There are plenty of articles out there telling us that we aren’t going to make it when it comes to New Year’s resolutions; that the data is against us. Just like nearly half of all small businesses exit before five years, most of us won’t be able to keep our resolutions for more than one month and only 9% of Americans who make resolutions actually complete them. It’s enough to make us wonder, “Why bother?”
This is not one of those articles.
What if this year were different? What if, in 2024, we were able to stick to a resolution to create a positive change in our business? What would that feel like once we achieved it?
First, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way. It’s true that the further away we get from the holiday cheer, the harder it is to maintain our resolutions for the new year. Often, we’ve set a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that’s misaligned with reality and it would require us to be a different person, team or company to succeed.
Since “comparison is the thief of joy,” let’s stop trying to be something we’re not and instead take a different approach where we set intentions based on our understanding of who we are and what’s realistic.
Related: Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Won’t Work Unless You Stop Doing These 4 Things
Set intentions, not resolutions
If I were able to keep my resolutions, I’d have been a billionaire 20 years ago. Not because I set a resolution to get rich — that’d be a real BHAG — but if the resolutions I made were achieved and had the desired effect, it would have paid dividends many times over. But the world doesn’t work that way.
The etymology of the word “resolution” starts with breaking something down to a finite point — to resolve a puzzle, for example. There’s a firmness and finality to it. Once a puzzle is solved, that’s it. There’s no room for interpretation or external forces. If a piece of a jigsaw puzzle goes missing because the dog ate it, we’re unable to complete the puzzle. We’ve failed.
“Intention” comes from Latin words meaning “to stretch” and “aim,” “design,” “will” and “wish.” The malleability inherent in these words seems more fitting. It provides space for adaptation to the external forces impeding our progress.
What got in the way of making my first billion dollars? Plenty of things. First, the inability to effectively change my habits because I had set a BHAG. Second was external forces beyond my control. Clients change priorities, economies recede and uncertainty in markets exists because of current events. In fall of 2001, I was living in New York City and running a small consultancy practice. All my new business leads dried up after 9/11. Businesses didn’t know what to do next. The shock of the attacks was beyond disruptive and traumatic. Burning through my savings, it came time for me to “return to the warm embrace of a large corporation,” which I did, joining what was then Kraft Foods for a couple of years while the world righted itself.
If I had kept a fixed mindset instead of being flexible through intention, I would be facing the feeling of failure. A negative result is hard enough without negative self-talk from resolutions unmet. An intention can morph and adapt based on the external. Shifting from a fixed mindset of resolutions to a growth mindset of intention will be beneficial in many ways, especially in the chaotic business environment of 2024. High interest rates, two wars, societal queasiness from culture wars and upcoming elections have created uncertainty. No matter what we resolve to do to drive growth, manage spending or make smart investments, there’s little to do other than buckle our seat belts. Intentions give us the adaptability to thrive in uncertain times.
Related: 8 New Year’s Business Resolutions That Will Keep You Energized
Understand the cause of the behavior you seek to change
Too often, we focus on the fix instead of the root cause. While that might get us out of a jam, it won’t prevent it from repeating in the future. Many people resolve to do something differently while ignoring the “muscle memory” and neural pathways established from having done it the old way a million times in the past.
What’s required is a combination of self-awareness and then self-empathy. Self-awareness is recognition of the behavior we seek to change while self-empathy goes a layer deeper and helps us decode the cause behind the behavior. Understanding what has led to the behavior will ultimately help us adjust it.
For example, when I was in a business development role, I once set an intention to increase the sales that I generated. Instead of willing myself to make more calls, take more meetings and let that drive the sales, I took a step back to examine my past patterns and what needed to change. Doing that, I realized I tended to reach out to the clients that I was friendliest with, rather than the ones I hadn’t talked to in a while. I wasn’t casting a net as wide as I could.
Going a little deeper to understand that behavior, it didn’t take long to realize that I was staying in a comfort zone instead of applying a more strategic approach to who I connected with and when. Once I had that self-empathy, the behavior was easier to change as I was able to shift my perspective to self-motivate and talk myself through my discomfort.
As we move into self-empathy, keep these five steps in mind — dismantle judgment, including negative self-talk; ask good questions of yourself; actively listen to what’s coming up; integrate into understanding, what we discover doesn’t make us weird or wrong, it provides more information to work with; use solution imagination to identify how to create the behavior change that will last.
Related: How to Get Back on Track With Your New Year’s Resolutions (It’s Not Too Late!)
Have grace with yourself and others
Contrary to some managers’ beliefs and models of productivity, we’re not robots. That means that we won’t make progress in a straight line, nor will we be perfect every time we execute the behavior we intend to change.
It’s okay. We are human. Making mistakes is how we learn and grow. Make space for that growth.
Even if it is a few weeks into a new intention and it’s feeling tenuous or there’s been a slip, avoid the self-flagellation. Instead of getting down or giving up, turn it around and consider what adjustments can be made to revive the intention, pick it back up or start afresh and keep going. After all, there are 52 weeks in a year and we’re just at the beginning.
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