Tell me if this sounds familiar. Last week, shortly before or after ringing in the new year, someone asked you, “So, what are your New Year’s resolutions?” That’s how it happened for most folks. And most folks hurriedly, and without much care, thought of at least one thing they wanted to do or accomplish in the year ahead and that became their “resolution”. I put “resolution” in quotations because most people are anything but resolute in committing to its accomplishment—it’s really more of a wish than a goal. In fact, this time next year they won’t even remember the prior year’s resolution or, if they do, they will simply recycle it for the new year ahead.
What I tell those I coach and mentor is to give more care and thought to making New Year’s resolutions. No matter what you might have declared last week when put on the spot while downing your nth glass of champagne, it’s not too late to revisit and revise your New Year’s resolutions.
Is it important to make New Year’s resolutions? YES! In his famous military treatise The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “The ancient philosopher Master Guan said, ‘Go forth armed without determining strategy, and you will destroy yourself in battle.’” Likewise, as you prepare to “go forth” into the new year, it is important to have a determined strategy—what it is you’re trying to accomplish and why. Otherwise, how can you ever hope to succeed?
Fast forward 2,500 years to the life philosophy of Ronald Reagan: “If we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose—somehow we always win out.” Making New Year’s resolutions is simply setting our mind to a specific set of goals, which then guides our actions.
Rules for setting resolutions
- New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t be wishes—things you want to accomplish; they should be things you must accomplish. They should be meaningful.
- New Year’s resolutions should be measurable and achievable. “I want to lose weight” is not measurable; “I want to lose 12 pounds” is measurable. “I want to get an MBA” is not achievable if you haven’t even started; “I want to enroll in graduate school and complete 3 credit hours towards my MBA” is achievable.
- New Year’s resolutions shouldn’t only include those things you want to start doing or do differently, they should also include things you want to stop doing. As Jim Collins wrote in his brilliant business book Good to Great, most of us are smart enough to go through life identifying things we need to do. These get added to our ever-growing “to-do” list. However, only great leaders and companies have the discipline and courage to create a “stop doing” list—a list of those unproductive, unprofitable tasks that inhibit our success. CEO Darwin Smith’s decision to sell Kimberly-Clark’s paper mills and abandon a major source of the company’s revenues enabled them to divert their focus and resources from the traditional paper business to the emerging consumer products business. What a great decision that proved to be, even though it was very risky and highly controversial at the time.
- Your list of New Year’s resolutions should be relatively short—the 3-4 most important things that will have the greatest impact on your success. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. The longer your list, the less likely you will accomplish everything. This requires making tough, disciplined choices.
- Finally, you must commit your New Year’s resolutions to writing. Post them somewhere in your workspace where they will serve as visual reminders. Tell others (your mentor/coach, your boss, your direct reports, your family) what they are, so they can help you keep your commitments.
With these five simple guidelines in mind, I encourage you to carve out some quiet time—disconnect from outside distractions and think about the most important person in your life: YOU! Take stock of your current situation and compare that to where you want to go 1-year, 5-years, 10-years down the road. Then reflect on the “gap” between your present state and desired end state, and make a few measurable, achievable resolutions that will propel you towards your better self. If you do that, then 2015 will be a resounding success—no matter what curve-balls life throws your way.
I wish you the very best for a happy, healthy, prosperous new year! And, if your courageous enough, add a comment below and let me know what are your New Year’s resolutions for this year!