With the winter holidays approaching, likely, we are all going to look at the past year’s accomplishments and consider resolutions for the “new year.” The tradition should help us grow, become better people, be more in-touch with ourselves and our families… Nevertheless, a brief self evaluation or evaluation of others shows that most of us fail to keep our resolutions. Why is this? Here are three big reasons why, and how to avoid them.
We do not have clear goals. To determine success or failure we need to pick a goal which is quantifiable, which does not allow room for interpretation. Here are some examples of clear and quantifiable goals for the next 12 months vs the “not clear” version: losing 30 pounds and keep it off vs. losing weight, finishing the degree we started vs. learning more, visiting France vs. taking a vacation, decreasing our debt by 10% or $5,000 vs. saving more, crossing the finish line of 1 marathon or 100 miles ultramarathon vs. running more or finishing a race. As expected, the first version is “black and white” while the second one leaves room for interpretation. That “room for interpretation” is what leads us to the next mistake.
We change the “desired” goal based on difficulties. Accomplishing something different than the status quo requires change and effort – and naturally, is filled with easy and hard moments. Yet, we only grow and change when we overcome the hard moments. However, if we change our initial goal to fit the set of circumstances at a particular time, that goal will always be changed to prevent hardship and difficulty which destroys the idea behind the goal (accomplishing something that we are not already doing) and prevents growth. Let’s take the example the new fast growing sport of ultrarunning. More and more athletes wish to become ultrarunners for a multitude of reasons and, at some point, decide to run a race of 100 miles. The finishing rate for the vast majority of races is somewhere around 50%. So why can some people do it, while others fail? The reason: the ones who fail change their goal mid-race. Instead of running 100 miles, they decide to complete 100km instead (62 miles), or 50 miles, or 25 miles – which was not the original goal. Their new goal is based on the physical or mental difficulties of that particular moment in time and while any rational person looking from outside will see not crossing the 100 mile finish line as a failure, for these individuals, the “new goal” gives them a rationalization to quit.
We accept excuses or lie to ourselves. In the above example, the initial 100 mile runner, drops to 50 miles and instead of recognizing failure, he’ll look for excuses. Such excuses can be different in nature from “50 miles is more than many others can do” – which is a clear attempt to pat ourselves on the shoulder and soften the failure, or “I did everything I could, it was just not my day” – which is an even more dishonest approach because finishing an ultramarathon has nothing to do with “your day” (it is based solely on preparation), or “I’ve learned so much in the process, I grew so much” – which, again, is not true because when that individual decided to quit because of an obstacle (physical or mental), that individual stopped looking for solutions and did exactly what was the most comfortable to him/her – the growth process stopped where he/she stopped.
So if you really want to avoid making the same resolutions this year that you had last year – who really wants to try once again to lose that 30 pounds? — and wondering why you haven’t accomplished them, try avoiding the same mistakes. To be successful, our goals have to be crystal clear, quantifiable, unchangeable, and our approach should be “all or nothing/no excuses.”