After 2015 rushes to a close, many of us will find ourselves waking up on Jan. 1 with hangovers from the holiday season and a plan to start 2016 as better versions of ourselves. What will be different next year? You might already be crafting your list of New Year’s resolutions. Do you even remember the ones you made last year? Are they the same this year?
They’re so common that they’re almost cliches: Lose weight. Eat healthy. Quit smoking. Save money. Be better. Blah, blah, blah. Though I’m a big proponent of self betterment, you can tell that I’m skeptical of New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason.
Those vague improvements are the top resolutions that about 50 percent of Americans make each year, according to The Journal of American Psychology. Unfortunately, statistics show that 85 percent of resolutions go caput six months later. There’s a reason that the gym is full in early January and empty by March. People make resolutions because it feels like the right thing to do at the time, not necessarily because they’re ready to commit to putting in the time and consistency that lasting change requires. Resolutions often lack a foundation of meaning and personal relevance, which is why they run out of steam. If the date on the calendar is the only thing motivating you to do something you’re reluctant to do — like give up a bad habit or make a big change you’ve been avoiding — even the most heartfelt resolutions will fall through.
But wait, you say! I really do want to change, and I want to do it on Jan. 1! Okay. I applaud your tenacity, and I offer you an option with a much higher success rate than a New Year’s resolution. It’s an integral part of The Handel Method®, which was tested at MIT and subsequently taught at NYU, Stanford Business School, Rutgers, public schools, and private companies around the world. I’m suggesting you set up a system of promises and consequences.
Promises and Consequences
Promises and resolutions are not the same thing. See if you can spot the not-so-subtle difference between the two:
This year, I will exercise more.
Starting Jan. 2, I will jog 30 minutes, four times per week — even on vacation.
While a resolution is vague and open-ended, a promise is concrete and goal-oriented. It’s a true commitment to yourself, and it’s backed by whatever dream the promise is meant to bring you. Resolutions are hard to pin down, but promises are very clear and specific, outlining exactly what you will or won’t do — no room for interpretations or excuses. It’s easy to tell if you break a promise, and those broken promises come with consequences you design yourself to get you out of feeling guilty and back on track. Lastly, a promise should be public so people who care about you can hold you accountable to them. Let's break that down.
Why Clear and Specific?
Listen to your inner dialogue and you’ll hear one particular voice I like to call the Brat. It hates specificity! It likes wiggle room and loves to negotiate. And it’s very sneaky: “My boss gave me this last minute project, so I guess I can’t go to the gym this week.” Do you hear the subtle Brat at work here, trying to get out of a commitment? Making a promise that is clear and specific shuts up the Brat. You have a lot of brainpower, and so much of it can be wasted on negotiating your way out of, rather than keeping, your most heartfelt commitments (such as excellence at work, intimacy with a partner, or deep self love of your body). My promises streamline my mental focus and yours will do the same for you.
Going public with your promises is brilliant and courageous. The Brat hates accountability, as does another contender within your inner dialogue: the Chicken. It’s very brave to speak up in the name of your promises and commitments. Once you go public, not only will you be more likely to keep your promise, but you will also inspire those around you to fight for their dreams, too.
Consequences are the final stand against the Brat and the Chicken. They up the ante and help you restore integrity when you make a "bad" (non-dream) choice or let the Chicken or Brat win. The natural consequences of breaking your promises usually come too slowly (think smoking and cancer). We don’t pay attention to the effects of breaking our promises unless they are right in front of us.
Designing perfect, immediate consequences for yourself gives you the deterrent you need to keep yourself in line. For example: If you pick at your skin, you must do 100 pushups that day. If you are snappy with a co-worker, you owe him a latte and an apology note before the week’s end. Good consequences organize your brain around solving your problems and making your dreams come true. Without them, your thinking is organized around excusing yourself, feeling guilty, and staying stuck in the behavior you don’t want.
Make This Your Year.
Don't get away with mere resolutions again! Don't make non-specific promises. To be a closer and get your results, make really specific promises and tell everyone about them. You have no idea how powerful this will be. Plus, you can start today — no need to wait until New Year's. Beat the rush!
If you would like more insights on this or any other aspect of The Handel Method®, schedule a free 30 minute coaching session and see how this type of support can help you manage your mind, follow through on your promises, achieve your goals, and design a 2016 that wildly impresses you!
Lauren Zander is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.