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New Years Resolutions – How to make sure that you keep them

How many times have you pledged to give something up at the beginning of the year only to find yourself in a few days/months back with the same old habits?

A common theme for all of us. Why is it when our intentions are so good do we repeatedly fail to keep the promises that we make to our selves?

Try this little thought experiment:

It’s a bit early in the year so I don’t want you to think of Easter Bunnies.

What happened? Of course it’s actually impossible to not think of something. You first have to think of it and then dismiss it from your mind. The very act of not trying to think of something actually brings it in to focus. If we want sustainable personal change then we need to be aware of where we place our focus of attention. So those looking for a better work-life balance for example, might say ‘I would like to spend more time at home with those I love’ rather than ‘I want to spend less time in the office’. The former starts you thinking forward into what that might be like, whereas the latter, ‘less time in the office’ takes your mind back to the office. Which one is most likely to get you moving in the direction that you want to go?

Many people tend to focus on what they don’t want rather than what they want to happen. This is for two simple reasons:

1 – They tend to focus on what they don’t want and consequently keep getting it so that is where their focus remains.

2 – They don’t have a compelling enough alternative to what they already have.

The first step in effective personal change is to work out what you want to have, i.e., what you want to move towards, rather than what you want to move away from.  As soon as you focus on that your unconscious mind starts to focus in a different way. It starts to move you towards the desired future and notice the many ways that you could move steadily towards the new you.

There is a key concept in the field of NLP called Well-Formed Outcomes that can help you do this. It’s not only at the heart of many change strategies but actually comes from the hard reality of what makes some people more successful than others. Think about an outcome you want from the year ahead and ask yourself the following questions:

What do you want? (Stated in the Positive)

If what you want is stated in the negative, e.g. “I want to be less terrified when presenting”, then ask the supplementary question, “What would that be like?” to get to a positive statement. e.g. “I would enjoy presenting confidently.”  So now your goal might become, “I want to be an increasingly confident presenter, able to communicate effectively to my team and clients”. That’s a little more motivating isn’t it?

Can you start and maintain it?

If what you want is for someone else to change, for example, “I want my partner to appreciate me more”, progress depends on the other person.  In this case, to make the want your own, it could be expressed something like: “I want to communicate better with my partner so we have a better understanding of how to appreciate each other”. Remember that the only thing we can really change is ourselves but we can influence others through the changes we make. Make sure your outcome is under your control and make sure it’s actually yours.

How will you know that you have it?

Eddie Izzard in a recent BBC profile recalled after a particular early experience of a public failure that:

“You’ve got to believe you can be a stand-up before you can be a stand-up. You have to believe you can act before you can be an actor. You have to believe you can be an astronaut before you can be an astronaut. You’ve got to believe. You’ve got to imagine yourself in that situation.”

Eddie Izzard is a fine example of someone who overcame many obstacles to become the success he is today by keeping the image and future experience of that future success in his mind. It is what successful people and it is what keeps successful people on track and motivated.

So what will be life be like when you have achieved your goal? What will you be seeing when you’ve got it? What will you be hearing when you’ve got it? What will I hear you saying when you’ve got it? What will you be feeling when you’ve got it?

If you can really see, hear and feel the outcome inside yourself, it starts to become more real.

When, where and with whom do you want it?

You might not want your outcome in every context. For example you might want to be more assertive but not all the time otherwise that might rub some people up the wrong way. Be clear about when and where you want something so you can be sure that you will have your outcome when most appropriate.

Is it worth the cost to you?

When you set your outcome, check that it relates to your sense of your self of the person you want to become.  The closer it relates to your identity and sense of purpose, the more the outcome will attract you and motivate you. It’s not all about time and money. Make sure it fits not just what you are capable of but what you want to become.

What might I lose if I achieve my outcome or what do I get out of my present behaviour that I want to preserve?

One of the major reasons we often do not get what we want is that we fear the loss of what we already have. Where we are now is something that feels comfortable and familiar to us even if it gets in the way of our long-term goals. It is known and understood. Changing things can present uncertainties that we can feel less comfortable with. What do you want to keep whilst still reaching your long-term goal? For more on the reasons why we often get in our own way when trying to make a change see the post: Breaking habits, keeping the benefits.

For more on the concept of Well-Formed Outcomes see the next post: What’s more important, the Goal or How you Get There?

If you find that you have repeated unwanted behaviour or habits that get in the way of your new years resolutions you might find the following post helpful: Breaking habits, keeping the benefits.

And if you’re finding yourself really stuck then you might want to take a look at ‘How people really change‘.

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