By now, the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions made just a few weeks ago (remember those), have been forgotten. A study by U.S. News indicates that 80% of resolutions each year fail by the second week of February. Here we are in the second week of March and there’s probably no point in studying this topic anymore. Anyone who’s kept their resolutions this long is an anomaly – the exception that proves the rule.
The question is, “why do so many resolutions fail?” We make them in good faith, don’t we? I know that any time I come up with a personal goal it’s with the best of intentions. In the moment, I truly believe I have the power to change some aspect of my behavior, otherwise I wouldn’t go through the pretense of creating an expectation. What changes between the day I set a goal and the day I finally abandon it?
The answer for most of us is… nothing. Nothing changes. We’ve set a goal and allowed that to be the end of it. As humans we have a tendency to believe that a single decision invokes change. I want get in better shape and so I make the decision to join a gym. Having taken that step eases the internal tension I was feeling and I feel better about things. “I’m on my way,” I tell myself. “No turning back now.”
In reality though, I haven’t changed anything. That one decision, in and of itself, has no power. Having relived my mind of the initial conflict, I am free to return to my lazy routine. I’ll occasionally remind myself that I need to follow up on the initial commitment, but it’s never the right time to act. By mid-February, I’ll have either forgotten all about it, or decided to wait until next year. My behavior hasn’t changed.
Replace personal resolutions with work goals, and the pattern is the same. Team members will agree to adopt a new way of operating only to abandon it in fairly short order. It only takes a single, small slip-up to convince the entire group that changing isn’t possible.
To change the outcome, we have to change the way we approach the initial decision. We need to consider two factors that have enormous impact on our ability to actually achieve the goals we set. Those factors are specificity and commitment.
To start with, we’re rarely specific enough when setting goals. “I’m going to start going to the gym” or “We’re going to generate more referrals” are simply too vague to be meaningful. Real goal-setting involves developing a set of strategies to achieve the goal. We miss the mark because we haven’t thought about how we’re going to actually hit it.
Once our strategies are developed, few of us are actually committed enough to see them through. When the first unforeseen obstacle come along, we allow that to derail us. The plan is abandoned in favor of something easier to achieve. Only the strong-willed have what it takes to see things through when the going gets rough. Very few have the energy to win at the long game.
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to ask his audiences “Are you a wandering generality, or a meaningful specific?” In other words, are you just bouncing from one vague goal to another, or do you have a plan to achieve what you’re after? Are you comfortable being at the mercy of your circumstances, or do have a clear picture of who you want to be that drives your actions each day?
I think I’d much prefer to be a meaningful specific. How about you?