Raising the Odds on Hitting Important Goals



Some thousand people making New Years Resolutions agreed to share their experience with Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire in England. Over half were confident at the beginning that they’d succeed. That tells you something already, no? Half weren’t confident from the outset. What percentage do you think made it through the year? I bet you’re not surprised that it was only twelve per cent. But here’s the amazing part – as I write this, on Monday, January 17th: over half had busted their resolutions within two weeks.

Maybe you’re thinking, “thanks for the upbeat news, man!” Or maybe, like me, you never put much stock in resolutions. So, here are two alternatives for those for whom resolutions don’t do much good.

Alternative 1: Follow the data on resolution-achievement. Of those who were successful, five variables stood out as enhancers: (1) break it into small pieces, (2) tell people about it, (3) reward yourself for small wins, (4) focus on and remind yourself of the benefits, and (5) journal or chart progress. I suspect that this is as true for teams in pursuit of goals as it is for individuals. My bias is to focus on (4): be very clear and specific about what the end result is – which will make it worth the sacrifices required.  (Curious point: Wiseman found that women had a 10% better chance for success when they told others; men had a 22% better chance when they broke their goals down specifically. The success rate went up to about 50% when people pursued all five strategies.

Alternative 2: Pursue daily strategies.  Florine Mark knows about as much as anyone about weight loss, as she’s been the largest franchise owner of Weight Watchers. She rejects resolutions, telling me on my show that “they set you up for failure.” Florine’s system of course focuses on some of what Wiseman has described: the weigh-ins, points, and group involvement all relate to the factors he’s isolated. But Florine also has a remarkable practice that she’s described in her well-titled book, Talk to the Mirror.

Florine simply (?) tells herself every morning, “Florine, this is going to be a great day.” She talks to herself about what she wants to be like and to get done: e.g., to be forgiving, forgetting the negatives, contributing to community. If she’s feeling unbelieving, she’ll talk back to herself and continue the discussion until she’s ready to take on the world. What amazes me about Florine’s story is that she lived this practice in the two years that her husband was getting disabled by Lou Gehrig’s disease. She had all kinds of reason to feel self-piteous, slack off her practice, or otherwise fall short. But her daily practice sustained her and helped her give joy to her husband. With no recovery possible – no long-term achievable goal – her morning practice gave her strength, purpose, and yes, even joy.

If it feels too awkward to be talking in the mirror, why not write to yourself this morning. “My friend, this is going to be a great day. I expect to accomplish . . . I will bring . . . to those I meet.” As Florine and some brilliant philsophers and psychologists have clearly argued, we are what we think!  Think those things that will allow you to

Lead with your best self!