New year resolutionary’s recipe for success

Real focus on a long-term goal requires vision and motivation, organization and time.

December’s done. The world didn’t self-destruct on the 21st and the fiscal cliff didn’t throw us into free fall on the 31st. The apocalypse crowd is still hiding from the media and the cliff gazers are still sitting on their wallets and wondering if the edge-falling experience has only been kicked down the road a bit further and sitting in waiting.

Meanwhile folks are pushing themselves off New Year’s cliffs of their own making with better, leaner, wealthier resolutions.

These annual make-overs have some pretty lofty origins. The ancient Babylonians some 3,600 years ago made promises to the gods that they would return borrowed things and pay their debts. Hmm… Maybe their first king, Hammurabi, had a fiscal cliff of his own that he needed signed off.  After all, this was the guy who wrote the world’s first code of laws and had them chiseled into a stone pillar for all to read.

The Romans made promises to the god Janus and, in medieval times, knights took the peacock vow after Christmas and reaffirmed their commitment to chivalry. The Vows of the Peacock was actually a 14th century romance story that introduced the Nine Worthies – three good pagans, three good Jews, and three good Christians. Honest, I’m not making this stuff up.

Across religions there are similar rituals to right the old wrongs. The whole New Year’s resolutions thing, regardless of creed, is an global annual self-improvement binge.

They’re the same every year – lose weight, exercise more, drink less, stop smoking, get out of debt, get more organized, reduce stress, spend more time with family, help others, get on better with the boss, and so on.

They are all fine and do-able. But the real challenge is not just to get started but keep going. According to a 2007 study in the U.K., 88 per cent of those who set New Year’s resolutions failed. Some 3,000 people took part in the study and it became clear that both peer support and sharing the journey were critical to those who did succeed.

Women succeeded 10 per cent more when they shared their resolutions with family and friends (the support network). Men achieved their goals 22 per cent more often when they approached the task like a work project – set goals and achieve them in a process of mini-goals.

In North America, about 45 per cent of people set resolutions but only eight per cent achieve them. However, those who set explicit resolutions (rather than vague feel-good ones) are 10 times more likely to attain their goals. That is because specific goals have clarity and focus. They foster the mindset that a resolution is not so much a frivolous New Year’s decision as it is a more serious enriching, long-term life goal. Improving relationships, improving health, building wealth and security all have a pebble-in-the-pond effect of rippling out to all areas of life‘s priorities.

In order to succeed, the goal has to be crystal clear. Then that goal should be broken down into mini-goals. Each step along the way must be achievable, measurable, realistic, and attained within a reasonable period of time and some committed sustained effort.

Real focus on a long-term goal requires vision and motivation, organization and time. It’s not always easy, especially when progress can stall, go sideways, or be interrupted for any number of reasons. That’s when perseverance kicks in.

But those who stay on target often have similar characteristics. They believe in their ability to change, they avoid excuses, they concentrate on achieving incremental results, they never forget the importance of what they are working towards, and they know that, to achieve the goal, they must enjoy the journey.

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