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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Should we make New Year’s resolutions for work?

As 2012 is coming quickly to a close, many of us are starting to think about what 2013 will bring. A new year often represents to people an opportunity to start anew, a rebirth of sorts. That’s why each year millions of people make New Year’s resolutions – a commitment to doing better in the future. While so many people are familiar with personal resolutions, should we be making work resolutions too?

Work resolutions generally fall into two categories: Improve my own career and life or improve my organization. Here are some examples of each:

Improve my own career and life:

  • Create a career plan for the next five years
  • Seek out a mentor
  • Attend more networking events
  • Take on a new challenge or responsibility
  • Work toward becoming a Subject Matter Expert

Improve my organization:

  • Review focus on the client and new ways of delivering value for them
  • Develop and energize our people through training and knowledge sharing
  • Provide opportunities for employees to connect as a community
  • Revisit the organization vision – does it still fit? Is it translatable to our individuals?
  • Develop ways to recognize employees on a regular basis.

But should we be making them? Work resolutions are not the best way for you to focus on your career or organization development, as it is typically spontaneous and New Year’s resolutions are notorious for getting no attention past January 3rd!  But if the idea of a New Year’s resolution starts your thinking – then go for it!  Take advantage of the time of year that encourages new beginnings and do some serious planning. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish next year for both my personal career and business organization?”  For each resolution, develop a plan: how you will do it, by what date and what expected outcome.  Develop a way to measure progress.

Remember though, if you want to make meaningful, lasting changes to your career or organization, you must be continuously working towards these changes; they must be an inherent part of your activities. I don’t mean to say that if you aren’t already doing something, you can’t possibly or shouldn’t start. If you don’t have a long-term plan, it may be time to create one.  The idea of improving one’s self and organization is a daily mantra, a constant practice.  December 31st is a great impetus, just make it last.

Will you be making a new year’s resolution for work? Leave your thoughts in the comments.