Four simple tricks for resolutions that stick

How to make a clean start and keep your new year's resolutionsIt’s that time again. A new year, a (seemingly) new beginning and a brand new chance to do everything a bit better.

Clean slates are always appealing, and the turning of one year into another is as good a prompt as any to make a change – especially since it comes preloaded with tradition.

Yet, as we all know, those early pledges to eat better, exercise more or spend less so often slip by mid-January, or even sooner.

And the same is true at work. You may have aspirations to climb the career ladder, learn new skills, improve your communication, win more bids or achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction.

So, how can you ensure that your work-related good intentions become a catalyst for real and lasting change, to make your business objectives for 2017 a reality?

1. You need to actually want it

It sounds ridiculously obvious, but it’s so important. We often pick resolutions because we think we ‘should’ behave a different way, or they may even be based on what someone else wants from us. But internal motivation tends to trump external: if your heart isn’t really in achieving a goal, you’re unlikely to succeed.

2. You need to be SMART

Every project manager’s favourite mnemonic for goal setting is a great fit here too. So make your resolutions specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Many resolutions fail because they’re too big and too vague: ‘be more productive’ is a fine aim, but what does that actually look like in your daily life?

Break down lofty ambitions into small, specific actions you’ll take, including when, where and how you’ll do each – and how you’ll track it. Introduce one and build up: willpower is a limited resource, so don’t spend it all at once.

3. You need to harness the power of habit

We’re all walking bundles of habits, amassed over a lifetime. Good or bad, they have become so ingrained they’re automatic. Like our willpower, our daily ability to make decisions is limited, and your mind will seek ways to cut down the number it must make. Once something is habitual, doing it no longer requires a decision – hence the power habit has over us.

You can harness this tendency in a positive way with something New York University professor Peter Gollwitzer terms ‘if-then planning’. This just means lodging in your head a cue (the ‘if’) for the new behaviour you want to establish (the ‘then’).

For example, if you have a report deadline on Friday, then that’s your cue to start the structure of your report on Monday at 9.30am. Your mind will look for the prompt, and has to make only a little effort when it arrives, as the decision’s been made.

4. You have to just do it

Have you ever said to yourself something like, ‘I don’t have time to learn new skills with my current workload’? Or perhaps you’ve put off starting that online course because trying to get a grip on something you can’t do yet can feel pretty uncomfortable in the early stages. (I know I have.)

One of the key killers of new year’s resolutions – or any decision to change – is procrastination.

It’s built in to the practice: we generally commit ourselves to these new ways when the actual moment of action is safely in the distance. At that point, it feels good. We’re pleased with our pledge, and the fact that we don’t have to act on it yet. When we’re faced with following through, that high is often long gone.

So just expect that. And vow that even if it feels less than pleasant, then you’ll do it anyway.

Once you’ve done it just a few times, you’re already on the way to forming a new pattern. You might even like it.

And if you still can’t shake the I’ll-just-start-it-tomorrow habit, try to take an objective look at why you’re procrastinating.

For instance, if it’s starting a report that you’re putting off, what’s behind that? Perhaps it’s fear of it not being perfect. (Here’s a gentle insider tip: it won’t be. But that’s OK.) Or maybe it’s because you don’t yet have all the information you need. In that case, make finding that information your first task, rather than actually writing anything. Of course, that’s another example of breaking down overwhelming and broad tasks into small, manageable sub-tasks.

Happy new career

Back to the new you of 2017 then. If you have a career-related resolution like winning a promotion, making more of an impact with your business writing, or just not putting work off to the last minute, remember to break it down into smaller, specific steps. And if you need a bit of inspiration, here are some more resources to give you some help.

If improving your writing at work is one of your objectives for 2017, see our business-writing courses for companies or for individuals for our range of options.

You can also call us on +44 (0)1273 732 888 for a chat with one of our friendly learning advisers.

Image credit: TanyaRozhnovskaya / Shutterstock

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