something we do to get healthy. Whether it’s networking with more colleagues, implementing a new system, or dedicating 20 minutes a day to creative thinking, establishing habits is essential to achieving professional goals.

So, in order to achieve goals – we can’t just say, we must do. We must do, and do, and do again, until we’ve created habits. We must push through even when our motivation waivers, but if we can build and sustain habits, we can make meaningful, lasting changes.

Don’t go it alone: The trick is recognizing that even seemingly small changes can be difficult to make. Our minds only have so much capacity for sustained effort and change. Make it easier for yourself to succeed by identifying techniques and cues to help stay on track, such as scheduling specific time to review emails or setting alarms when it’s time to head home. For organizational goals, seek help from colleagues and experts. Get their input on the best strategy; then take digestible pieces of the overall goal and divide and conquer.

We’ve all said it, “This year is going to be the year that I…” Well, unfortunately willpower alone isn’t enough to make you successful. In fact, “the brain has a limited capacity for self-regulation, so exerting willpower in one area often leads to backsliding in others,” write neuroscience authors Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang. Alternatively, focus on breaking things down into feasible pieces, creating habits that support your goals, and getting support from your colleagues and technology. If your New Year’s resolution fails, don’t give up; there are 364 other days to make realistic resolutions that will work.

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