Morning sunrise over metro Boston reservoir

Around this time of year, people start cranking out lists of resolutions, things that they want to to accomplish in the next year. Sometimes they’re business wishes, other times they’re personal wishes. Most don’t survive the first few weeks of the new year because habits, for good or ill, are exceptionally difficult to break.

Take a look at the average resolution. At best, it’s barely measurable, such as wanting to lose a specific weight, stop a particular habit, or change a particular behavior. What’s wrong with this sort of resolution is that it’s entirely out of context with the rest of your life and thus, the momentum of life will easily shatter the resolution. “I want to stop smoking”… but you’re not taking into consideration the high stress job or sleepless nights that drive you to smoke in the first place. “I want to lose weight”… but you’re not taking into consideration a manic travel schedule that forces you more often than not to eat anything just because fast food places are the only places open.

If you want to make a resolution work for you, you have to make it compelling. Take your goal and ask why it’s important to achieve. Give it a measurable, tangible, emotionally compelling reason. Want to stop smoking? Figure out your life expectancy with or without smoking (it’s about a 20 year difference according to some sources, go Google it) and then Photoshop yourself a nice set of tombstones, one with and one without smoking.

Once you’ve figured out your emotionally compelling reason to change something in your life, draw out a map of all the things in your life that allow a given behavior to exist. These are the forces that will actively work to stop you from making a change! Make it branch out as far as you practically can. For example:

I procrastinate at blogging because I can’t write under pressure on demand because I need more hours in the day because I don’t know where my time goes because I don’t have a time management system because I don’t know how to budget my time.

The solution in this example isn’t to try to blog more. The solution is to find a better time management system that will in turn give you the time you need.

Not every resolution will be as neat or clean. Some will have multiple branches of reasons why a resolution would be opposed by your life. Look in the tree of reasons for junctures where you can make a change that will have the greatest impact and start there.

Accomplishing goals is as much about removing obstacles as it is about creating change. The more obstacles you can remove in advance of making a change, the easier the change will be. As a side benefit, if you can dig deeper into the root causes of what would block a new change, chances are you’ll remove obstacles in other areas of your life that you’re not even thinking about right now.


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