As the year winds down, even those of us who are cynical about the value of New Year's resolutions start to reflect and look ahead to the future. December is a time to think about what we want or need to leave behind and what we want to build or nurture moving forward. Of course, making resolutions is the easy part — keeping them is what's difficult. But why is it so difficult for most people, even high achievers, to keep and follow through on resolutions?
The reality is that change is phenomenally difficult work. While it is easy to declare that one wants to work less, lose more weight or learn a new language, coming up with a plan of action to achieve any of these goals requires more than desire. In short, it is not enough to want something. Reaching goals requires hard work, discipline and a clear plan of action.
By creating more flow in our lives, the chance of realizing our resolutions, however modest or ambitious they may be, drastically increases. Why? The reason is simple: Flow is feeling and performing at your best; when we're in this state, we are able to spend more time doing the things we love and doing them full of energy and focus. Best of all, when we are energized and focused on doing what we love, we are also far less likely to feel exhausted, desperate and wondering where to go next.
Ready to inject flow into your resolutions for 2017? As a leadership coach, here are a few of my favorite flow hacks to get a jump start. Avoid simply focusing on setting resolutions and turn your attention to the “five Rs” of resolutions: results, reasons, reflections, resources and responsibilities. By doing this, you’ll not only end up making better resolutions in the first place (resolutions that are more impactful and realizable), but you'll also be more likely to achieve and sustain your resolutions throughout the year.
In order to be effective, a resolution must be results oriented. It isn't enough to say, “I want to lose weight.” It may not even be enough to say, “I want to lose 15 pounds.” The resolution must be far more results oriented: “I want to lose 15 pounds so I fit into my clothes better and feel healthier.” Simply put, losing 15 pounds isn’t the result; feeling more confident and healthy are the real results. Whatever your goal, it is essential to:
• Understand your results: What are the results you seek?
• Establish a time frame: How soon can you achieve this goal? What is your deadline? Is it realistic? What are your benchmarks?
• Set benchmarks: How will you know when you've archived your goal?
If you don't know why you're pursuing a goal, you likely won't achieve it. It is essential to clarify the why. Why are you chasing after this goal? How will achieving it impact your life? Is this the only option?
• Connect to your goal: List at least five reasons you are pursuing your goal.
• Understand its impact: Why do you feel a burning desire to achieve this goal at this time?
• Be realistic: If you fail to achieve the goal, what is at stake?
Doing nothing can be one of your most powerful strategies for change, especially when you take the time to step back, get perspective and examine what has and has not worked in the past. Indeed, reflection is as integral to achieving goals as running full steam ahead toward them.
• Ask difficult questions: Do you still feel that your goal is worth pursuing?
• Take a hard look at how the pursuit is impacting you: What are you sacrificing to achieve this goal? Is the sacrifice worth it?
• Consider the potential negatives: Is your desire to achieve your goal impacting those around you?
To meet a resolution, you need appropriate resources. Once you are clear on the outcome, get flexible on the best possible way to achieve it. If you want to learn a language, how will you do it? Will you take a class or travel to another country for a more immersive experience? If you want to get in shape, will you hire a trainer or go the gym on your own? When you’re doing these things, who will watch the kids? What resources will you need to realize your goal?
• Ensure you have choices: Make sure you have the right tools for the job on hand.
• Have a backup plan: Have at least four alternative routes available if one route fails.
• Collaborate: Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Finally, never forget that this is your resolution, and you and only you are responsible for nurturing and achieving it. You have to get going and map out your strategy, and you yourself are accountable for your failures. If you fall flat on your face, it may be tempting to blame your coworkers, your spouse or even your kids, but ultimately it’s your fail.
• Have a game plan: Ask yourself what you need to do to reach your goal.
• Chart your course: Identify the actions that are most critical to reaching your goal.
• Prepare for the unexpected: Brainstorm any potential surprises that may arise and block your path.
When you bring results, reasons, reflections, resources and responsibilities to your resolutions, you are essentially bringing discipline to your desires. This is not to suggest that strong desires aren't something we should foster. The problem is that while most goals start with desire, few goals are ever realized through desire alone. Results, reasons, reflections, resources and responsibilities are precisely what connect resolutions to real results. They are the elements that inject flow into the resolution cycle and ensure that we don’t find ourselves feeling depleted and disappointed only a few weeks into the new year.