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Making Resolutions Work

Well, it’s that time of year—again. You can either dread it or embrace it, but either way, it’s going to happen. You return to work in January, and the first person you encounter in the break room is pouring her first cup of coffee in the new year. She turns to you, all smiley and upbeat, and asks, “So, what are yourNew Year’s resolutions for 2019?” And unless you want to look like a disinterested, unmotivated slacker, you’d better have an answer at the ready.

What inclines us toward making New Year’s resolutions, anyway? In attorney-speak, it’s called a “bright-line point” (derived from the “bright-line rule”), which means a definite cut-off point—an exact moment in time, if you will—that distinguishes the past from the future. And January 1stis probably the most practiced and celebrated bright-line point in our human existence. We can practically feelthe cosmic shift as the calendar transitions from old year to new, inspiring us toward self-reflection and personal improvement. 

However, no matter how sincere and committed we may be about this year’s resolutions, it’s simply a statistical fact: most resolutions are jettisoned before January’s end. Want to know the most common New Year’s resolution? You guessed it: to lose weight. How about the second most common? To become more organized. (And I’m going to take a guess here and say that at least one of these two has appeared in your resolutions—possibly multiple times.)

So what goes wrong? Most likely, it’s several things at once. It’s important to think of resolutions in the same way we think of goals. In order to be successful in goal setting (and goal accomplishment), your goals must have several vital characteristics. They must be behaviorally describable, reasonable, quantifiable, measurable, and set within a timeframe. Instead, often times our New Year’s resolutions are vague, un-accomplishable, and structureless—sort of like shapeless lumps of clay, waiting to become something tangible.

To make sure this year’s resolutions actually take root and flourish, start by making sure they’re worded in a way that connotes “action and consequence.” For instance, instead of saying, “I’m going to lose weight,” say, “I’m going to practice healthful eating habits that include choosing lower calorie options, and by doing so, I will reach my target weight by mid-April.” Or instead of saying, “I’m going to organize my office,” say, “Starting in 2019, I will begin the practice of always placing my most important files in a special folder on my laptop, where they’re instantly available when needed.” 

Next, make sure your resolution is truly something you intend to buy into. If you don’t really care about your resolution, it will be very difficult to find the energy to accomplish it—after all, sticking to New Year’s resolutions can be tough work! So if you halfheartedly say, “I need to clean out my filing cabinet,” but your filing cabinet doesn’t actually bug you to the point of taking action, it probably isn’t going to happen. (FYI, getting rid of the things you don’t need is the third most common resolution.) There’s nothing wrong with doing some soul-searching and realizing that you really don’t mind your messy desk, or that you’ve actually become friends with that pile of old trade journals in the corner of your office. After all, they’re your resolutions and no one else’s, and by being honest with yourself, you won’t waste valuable time and energy pretending to care about things that don’t really matter to you. And finally, have a little fun along the way! Think of a few resolutions that will make you healthier, happier, and more satisfied with your present life, and be sure to add them to the list. Like calling at least one friend each day, no matter how busy you are. Or taking the stairs at work for one entire month. Or faithfully writing down your favorite part of each day in a journal you keep by your bedside. Sure, we’ll all toss a few of the old boring standbys into the mix, like “promptly returning all phone calls” or “weeding out my in-box each Friday,” but my personal favorites (and the ones that make me feel most triumphant when I accomplish them) are the ones that make me a better person, both mentally and physically. And trust me, when you’re feeling great about yourself, the most amazingly good things seem to “just happen” in your life: your work performance improves, your energy increases, you’re more pleasant to be around, you’re more likely to be noticed for promotion, and your self-esteem soars.


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