It’s that time of year when so many of us are in the midst of trying to keep the New Year’s resolutions we made. Most of the nearly half of Americans who make them have already broken those promises to themselves. And if you believe the research, those of us who have managed to keep them for the first few weeks, or months, will soon abandon those behavior changes we were so enthusiastic about as we began the new year. It’s also highly likely that next December we will set similar goals for change and then, once again, allow them to fade into things that we wish we had done.
Why is it that behavior change is so difficult for us to achieve? After all, it’s our own behavior isn’t it?. We should be, with the exception of certain medical conditions, completely in control of it.
The answer lies in how we go about setting and reaching our goals in the first place, any time of year. We typically focus on the new action we want to adopt without any real, thoughtful analysis of why we want to adopt it, and equally as important, what kept us from adopting it last year, and the year before that and the year before that. All of the forces that kept us in the behavior patterns we would like to change don’t go away when the clock strikes midnight and the ball drops. They will be there waiting for us the next morning, and every morning, until we remove them.
To achieve real behavior change we have to add three important components to the way we set and pursue our goals.
Create a powerful “why”
I’m consistently amazed when leaders I am working with describe a goal that they want to achieve and then can’t tell me, at least not in any significant detail, why they want to accomplish it. If there’s no strong “why”, there’s no chance of success and “because someone else thinks I should” usually doesn’t generate the kind of power you need to overcome behavior inertia.
The behavior changes that we need to make in order to achieve a goal, especially one we have been unsuccessful at capturing in the past, are driven by a strong desire to create a new future for ourselves. That’s where our internal motivation get’s created. If we don’t create an unbreakable connection to that new and better future, motivation will quickly fall victim to old habits and behaviors. Think about all of the research, effort, thought and visualization you might put into a vacation that you are planning. a wedding, a relocation, or a new romance. We spend hundreds of hours thinking about what our perfect outcome will look like with regard to those things and we make them a reality much more often when we do.
The same has to be true for our other goals and resolutions. If you’ve chosen the most popular of all resolutions, weight loss, for example, what are the reasons that you want to achieve it? Write down exactly how your life is better when you accomplish it, how you feel, the daily benefits you receive, how others respond to you differently, the energy you have, how your day is different and even the new clothes you will buy.
Now read the description of your new life over first thing every morning and several times a day. When it comes to new behaviors, inertia is always stronger than change, unless the connection to the why is strong and consistent.
Learn to love the climb
If your goal is to get to the top of Mount Everest you can’t just love the view from the peak, you have to also learn to love the climb. So many times we crave the results but we aren’t all that enthusiastic about the steps we need to take to get there and if that’s the case, we will surely stumble along the way.
Let’s stick with our weight loss example. Most people want to lose weight, but they don’t really want to eat different food or smaller quantities. We have to shift our perspective so that we not only want the outcome; we want to do the things that cause the outcome. The same is true of exercise. If we are approaching it as something that we dread and have to force ourselves to endure, our resolution will quickly fade. But if we are able to change that perspective and look forward to the exercise itself, we will quickly enter the cycle of small daily successes creating momentum that feeds larger, life changing ones. When we find ways to actually enjoy the process of getting to the goal, as well as the goal itself, our chances of success skyrocket. People have found lots of different ways of achieving this for themselves when they make it a conscious effort. Remember that perspective is a choice. It may be shaped by other factors but we can learn to change it at any time.
Remove the roadblocks
We need to identify the things that have kept us from achieving our resolution in the past and then get rid of them. Often, we can find several habits we have developed over time that get in our way. If we have a habit of buying junk food when we shop, then the choice not to eat it after it’s in our kitchen becomes harder. If we have a habit of sleeping late, we have no shot of getting to the gym to start our day. We need to break down each of our goals, identify the failure factors and eliminate them.
Virtually every leader I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching has had to change their own behavior in order to move closer to their potential and to help others around them do the same. Creating a powerful “why”, learning to love the climb and removing the roadblocks are critical to achieving new outcomes whether you are trying to keep a new years resolution or become a more effective leader. Learning to change your perspective, and then your behavior is how you accomplish things that you used to only dream about.
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