How leaders can create New Year’s resolutions that will last


Published on: January 2018

Written by: Scott Weighart

Only 9%  percent of people who set New Year’s goals actually achieve them, according to research by the University of Scranton. According to U.S. News, approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February. Whichever source you believe, the odds are not in favor of sticking to New Year’s Resolutions.

Whether it’s time, resources, competing priorities, or over-committing, there are plenty of challenges that get in the way of sticking to plans to advance or to improve aspects of your life over the course of the year.  It’s not surprising that many of the leaders we work with fall prey to these same obstacles when it comes to finding the time and energy to invest consistently in their own growth and development when they have so much on their plates.

With that in mind, here are a handful of ideas to help you stick to your goals and maintain your focus for the next 12 months -tips that have resonated with the leaders I coached last year:

Make sure your goals are not an unsustainable death march

Every January, my wife and I chuckle about how crowded the gym is.  “Just wait,” we’ll say.  “All of the New Year’s Resolution people will drop off within a month or so.”  And they do.  Why?  My view is that people tend to make unrealistic, unsustainable goals for themselves. If you start off the year vowing that you’re going to work out an hour every day or eat nothing but salad for lunch and dinner without fail, you’ve probably set out on a death march. And if that’s how it feels, you’ll give it up pretty fast. Instead, decide what’s realistic, and then stick to it, barring something as extreme as a hospitalization or an overseas flight.

Commit to trying out new behaviors for two months

Research suggests that it takes a while for a new habit to stick. I met with a mentee the other day who really needs to change up some habits around exercise and work breaks. My advice was to set that realistic goal and commit to it 100%–but only through February. At that point, she could allow herself to reflect on tweaking her routines… and in the meantime, she’s probably done some things long enough to turn them into habits.

Remember that energy starts with great sleep habits

Due to one obstacle described to me often by leaders trying to elevate their effectiveness, I read a good book this year called The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix it? by W. Chris Winter, MD. I used to get sick a couple of times a year, and finally realized that it happened when I overdid it at work, got a little ill… and then kept overdoing it. I stopped, learned to get extra sleep when I got run down, and I haven’t had a sick day in my seven years at Bates.

Here are some great tips from that book:

  • Try to wake up at the same time every day to get in a good sleep rhythm
  • Exercise in the morning: It’s best for most people’s energy
  • Avoid looking at screens an hour before bed time—or use a blue light filter if you must
  • Make your room as dark as possible, and, especially, don’t sleep with the TV on!
  • Commit to the number of hours of sleep you need each night: Catching up on the weekend doesn’t really work
Stop deciding every day whether or not you will exercise

This one changed my life about 18 months ago.  My wife and I wanted to lose some weight, so we started with a sustainable micro-goal: “Let’s do what it takes to not GAIN any weight each week!”  To make sure I could hit that goal, I vowed to work out six days a week, 30 minutes minimum. Through this schedule and a few dietary tweaks, I lost 18 pounds in six months.

The key was I realized that I had developed a terrible habit: lying in bed each morning, deciding if I would go to the gym. I would mull how well I slept… whether I had a tickle in my throat, and so on, and then I was sunk. Instead, I now put my gym clothes, keys, and gym ID in the bathroom before I go to sleep.  When I wake up, I just get dressed and get out the door, and before you know it I’m done with my daily commitment.

Load the deck in your favor when planning when to do what each day

Everyone’s energy is a little different over the course of the day. Some start the day with a full tank of energy, and it depletes as the day goes on. I start out strong, wane in the early afternoon, and bounce back energetically from 3 until 6 PM. As a result, I try to be intentional about when I do various kinds of work. If I have some cognitive heavy lifting to do, I try to do it early or late. In the early afternoon, I may opt for a walking meeting, answering emails, or building a program in PowerPoint—things that I can do without a high level of energy.

Give some thought to what works best at whatever time of the day, and schedule yourself accordingly.

Periodically review what you should keep doing and what you should give up

Frequently, leaders continue doing tasks and attending meetings long after they should have delegated the work or opted out of participating. Periodically, make two lists: the stuff that you should continue doing and the stuff that you should consider giving up or giving away. As you rise in the organization, you will get noticed for having more of an enterprise-wide view. To have that, you need to get out of the weeds.

Determine what you need to do to bring your best self to work every day

Everyone varies when it comes to how many hours they can work and how much downtime they need—as well as what they need to do during that time away from work. Every quarter or so, evaluate how energized you feel and keep tabs on what’s happening in weeks when your energy is high or low. If you’re starting off Monday morning feeling tired and stressed, something’s wrong.

So, what do you need to do to bring your best self to work each day?  That’s something that only you can figure out.

For me, it’s helpful to think of Saturday as a “no work day,” and I try to limit work on Sundays too. From making all sorts of energy management mistakes over the years, I also have come to realize that I’m not at my best if:

  • I don’t eat a substantial breakfast
  • I’m eating carb-heavy lunches
  • I’m not reading at least 15 minutes every day
  • I’m consuming more than one drink of alcohol on a night before a workday
  • I’m not making sufficient time for my family, friends, and hobbies outside of work

Meaningful, lasting change is never easy. Whether you’re mulling a New Year’s Resolution or a behavioral change at any time of the year, think about what you want to do, why it matters, and how you’re going to sustain it over the long haul.

If you do, you’ll be feeling a lot better by the time the ball drops on another new year.

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