Three things happen every January. First, the foot traffic in my health club increases immensely. Second, everywhere I turn I see articles about how you can better achieve your New Year’s resolutions. And, third, by the end of the month the health club foot traffic returns to normal.
All of us have important changes we should make personally and at work, but we struggle. I guess this is just part of being human.
One thoughtful writer I enjoy is James Clear. A few weeks ago he wrote an article called The Akrasia Effect: Why We Don’t Follow Through on What We Set Out to Do (And What to Do About It). Using inspiration from Mr. Clear, here are four insights into how you can better follow-through on your work and personal goals this year.
- We are wired to satisfy short-term needs first. In the present moment our brains instinctively make the best decision for the body. So, unless we stop and think about it, our longer-term goals or ambitions are undermined by these natural short-term instincts. James Clear reminds us that ancient philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle called this state of acting against our better judgment, Akrasia. This insight is about awareness – watch for and overrule short-term decisions motivated by natural urges, which undermine achieving your long-term goals.
- An object at rest stays at rest. This is Newton’s First Law of Motion so unless acted upon by an external force, an object at rest stays at rest. Have you ever noticed it is harder to just get started than it is to do the task? (I feel that way sometimes when I write these blogs!) If you regularly make a habit of not starting, of procrastinating, recognize that this itself is a habit you need to change – create a habit of starting.
- Consider using a “commitment device” to help you meet your goals. If you consistently fail to achieve what you believe is an important goal, then you are not committed. There has been a great deal of research into what is now commonly referred to as a “commitment device.” A commitment device is a type of incentive, or disincentive, which makes not achieving your goal much less appealing. One of the early examples of commitment devices was in the story of Ulysses. In this story he tied himself to the mast of his ship so he couldn’t be lured into jumping to his death in the ocean when he heard the song of the Sirens?
Here are three examples of commitment devices that come to mind:
- Personal Health Goals. Give someone you trust a large sum of money and, if you don’t achieve your goal, ask them to donate the whole amount to a politician you detest. They give you back your money if you achieve your goal.
- Stop Smoking. My old friend Izzy stopped smoking when his first child was born by committing to deposit every day the money he was spending on cigarettes into an account for his child’s college education. By the time I met him he had saved enough money for over two years of college.
- Work Goals or Tasks. Start your day/week by doing the tasks you like least – end the day/week doing the tasks you like most.
- Get started by writing down an “implementation intention.” James Clear reminds us that one effective way to get started and follow-through is to write down in a measurable way, like an objective, our “implementation intention.” Research studies have confirmed that when people write things down they are two or three times more likely to follow-through and be successful. These intentions or objectives include what, where, and when. For example, “I will run on the treadmill for 30 minutes at Planet Fitness on Friday afternoon at 5PM.” Even more effective is to actually schedule this intention into your day planner or smartphone.
As you tackle your new goals for 2016 remember these words from Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit…happiness depends upon ourselves.”