It's that time of year again: gingerbread lattes at Starbucks and a bunch of self-proclaimed 'experts' bestowing hackneyed advice on how to make your New Years resolutions stick. As an alternative, I decided to interview a few members of the mySomeday community that actually achieved their goals to see what they had to say on the topic. All of them admitted to having had difficulty with follow-through in the past, so I asked them a simple question: "What was different this time?" While they universally agreed that putting a plan together was essential (not terribly sexy but very effective) each also had some individual 'x' factor that made the difference. Below are five tips gleaned from those conversations.
1. Take It 'Bird by Bird'
Kellyjones wanted to be a working musician/songwriter. In the past, she sometimes found herself overwhelmed by the big picture so this time she decided to break down her goal into clear, achievable steps. Checking off these smaller to-dos showed progress and generated real momentum. In our discussion, she referred to a story in Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird that inspired her. In that story, Anne's younger brother has to write a report on birds. He sits at a table surrounded by a stack of books, a blank piece of paper and a looming deadline. Seeing that his son is paralyzed by the enormity of the project, his father utters this simple advice: "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." So while jotting down resolutions is fun, converting them into reality requires a bit more work on the front end: breaking down your goals into a set of small actionable steps (or 'bird by bird' as kellyjones would have it) can really make a difference.
2. Stick To A Timetable
A4S4L4 recently planned a trip to Africa and cited deadline setting as the key to getting everything done in time. Using our notification service, she set reminders and deadlines for each step in her plan: when to get vaccinations, book hotels, buy plane tickets, etc... As a result, she finished everything well in advance of her trip which made the whole process more relaxing and stress-free. She also urged people to be realistic when establishing these deadlines. Initially she was a bit ambitious so she gave herself a one-time right to a reasonable extension. People set reminders for upcoming dentist appointments, birthdays, or trips to visit their grandmother, so why not do the same for resolutions? Its easier than ever with a few clicks on a Blackberry or iPhone (and yes, I am the same guy who advocates using these devices sparingly).
3. Picture It
Suko wanted to shed some weight that she had gained in her early 30's so she used an interesting tactic. She tacked unflattering pictures of herself in various places in her apartment. This 'in her face' approach worked wonders. Whenever she felt lazy or her sweet-tooth was acting up, the pictures reminded her of what she desperately wanted to avoid. And after successfully losing the weight she posted before and after pictures side-by-side as an ongoing reminder of where she was and where she is now. (Conversely, you could also use a flattering photo from when you were a more healthy weight--this positive reinforcement might be slightly less depressing!) Elle used the same method with a slightly different approach. She wanted to learn to knit so to keep her focused she hung her favorite scarf in her bedroom. Each day she awoke to see the scarf and it registered her goal on her mental radar. A visual anchor (an image or article that means something to you) situated in a prominent place can have a profound impact on your ability to follow through.
4. Spread the Word
Lulu promised her family she'd complete a project to capture her grandmother's storytelling on CD by Christmas. Knowing that her family was expecting a result was a huge motivator to actually getting it done. She also used the 'Share' option on her Someday page to broadcast the project to her friends on Facebook. By having both friends and family invested in the project, she increased the accountability factor by adding social pressure and expectations to the mix. Think of it this way: imagine what your friends will think or say if you announce a goal and December rolls around and you continue to chain smoke, work at a job you hate, or are still carrying those extra pounds.
5. The Buddy System
Becs wanted to become a Big Sister/Mentor but was concerned about keeping up with the commitment so she enlisted a friend to join her. This added the peer pressure factor (useful for more than just teens encouraging eachother to sample wine coolers) and gave her an an outlet for sharing, supporting, venting, whining, nervous breakdowning, and so on. They frequently traded notes on their experiences and helped eachother solve some of the obstacles/nuances in 'big sistering'. So, make it part of your plan to connect--virtually or face to face--with a buddy who shares your resolution. If you can find at least one person with whom to collaborate, you greatly increase your odds of achieving your goal.
Here's hoping that December 2010 doesn't find you back in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble!