The Real Reason Resolutions Fizzle Some might think they have a willpower deficiency because they canít stick to their New Yearís resolutions. The real problem is there's too much time. Hereís 8 tips to reach your goals. BY BRIAN P. MORAN & MICHAEL LENNINGTON
Don't let too much time bog down the achievement of your goals.
“ As the CEO of your own life, you need to have the courage to measure your performance in the areas that matter.”
Everybody loves a new year. Itís a bright, shiny, fresh, clean slate. A vista unblemished by mistakes or regrets. A brand-new chance to make "those changes" and accomplish "those things" weíve been meaning to do forever. Yet, undermining all this glorious potential is the hidden truth weíre aware of even as we proclaim that this time weíll really lose 20 pounds or get out of debt or finally launch that long-dreamed-of business: New Yearís resolutions are nothing more than fairy tales we grown-ups tell ourselves.
Thatís right. If youíre like 92 percent of Americans, youíre not going to keep those resolutions. Whatís more, you know it. What you may not know is why.
The number one enemy of most New Yearís resolutions isnít feasibility, a lack of know-how, or even a lack of motivation, though those things can come into play. The number one enemy of most resolutions is time.
Think about it: itís all too easy to procrastinate through January, February, March, and even longer. "No problem," you think. "I have over half a year left to do what I said Iíd do." Even when July and August roll around, there are still enough months left in the year that you donít feel a real sense of urgency. Next thing you know, the holidays are almost upon you. Youíre still over your ideal weight, drinking too many sodas a day, working the same job, with less savings than youíd like. "Too late to do anything now," you figure. "Iíll try again next year."
For many people, this depressing chain of events recycles on a yearly basis because far-away deadlines allowóeven encourageóus to be slack on execution. Give yourself too much time and you will procrastinate. Itís just human nature.
Ultimately, effective execution happens daily and weekly and on a consistent basis. To perform at your best, you will need to get out of "annual mode" and stop thinking in terms of a 365-day year.
When you redefine the concept of a year, your life will change. A year is no longer 12 months; it is now only 12 weeks, followed by the next 12 week year, ad infinitum. Each 12-week period stands on its own.
You no longer have the luxury of putting off critical activities, thinking there is "plenty of time" left to meet your goals. When you have only 12 weeks, each week matters, each day matters, each moment matters. And the result is profound.
Here, we offer eight ways to get yourself out of the annualized thinking trapóand into the much-more-productive 12 week year, where resolutions do come true.
1. Realize that success is created in the moment. Most of us have a skewed definition of success. We see it as the end of the road: the completion of a project, the day youíre finally able to button your old pants, receive an award, etc. However, true success isnít any of those things. It isnít a list of all the clients you brought in over the course of a year, or the number you see when you stand on the scale on December 31. It isnít something that happens only once at the end of a planning cycle.
Success is all of the little things you do throughout the year to make your goals happen: reaching out to X number of prospects a day or getting up on cold mornings to run when youíd rather stay in bed. You just canít reach your full potential if you put off critical activities. Success does not happen monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or once a year; it happens daily, ultimately moment-by-moment. You succeedóor notólong before the results show it. When you adopt this definition of success, youíll want to make the most of your time, not squander it. And the 12-week year can help.
2. Redefine your relationship with deadlines. Most of us see deadlines (December 31 featuring prominently among them) as the bad guy. Theyíre always looming on the horizon, overshadowing our peace of mind and hassling us to work faster, or else. They make us nervous, resentful, or both. But what would happen if we thought of deadlines as good guys instead?
Deadlines arenít sinister in and of themselvesówe only feel that way about them when we arenít on track to meet them or when theyíre unreasonable. But realistic deadlines are actually great motivators. They are tools that can help you to hone your focus, increase your efficiency, and realize your full potential. When you think about deadlines this way, it makes sense to have more of them, not less! They can help you to create end-of-year energy, focus, and commitment throughout the year.
3. Put a little less faith in your yearly planner. In other words, be realistic about your ability to plan ahead. Lifeóincluding what we want out of itócan (and often does) change in an instant. What you thought you wanted for yourself in January might not be what makes the most sense by the time July, or October, or December rolls around. Your circumstances and abilities may have changed. The truth is, even the most thoroughly thought-out annual plans are based on assumptions that are stacked upon earlier assumptions, which are stacked on even earlier assumptionsóand a lot can (and often does) change from start to finish.
Once you realize that thereís just not enough predictability to make annualized planning effective, the 12-week year begins to make a lot more sense. Personally and professionally, 12 weeks is about as far out as you can reliably plan. Thereís a much stronger connection between the actions you take today and the results you want to achieve, because you donít have to take as much of the future on faith. Who wants to waste time going partway down a certain path, only to realize that you were mistaken and should have taken a different turn?
4. Keep score starting January 1. Itís relatively easy to ignore or rationalize procrastination and low productivity when you have to look at the numbers only once a year. But when you start measuring your productivity, progress, and performance on a more frequent basis, you canít hide behind the illusion that the present moment isnít important. Measurement drives the execution process because it creates productive tension, or the uncomfortable feeling you get when you know youíre not doing the things you need to do.
As the CEO of your own life, you need to have the courage to measure your performance in the areas that matter. Thatís much easier when your goals and tasks are broken down into increments. Effective scorekeeping prevents you from rationalizing lackluster results and forces you to confront the reality of your situation, even when itís uncomfortable. While this can be difficult, the sooner you confront reality, the sooner you can shift your actions toward producing more desirable results.
5. Be honest about your track record. How many promises and commitments do you welsh on in the course of 12 months? Probably more than youíd like to admit to. The fact is, at the beginning of the year, itís all too easy to make promises and commitments. "Sure, honey, we can remodel the kitchen this year." "Of course our department will reduce its operating costs by 15 percent this year." Frequently, though, we fall short of our personal and professional commitments because over the course of 12 months, we encounter unforeseen obstacles, our priorities change, or our interest wanes.
If you donít want to be seen as someone who breaks commitments, drops the ball, and flakes, it makes sense to ditch annualized thinking. Itís much easier to say youíre going to do somethingóand then do itówithin a time frame. As I have already pointed out, you can more accurately plan ahead, so youíll make fewer mistakes, save time, and remain more focused. With these working habits, your results are not left up to chance. They are high in quality, and they are consistent.
6. Stop saying "have to" and start saying "choose to." As you pursue a long-term goal, itís all too easy for your daily tactics to turn into daily have-tos. "I have to go to the gym." "I have to spend an extra half-hour working on this project for my boss." "I have to use that money to pay down my credit card, even if it means skipping a night out with my friends." Thatís a problem because have-tos quickly turn into things we loatheóand if you loathe the things you need to do to accomplish a goal, youíre less likely to reach the finish line.
There are no have-tos in life. Everything we do in life is a choice. And when you look at tactics as choose-tos instead of have-tos, youíll notice a big change in your attitude and motivation. Instead of feeling burdened and put-upon, youíll feel empowered. Admit it, saying, "I choose to attend night classes so I can rise in my field" feels a lot better than saying, "I have to attend night classes so I wonít be stuck in this job forever."
7. Be proactive, not reactive. Sure, modern life is hectic, and itís easy to feel like there just arenít enough minutes in the day to get everything done. But the truth is most of us donít make the most of our time because we engage each day reactively instead of proactively. We are driven by input triggersóthe phone rings, the e-mail dings, a new task appears, someone knocks on your door, and off you go to solve the problem du jour. When you live reactively, itís difficult, if not impossible, to stay focused on high-value activities.
Even though annualized thinking gives us lots of time in which to procrastinate, we still feel overwhelmed because we use the "extra" time on things that are low-value. Thatís why 12 week planning is so beneficial. With an action-based plan, you donít have to rely on input triggers to initiate your actions; instead, your plan triggers your actions. You can live with clear intention, organizing your life around your priorities and consciously choosing activities that align with your goals and vision.
Iíll warn you: Making the reactive-to-proactive switch wonít be easy. Youíll have to become more comfortable with saying no, and youíll have to crack down on procrastination. However, in the end, youíll get more of the right things done each day and ultimately reach your goals faster and with greater impact.
8. Celebrate your week 12 wins. Companies often throw end-of-year parties and receptions to celebrate growth, acknowledge outstanding achievements, bestow awards and bonuses, etc. On a personal level, you may promise yourself a reward if you keep your New Yearís resolutions. Itís very gratifying to be recognized for achieved goals; and the promise of celebrationóespecially when you allow yourself to celebrate at the end of each 12 week periodógives us something to look forward to, motivating us to keep our noses to the grindstone when the going gets tough.
Especially for goal-driven people, itís tempting to always look at what lies ahead and not fully appreciate the ground that has already been covered. The 12-week year presents, at a minimum, four times as many opportunities to recognize and celebrate your progress and accomplishments. It might be a three-day weekend or a weeklong vacation; the important thing is that you take time out to reflect, regroup, and reenergize.
One more great thing about switching to this scenario: because thereís a built-in reset every few months, you can switch gears when you realize something isnít going to work. We all know how demoralizing it is to realize that a year-end goal is just not going to happen. By July, itís already clear that youíre not going to be able to sock away as much into your retirement account as you wanted to. Or in September, you have to admit that youíre not going to be able to lose the 30 pounds you pegged for your resolution. Since annualized thinking is so ingrained in your worldview, you automatically assume youíll have to wait months to try again.
Get a fresh start on a new year with your 12-week plan and quickly transition into something new instead of spending weeks or months waiting for a chance to start fresh.
Brian P. Moran is founder and CEO of The Execution Company, an organization committed to improving the performance and enhancing the quality of life for leaders and entrepreneurs. He has served in management and executive positions with UPS, PepsiCo, and Northern Automotive and consults with dozens of world-class companies each year. As an entrepreneur, he has led successful businesses and been instrumental in the growth and success of many others. He is the author of "The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months" and has been published in many of the leading business journals and magazines. He is a sought-after speaker, educating and inspiring thousands each year. Brian lives in Michigan with his wife, Judy, and their two daughters.
Michael Lennington is vice president of The Execution Company. He is a consultant, coach, and leadership trainer, and is an expert in implementing lasting change in organizations. He works with clients in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to help them implement corporate initiatives that drive sales, service, and profitability. Michael holds a BS from Michigan State University and an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He lives with his wife, Kristin, and their children in northern Michigan.