I am convinced the reason that many New Year’s Resolutions fail is because they aren’t realistic or sensible. Too often they are over-ambitious, too focussed on the measurable (it’s hard to make good personal goals SMART), too new, and too goal-orientated.
So last week, in my first assembly of the New Year, I challenged our pupils to make resolutions which were helpful and which they would be able to make stick. Here are five things I recommended (and still do!) to make a new resolution work – and it’s not too late to try it:
1) The resolution should be related to a ‘process-goal’ not an ‘outcome-goal’. It was very striking when Olympic Gold medallist Anna Watkins came to speak to our pupils last term that she felt that the key to her London 2012 success (where she won a gold medal with Katherine Grainger having been unbeaten for some years) was due in part to the fact that they set process-goals. When we make the process as good as we can, we have done all we can to achieve the goal, and can take the pressure of our own performance.
2) Make the goal incremental: focus on something you have already started to do a little of and want to do more – this way you know already that you aren’t trying to do something which is beyond you, and the resolution will seem achievable from the start.
3) Make the goal relevant rather than measurable: although management people are right to say goals should ideally be measurable, it’s much more important that they are relevant. Many people substitute a much less relevant, but measurable goal, for a core-to-their-purpose but unmeasurable skill. As time passes, and realisation of the irrelevance increases, they drop the resolution entirely because it is increasingly apparent that it isn’t actually central to achieving the core goals.
4) Be accountable: tell other people about the resolution. Get others to help you to achieve it. This hardly needs explanation. And...
5) Don’t take up something, or give something up, merely to be able to boast about it. You’ll weary of that. If you want to give up chocolate for a year, great – but don’t do it so that you can needle chocolate-eaters. Resolutions should be valuable in and of themselves, not a form of one-upmanship. The problem with boastful resolutions is that it isn’t long before we meet someone with a better (or more noble!) goal than ours – and once that happens, our motivation for keeping it collapses.
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