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by Phil Stott | January 09, 2012


I know, I know: another piece on resolutions. By this point in the fledgling year, you're probably as sick of hearing the "r" word as you would be if someone piled everything you consumed throughout the holidays onto a table—or tables—in front of you and handed you a fork.

But trust me—you really can fit just one more in. Because it turns out that big resolutions really do help people to meet their goals.

A study cited in the New York Times found that 44 percent of people who set a clear New Year's resolution—whether to lose weight, save money, find a new job, or something else—had continued to stick with it until the following July. Not particularly impressive, you may think, until you realize that the success rate of people with the same general goals but who didn'tmake a specific resolution was just 4 percent.

Yup—you read that right. FOUR percent.

Unfortunately, there's a lot more to being one of the 44 percent than simply making a grand pronouncement and hoping for the best. The good news: it's not about willpower (well…not all of it, anyway).

According to the Timespiece, willpower is overrated because it can be depleted. Literally: the piece cites social scientists whose findings indicate that "[W]illpower is a real form of mental energy, powered by glucose in the bloodstream, which is used up as you exert self-control."

So unless you have an unlimited supply of glucose, there's no point trying to take on too many life-changing tasks at once—you're just setting yourself up for failure.

With that in mind, the prescription for resolution success should be fairly obvious. But just in case you're using your willpower on something else, here are a couple of handy do's and don'ts to help you along:

DO: Focus on making just one change at a time. Because, really: you want to be going through caffeine/ nicotine/reality TV withdrawal while you're trying to find a job or learn a new skill? Didn't think so.

DON'T: Keep it a secret. The more people you tell about your resolution, the more likely you are to actually try to live up to it.

DO: Put some skin in the game. Another study cited in the Times piece found that formal contracts or even wagers with friends can greatly increase your chances of success—up to around 80 percent, depending on the conditions.

DON'T: Put it off. And I'm not just telling you to start today. Once you have started, don't put off thinking about whatever it is you want to achieve. Don't fall victim to the "oh, well, I'll polish up my resume/weigh myself/go for a run later" school of thought. Keep your resolution in mind, and keep checking in on your progress. On which note…

DO:Make lists and keep records—particularly if they help to make a big undertaking seem more manageable. Sure, it might be embarrassing that your first entry in your workout journal lists a single pushup, but being able to chart your progress will also serve as a source of pride and motivation in the weeks and months ahead. For job seekers, a similar benefit can be had by tracking the steps of the process (write resume, cover letter, apply, follow up, etc). It'll work wonders for your organization too.

So what are you waiting for?

Read More:

The New York Times: Be It Resolved


Filed Under: Consulting|Job Search