The ABCs of a New Year’s Resolution

Many people make New Year’s resolutions dedicated to making themselves better in some way. Whether it’s to lose weight and get fit; become a better leader; or be a better spouse, parent, or friend. New Year’s resolutions are stated loudly and with confidence. However, these statements and the related behaviors often atrophy quickly as real life gets in the way.

Behavioral science can help make those resolutions become lasting changes. Understanding and utilizing behavior science can help you develop the skills and practice needed to create new behavior patterns. Below are best practices when it comes to self-managing behavior:

Clearly define your goal. Answer the question, “What does winning look like for me?” The clearer the goal, the easier it is to track progression. If the goal will require substantial time or effort to achieve, break the goal down into subgoals to see success early and often. Once you’ve set your goal(s), ask yourself, “What are the advantages to me for achieving this goal?” and “What are some potential disadvantages in working toward this goal?” Clarifying the advantages will help you tap into values-driven behaviors. Identifying potential disadvantages will help you find traps that may lead to old behavior patterns.

Specify behaviors to achieve the goal. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to achieve my goal?” Pinpoint the behaviors you need to start, or do more often, that will lead to reaching the goal. You may find it takes multiple behaviors working in unison to reach a goal.

Create prompts and make them visible. Answer the question, “What do I need to put this behavior into motion?” It could be something as simple as a calendar invite, Post-it Notes, a commitment to a friend, or beads in a jar, but you need something to prompt the behavior right before you do one of the behaviors you pinpointed. Your world is currently prompting the behaviors you are doing. If you want to change behavior patterns, you’ve got to change the world around you.

Remove temptations for old behavior patterns. Think through the question, “What would get in my way of working towards my goal?” If it’s environmental, change it. If it’s related to how you might feel, prepare some If-Then statements ahead of time to remind you to follow through with the new behavior(s). An example might be, “If I am sore from working out yesterday, then I am going to remind myself that I must have done a good job and stretch for five more minutes before today’s workout.” You’ll never remove all temptations, but you can minimize their effects on your behavior.

Plan consequences. Consequences are how we learn and establish behavior patterns. Answer the question, “What can I do to reward these new behaviors?” with as many reasonable answers as possible. This could include some recognition of doing the behavior, earning a preferred activity, preventing the loss of something you don’t want to lose, or enlisting the help of others to give you positive feedback. We need positive reinforcement to create want-to performance. You have to ensure that you encounter it immediate and often.

Track your performance and forgive slips. Track your performance and sub-goals on a daily/weekly basis. Ask yourself, “How can I see success and where should I be looking? Look for improvements in those results and place that information in a visible place. This will help you see improvements. Finally, we all make mistakes and fall back into old patterns of behaviors from time to time. Acknowledge the slip and let it pass. Focus on what you’ll do next to meet your goal.

Keeping a new year resolution requires more time and effort than just making one. Use these steps to help yourself achieve something meaningful this year.

Posted by Bryan Shelton

Bryan applies his knowledge and expertise in strategic planning to help organizations align employee performance with company goals. Bryan helps clients create improvement across a variety of business metrics including company growth, profitability, customer service, vision alignment, leadership development, and culture change. He also helps clients implement process improvement initiatives, improve sales results and using performance-pay systems to help drive company results. His behavior-based approaches and applications have supported clients’ improvement initiatives, leadership development, and the design and implementation of performance pay systems.