How To Stick To Your Resolutions

Peter Bregman (courtesy of Bregman Partners)

As 2012 and the Year of the Dragon dawns upon us, I'm sure some of us would have made new year resolutions. These can be as massive as writing a book or scaling Mount Everest to something more manageable like losing 10 pounds, exercising every week, or having dinner with one's family every fortnight.

Unfortunately, many of us falter along the way. There are just so many distractions, side-tracks and urgent things that need to be done daily, weekly, and monthly that they take us away from these noble goals. In fact, we probably can't remember what resolutions we made in 2011 to begin with!

How does one manage and keep to one's resolutions then?

Peter Bregman, a highly popular columnist on Harvard Business Review, shared some useful tips in a recent HBR ideacast on "How to Keep Your New Years Resolution". The author of "18 Minutes" shared some useful tips on this, and I'll extract the key points below (paraphrased).

The first thing to note is that you shouldn't overdo your lists. Having too many things in your plate will result in you ending up with indigestion or worse - throwing away the half eaten food.  Rather than have a laundry list, focus on only five major accomplishments for the year, and stick to your guns as much as possible to achieve these five items.
Create a 6 box "To Do List" for keeping new year resolutions. One of them would be the other 5% which is the lower priority list.  This is like sugar or candy - stuff that is nice to do, but not critical in your roadmap to sucess.

One of the major stumbling blocks to achieving one's goals is the fear of failure.  This can be proportional to the the size of the enterprise, and the larger and more visible the endeavour, the greater the fear.  To overcome this, there are two tricks that Bregman teaches:

1) Visualise what's the worst thing that can possibly happen.  Would it result in possible death?  Loss of one's livelihood?  Or just a minor embarassment amongst friends and family members?  Often, the worst case scenarios are not as bad as we imagine them to be.

2) Alternatively, learn to do smaller projects that can fail less painfully first and gauge the reactions. Maybe those will show that it isn't that bad after all and strengthen one's resolve to overcome the fear of starting on a larger project.

Keep your list somewhere visible so that you can view it, preferably every day.  This will then serve as a constant reminder of what needs to be done each time, and you can tick them off one by one.

Do a little everyday to build up your respective areas. See if you can work on each area wherever possible rather than attempt to dive too deeply close to the end of the year.  Be relentless too in paring away tasks that fall into the other 5% and leave these luxuries for later.

In a work context, it may be useful to share these priorities between employees and bosses. This helps to ensure that there is common understanding on what should and should not be done while clarifying intents.  It also reduces the possibilities of last minute work being dumped on an employee - although that sometimes may still be inevitable.

Schedule specific times and deadlines for doing things, otherwise they will not be done.  Want to go for a run after work?  Put that in the calendar!  Working on a book?  Include some "writing time" in your calendar which is uninterrupted or distracted.

Clear your emails/facebook messages/tweets at specific period of times in a day, maybe once in the morning, afternoon and evenings? Learn to control your own time and reach an uderstanding with your boss or staff on what works best - and stick to it!

Finallty, be truly present when speaking or being with people like family members, staff etc. Put away those smartphones!  Where possible (and I'm telling myself this), don't be enslaved by that 2 by 2 inch screen at the expense of those whom you love and care about.

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