Turning Resolutions into Reality

December 16, 2014

by Dan Richards

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Everyone has experienced the initial burst of good intentions and enthusiasm that go into New Year’s resolutions followed shortly afterwards by the inevitable lapse to old habits.  This applies to both personal resolutions on things like diet and exercise and to business-related resolutions like communicating with clients, interacting with prospects or motivating your team.

Often people blame the failure to follow through on resolutions to lack of discipline. In an article last week, I made the case that the key to any important change, whether in personal life or in business, lies not in greater discipline but rather in creating the right habits. While it does take discipline to create new habits, once those habits have become entrenched, they happen automatically.  As a simple example, it doesn’t take discipline to brush our teeth in the morning, because that has become part of our routine that takes no thought.

Earlier this month my free webinar outlined five steps to creating new habits that can put your practice on auto pilot. This week and next, I will outline research on the tactics that go into creating the new habits that will turn your personal and business resolutions into reality.

Focus on one or two new habits

Pick one or two habits on which to focus. Remember that research has found that discipline is a muscle that gets exhausted with effort and the more habits you try to change, the lower the odds of success on achieving any of them.  To give yourself the absolute best chance of building a new habit, pick one and only one high-impact habit that you’d like to change.

Don’t forget that this exercise is designed to entrench a new habit into your routine over a 90-day period. If successful, in three months you will move on and repeat the exercise with another high-impact habit.

Be ambitious – but with a reality check

Heidi Halvorson Grant at the Columbia Motivation Science Center is among the leading researchers on what it takes to create new habits. One finding is that your goals have to be ambitious and stretch you to activate your subconscious. At the same time, they have to be in the realm of reality.

Halvorson suggests a technique called mental contrasting to come up with the right balance of ambition and reality. On a blank piece of paper, write down a possible new habit – say identifying 20 clients with whom you will meet, along with their accountant, to ensure that their portfolios are tax efficient. Then underneath that write down how you will be better off if you do this consistently; beside that write down an obstacle to making that request. Then write down another benefit and another obstacle – and continue this process until you are out of benefits and obstacles.

Having done that, decide if you want to go ahead. An experiment at New York University showed that, provided that the expectation of success is reasonably high, mental contrasting leads to greater energy, more immediate action and higher commitment to your goal.

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