Committing to New Year Resolutions

So, another year is about to begin. Who knows what it may hold? For some, they approach it with trepidation. Others can’t wait to get started and to grab the opportunities that the new year will generate. It is a time when many people make plans and resolve to make changes, yet so many of those dreams will be but memories before January is out.

resolutionsEvery call to adventure is acted upon by two opposing forces.  In one direction we can choose to embark on the adventure, to take the journey into the unknown and face the uncomfortable challenges that will inevitably lie ahead.  In order to make this choice, the force of reward must be sufficiently strong to overcome the opposing force of inertia, the appeal of the status quo or the comfort zone we have become used to.

I spend a lot of time in workshops and working one on one with people who know that they are in a bind.  They know that their current world is less than satisfactory. They recognise that changes would be positive and could make life better in so many ways. And yet, there is no guarantee that people will make the necessary commitment to move away from the world they inhabit, to make the journey that is necessary to gain the reward, the change, the life that they would prefer.

People know they would be healthier if they gave up smoking, that they drink a bit too much alcohol, that they don’t exercise as much as perhaps they could, or that they are in a dead-end job and a change would breathe new life into their career. They may even make a resolution each New Year to do something about it.  Some may even get as far as joining a gym, giving up smoking or drinking for a while, or actively seeking job vacancies on the internet. And that does demonstrate some level of recognition that change may be attractive. So, why are so many of these attempts aborted so early?  What is missing when people embark on these annual failed excursions, which rarely mature into fully fledged adventures resulting in transformation?

Commitment       Making a resolution does not guarantee follow-through. That much is clear.  Even commitment may not be sufficient, unless it is the right sort of commitment. For example, when your manager chooses a task for you to do, you may carry it out with all the professionalism and diligence you can muster, but you may not be internally committed to it. Without internal commitment, you may find the task boring, repetitive or pointless. If, however, the task means something to you from within, if doing it has your personal  buy-in,  you are more likely to focus your attention on it in a very different way.  Sometimes people’s commitment is externally generated (rather than from within), increasingly these days as a result of social media. For example, watch out for resolutions that are based on following a latest fad or fashion you see on facebook. The motivation to follow-through will be weak if it is not internally generated.

Stakes and Consequences     Being clear on what is at stake is key to creating commitment. People understand and recognise problems and issues around them all of the time. It doesn’t follow, however, that they agree that they need to do something about them.  Not unless there is something ‘at stake’ for them. Stakes can be positive or negative, and if they are suitably powerful and meaningful, then internal commitment can be created. For example, someone who has flirted for many years with losing weight, but always failed to make sustained changes to their lifestyle, may suddenly commit when the stakes are changed by their physician, who tells them that they are at serious risk of irreversible heart disease.

Ordinary World        People often underestimate how strong the pull is to keep them in their ‘ordinary world’.  By ordinary world, I mean the one we inhabit. It may be the one we are born into, or have grown into. It may be happy or miserable, it may be law-abiding or criminal in nature.  No matter what, it is the one we know best, and it is our comfort zone. Whenever we embark on a journey that might take us away from it, we feel a strong tug attempting to take us back to that place of security and familiarity.

Reward       The counter force to the attraction of the ordinary world is the magnetic pull of the reward.  People who have a very clear vision of what they want to achieve, who have their eye firmly focused on the prize, are much more able to resist any pull back to their ordinary world. The athlete who dedicates her life to achieving her dream of Olympic gold will overcome any number of setbacks in the form of injuries, loss of form, defeats and self-doubts, over the course of many years. She may well have sacrificed studies, career and relationships along the way. But, in her case the reward in her mind, the gold medal, is so well-formed and sensed, that it makes all the difficulty and pain worthwhile.

Return with Gifts       Most people, when they do eventually commit and embark on a journey of significant change, whether it be giving up drugs, starting a new career, or going back to college,  do not physically move out of the world they occupy.  They do however, return to that world as transformed people. While, a vivid sense of reward helps create commitment and carries people through the turbulence encountered during their journey, it is the combination of personal transformation and legacy that is most enduring. The drug-user who returns to their community clean and as an inspiration to others to stay drug-free, the gold medallist who goes on to coach young people and provide the motivation for them to go on their own journey and enjoy exercise for life, the successful entrepreneur who promotes and financially supports young business start-ups in his economically deprived home town.  All examples where the reward in and of itself (i.e. getting clean, gold medal, success in business) were simply enablers to greater powers, the ability to return with gifts for orhers.

edinburgh-hogmanaySo, as you consider what the New Year means for you, and before you make the same idle promises to yourself, that in your heart you know will not make it to February, take the time to consider what really matters to you. Ask yourself what commitment really means for you? What is at stake and why do you really care about the change?  How will you resist the pull back to your ordinary world? And, beyond the immediate buzz of the reward, what gifts in service of others will you return with?

Have a Happy and Successful 2017! 


Leadership Coaching is a powerful and proven approach to help leaders discover their inner courage, resilience and creativity. Would you, or members of your organisation, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to speak with you. 


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