Another Approach to New Year’s Resolutions . . .

Do you still use New Year’s resolutions? Or do you have any alternatives to them, as you seek to establish and achieve goals in your personal or professional lives? By late January, the gym I’ve belonged to for a decade will get “back to normal,” after newbies have given up on their 6:30 am exercise. Meantime, I have to arrive very early or very late to get the machines I most want to use.

Writer Daphne Gray-Grant wrote in her blog last January 5th that although “45% of Americans” make new year’s resolutions, “fewer than 8% manage to keep them.” I’d imagine that the statistics for Canada (with our long, cold winters) are not much, if any, better.

So what alternatives do we have, if we still want to make and achieve goals that will chart a potentially better course of behaviour for us (be it work, exercise, hobbies, leisure) in 2016?
Gray-Grant recommends “if/then statements” as a way to talk to ourselves about our activity and motivation.

So a writer like me may say: “If I haven’t drafted my blog posting by 4:30 pm, then I must write it before I can read for leisure, tonight.”

Or here’s one more reminiscent of Seth Godin: “if my prospect hasn’t replied to my email by tomorrow noon, then I will definitely call him early tomorrow afternoon.”

Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer says that if/then statements work by getting us to consider “contingencies” (what psychologists like him call “implementation intentions”). “Contingencies” are a future event or circumstance which is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty. The term also refers to a provision for such an event or circumstance—what we can do, Gray-Grant says, “when things go wrong” or other than we hoped.

She blogs on (and tested) this concept of contingency, observing that when we make an if/then statement, our brains immediately begin checking our environment to find the “if . . . [like] a dog seeking treats.” Once we’ve found the “if,” the “then” follows automatically, without our having to think or track our goal. The identification of the “if” doesn’t require us to have willpower to complete, as part of an if/then statement. As Gray-Grant observes, the statements “allow us to conserve our self-control for when we need it and compensate for it when we don’t have enough.”

So we can set up goal-directed behaviour as a response “to a particular future event or cue.”

Gray-Grant concludes that by “deciding in advance when and where we will take specific actions, [we] can double or triple our chances of success.”

What do you think of using if/then statements to attain goals? Try practicing some statements for a few days and let me know: do they help you to exercise and apply your self-control, as an entrepreneur, writer or artist?

And here’s to a happy, healthy and successful 2016!

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