Did you start the year being flooded with advice on how to stick to your 2019 goals? Were you bombarded with tips on how to make your commitments last more than a fortnight? Perhaps you were inspired and gave yourself a mini pep talk about how this year would be different.
If you honoured the tradition of making New Year Resolutions then you are not alone. “The beginning of the New Year is an important time symbolically – people reflect on their values, their desires, and what they want to change,” says Dr Susan Michie, the head of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change. We all start with good intentions, yet each year statistics show that nearly half of us are doomed to fail within 6 months.
Are we choosing unrealistic goals? Probably. Do we break down change into new habitual actions? Rarely. Are we changing for ourselves or others? Debatable.
The truth is that no resolutions will be realised unless there is accountability. The simplest way to make yourself accountable is to insert some pain if the outcome is not achieved. The ‘carrot and stick’ theory by 18th century polymath Jeremy Bentham still holds sway today.
There is argument for dangling a positive reward as enticement, however personal experience has shown that it is too easy to give yourself a part-reward for part-effort. To give in and recompense despite questionable mitigating circumstances. It is not your fault if you were thwarted at every turn. Is it?
This is where the problem often lies – intentions. Intentions are easy statements to make. After all an intention is simply an aim or a proposed plan. There are no commitments, no penalties, no rewards. It is merely a statement without true substance.
When you intend to do something, your mindset is initially set to achieve it. We all set out with the right intentions, however we let obstacles and noise get in the way. Why? Well it was only a plan. It was not set in concrete.
If you change the approach and make your intention an accountable activity, where there is a reward for success and a penalty for failure – it has suddenly become identifiable and real. The activity has real purpose, real outcomes, real responsibility. No more excuses. All that is important now is that you make a difference by being held accountable.
This year focus on the ‘stick’. The pain point will vary between individuals, however the common element is that it needs to illicit ‘fear of failure’. Play big. Deciding to forgo an outing to a restaurant this week as punishment will not make you panic. There will be no lump in your throat or shiver down your spine. It may be uncomfortable or regretful at the time, but easily replaced.
Imagine committing to giving your ex-partner or ‘arch nemesis’ your car if you didn’t achieve your goal? Donating all of your financial savings to a charity? Giving your least favourite person your prized possession. What if we made this real and you actually went as far as signing a contract with the potential recipient? If this is not practical then, as a minimum, write it down and get it witnessed.. The odds of success have just shot through the roof.
It may sound harsh and controversial. An extreme form of accountability. If you are feeling defensive or negative as you read this then you are experiencing the power of emotion. Harnessing this is the key to how this approach works. You will want to avoid feeling that way. The efforts you will take may surprise even you. Your outcomes will be compounded as a result. Personal experience with clients has shown that exceeding what they thought was their full potential can be a reality. Just because you failed before does not mean you should hold yourself hostage to the past.
If you have any doubts, then you need to reassess your goal and how you planned to achieve it. Be honest with yourself. Are you just curious about trying out a new habit or finally ready to commit? According to Harvard Medical School researchers “long-lasting change is most likely when it’s self-motivated and rooted in positive thinking”. You can make the change. You can find the support you need. Believe you deserve it.
You can start today. The biggest cap on your growth is you.