It’s that time of year when so many of us are trying to keep the New Year’s resolutions we made. Most of us who make them have already broken those promises. And if you believe the research, those of us who have managed to keep them for the first few weeks, or months, will soon abandon those behavior changes we were so enthusiastic about. It’s also highly likely that next December we will set similar goals for change. But once again, we will allow them to fade into things we wish we had done.
Why is it that behavior change is so difficult for us to achieve? After all, it’s our own behavior, isn’t it? We should be, except for certain medical conditions, completely in control of it.
The answer lies in how we go about setting and reaching our goals in the first place…no matter what time of the year it is. We typically focus on the new action we want to adopt without any thoughtful analysis of why we want to adopt it. And equally as important, we fail to analyze what kept us from adopting it last year, the year before that, and the year before that. All the forces that kept us in the behavior patterns we would like to change don’t go away when the clock strikes midnight and the ball drops. They will be there waiting for us the next morning, and every morning, until we remove them.
To achieve real behavior change we must add three important components to the way we set and pursue our goals.
1. Create a powerful “why”
I’m amazed when leaders describe goals they want to achieve, but can’t tell me why they want to accomplish them. If there’s no strong “why”, there’s no chance of success.
The behavior changes we need to make in order to achieve a goal are driven by a strong desire to create a new future for ourselves. That’s where our internal motivation gets created. If we don’t create an unbreakable connection to a new and better future, motivation will quickly fall victim to old habits and behaviors. Think about all the research, effort, thought, and visualization you might put into planning a big life event. Take a vacation, wedding, or relocation; we spend hundreds of hours thinking about what our perfect outcome will look like. When we do this, we tend to make these things a reality.
The same is true for our other goals and resolutions. If you’ve chosen the most popular of all resolutions - weight loss - what are the reasons you want to achieve it? Write down exactly how your life will be better when you accomplish it: how you feel, the daily benefits you receive, how others respond to you differently, the energy you have, how your day is different, and even the new clothes you will buy.
Now, read the description of your new life first thing every morning and several times a day. When it comes to new behaviors, inertia is stronger than change, unless the “why” is strong and consistent.
2. Learn to love the climb
If your goal is to summit Mount Everest, you can’t just love the view from the top. You must also learn to love the climb. Many times, we crave the results, but we aren’t enthusiastic about the steps we need to take to get there. If that’s the case, we will surely stumble along the way.
Let’s stick with our weight loss example. Most people want to lose weight, but they don’t really want to eat different foods or smaller quantities. We must shift our perspective so that we not only want the outcome; we want to do the things that cause the outcome. The same is true of exercise. If we are approaching it as something that we dread and must force ourselves to endure, our resolution will quickly fade. But if we change that perspective and look forward to the exercise itself, we will quickly enter the cycle of small daily successes. These successes then create momentum that feeds larger, life changing ones.
When we enjoy the process of getting to the goal, along with the goal itself, our chances of success skyrocket. People have found lots of different ways of achieving this for themselves when they make it a conscious effort. Remember that perspective is a choice. It may be shaped by other factors, but we can learn to change it at any time.
3. Remove the roadblocks
We need to identify the things that have kept us from achieving our resolutions in the past. Then, we need to get rid of them. Often, we can find several habits we have developed over time that get in our way. If we have a habit of buying junk food when we shop, then the choice not to eat it after it’s in our kitchen becomes harder. If we have a habit of sleeping late, we have no shot of getting to the gym early. We need to break down each of our goals, identify the failure factors, and eliminate them.
Virtually every leader I’ve had the privilege of coaching has had to change their behavior. These changes help them move closer to their potential and to others around them do the same. Creating a powerful “why,” learning to love the climb, and removing the roadblocks are critical to achieving new outcomes. Learning to change your perspective, and then your behavior, is how you accomplish things that you used to only dream about.