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Ten Pitfalls That Will Doom Your Best Intentions

If you are like 90% of people (including me), the changing of the calendar has inspired you to turn the page on some results that you’re less than proud of.

Whether resolutions are a good way to make a change (or not – this is something I will address in another post), there are definitely some pitfalls to be aware of, so you can at least improve the odds of succeeding at making some kind of change.

Here are ten issues to keep in mind as you move forward with your resolutions, your intentions, your goals, or however you define the lifestyle and business changes you really want:

1. Resolutions are made to “stop” or “lose” something

Succeeding with your resolution has a lot has to do with how you frame it. Resolutions (or goals) often have negative contexts to them, which is not so motivating, especially when the going gets tough. And we make them usually in areas of our life that are the result of habits built up over a lifetime (i.e. smoking, weight). When we say out loud that we want to “stop smoking” or “stop eating sweets”, the unconscious mind forgets the “stop” and focuses on the other part of the statement. That’s one important reason why we end up craving what we want to stop.

Solution: Instead of framing your goal as a loss or a sacrifice, express it as a “gain” or “start”. Make it something you want to run towards (“pull”) rather than running away from (“push”). Instead of “Stop eating sweets”, say “start eating more vegetables”. Instead of “lose weight”, say “gain muscle strength”.

2. The goal describes a result, without referencing the underlying behavior

Have you heard of the definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”? Many people state goals to lose weight or start a savings account, but are not willing to change what they do on a daily basis to create the new behaviour. By framing the goal as a change in behaviour, you have more control over the actual outcome.

Solution: Frame the goal as a change in behaviour. Instead of “lose weight”, say “go to the gym 4 mornings a week”

3. There is no consequence to abandoning the resolution or failing

If there is no consequence to abandoning the goal, why make it in the first place? What is the price you are paying to maintain the results you currently have in the area of your goal? Is the price high enough to force you to make a change? What is the reward for you to succeed? Does the reward outweigh the price? If not, then there is little motivation for you to change, and you will (consciously or unconsciously) abandon your goal.

Solution: Make the price of the status quo very high, or the reward very attractive. Set a special reward for yourself if you succeed in your goal, a trip, or gift, something that commemorates your achievement. Set it up in such a way that you only enjoy the reward if you succeed!

4. Resolutions are set at the last minute, without much thought

Resolutions set at the last minute, or without adequate consideration, are hard to take seriously. Sometimes, we make a goal because we “have” to, following the crowd or a fashion. You do not have to necessarily start your changes on January 1. If you are just starting to consider your goals, give yourself enough time to make sure that this is something you really want to do, for yourself.

5. The goal is vague

Vague goals are not motivating, and are a key reason why goals are abandoned. The more precise you are about your goal, the more likely you will succeed. Use the (Davenderized) “SMART” principle to test if your goal is precise enough:

  • SPECIFIC – Describe the details of your goal (feel, taste, hear, smell, look)
  • MEASURABLE – How much? How many? How will I know that I have reached my goal?
  • ACTION-ORIENTED – Does the goal compel me to take action? Are the steps that I need to take clear? What actions will I take to reach this goal?
  • RESOURCED – What resources (time, money, support, etc) do I need to achieve this?
  • TIME-FRAMED – When will I make this happen? When will I start? When do I need to be complete?

6. The goal is too big

Many results in our life are the outcomes of lifelong habits. It is unrealistic to change many of them overnight. There is no such thing as an unrealistic goal, simply overambitious timetables. Make sure you give yourself challenging (but physically doable) goals and timelines. Use the concept of “milestones” (4-6 week intermediate goals) and “heartbeats” (daily intentions) to subdivide your large goal into doable smaller steps.

7. There is little or no support to carry out the goal

It is possible that you could make the change you intend to make happen by yourself, but why would you want to? A support system gives you the added edge you need to stay on track and do what you say you will do. Your support system should include active components (a buddy or partner, expert resources, support groups, mentor or role model, coach) and passive components (books, tapes, videos, magazines, pictures, treasure maps, affirmations, journaling, etc)

8. The goal is not written down

Spoken goals simply vanish with their echo. Write down your goal, and you are already half-way to making it happen, because you create accountability with yourself in doing so. Write down your goal with the “SMART” format listed earlier, and post it in a place where you can read it every morning. The strongest way to make this work for you is to write it in the form of a contract with yourself, signed and dated.

9. Success in the goal depends on someone else

Giving the power over the success of the goal over to someone else is a guarantee of failure. How can you change what you cannot control? Do you have control over the goal? A powerful test is to imagine yourself stranded on a desert island with all the resources and time you need. Could you make this goal happen totally on your own? For example: “Get promoted this year” is a poor formulation because you do not have control (usually) over your own promotion. A better way to phrase it is “Get the highest client satisfaction ranking”, which is something you have control over, and it can lead to your promotion, a raise, or other recognition.

10. There is no commitment behind the goal

Full commitment means more than just saying “I will do it”. You have to get clear on four questions: What do you want? Why is this important to you? Why is now the time to make this change happen? And, most importantly, why do you deserve this change? Exploring these questions with an experienced personal coach will help you align your commitment with your values, so that it becomes crystal clear to you why you need to make this goal real. Once you do so, then nothing can shake you off of your resolve. And next thing you know, your goal will have successfully become reality!

For more information

From Resolution to Result: Transform Your Good Intentions Into Real Results
Why do most resolutions fail? Do resolutions really work to create lasting change?

Image credit: Jesse Menn on Flickr
Direct link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jesse_menn/2156365871/
Used under Creative Commons 2.0 license

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