We are more than a week into the New Year 2014. Traditionally this is a time to make resolutions. This is a time to lay out all of the things we feel a need to change in our lives and to make a plan to achieve all that we want. If early January is the time to make resolutions, then late January, February and beyond is the time to break them. Statistically, 88% of us will fail to achieve our resolutions. Though we diligently set out to be better, to achieve more, the sad truth is that by the end of the year most of us will only have succeeded in being 12 months older. According to a study by Richard Wiseman of 3000 people who made resolutions, only 12% had stuck with them by the end of one year’s time.

So what was different about those 12%? Wiseman’s study showed that the success factors were different for men and women. Men who used traditional goal setting techniques were much more likely to be successful than men who did not; for example, setting a specific goal of losing 1 pound per week rather than a resolution to simply “lose weight” or “eat better.” For women, taking it one step further and going public with their goal or resolution was what made the difference.

What are some of the other keys to success? How do YOU beat the odds?

1. It starts with a purpose. To tackle something difficult or to make a change, you need to understand your reason for making that change. What is the “personal pay-off”, the WIFM or “what’s in it for me” that you are hoping to achieve, or perhaps hoping to avoid? The more clearly you can articulate it the better. You need a focus or a motivation. Why do you want to increase your sales 30%? More income? Expand your business? Achieve the promotion? Figuring out the why behind the what, will help you focus on what’s important and make overcoming the inevitable obstacles, easier.

2. Your goal has to be relevant to your purpose. Making multiple resolutions has been proven to decrease the chance of any success. It is easy to start pushing for goals that are important to others in our lives. Parents, spouses, co-workers and employers all have their idea of what a perfect you looks like. Make sure you focus on the activities that help you achieve your goals.

3. The more specific you can make it, the more likely you will be to achieve it. Visualization works. In a study by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson, subjects were divided into 3 groups. For the next 20 days the first group practiced free throws every day, the second and third group only practiced on the first and twentieth day, but in addition, the third group visualized making free throws every day. If they “missed” they visualized practicing and making the next “shot.” At the end of twenty days, all three groups’ progress was measured. Not surprisingly group 2 had no improvement. The first group, the ones who had actually practiced daily improved their free throws by 24 percent. The real surprise was that group 3 the ones who had visualized improved 23 percent, almost as good as those who actually practiced. The key according to Richardson, is to “see” and “feel” the visualization.

4. Begin with the end in mind and work your way backwards. Creating your plan in reverse allows you to see the cause and effect of each milestone. Think of a movie that employs reverse chronology. An example is the film, “Memento”, the protagonist has a form of amnesia. The first scene is actually the conclusion of the plot. Each subsequent scene unfolds in reverse order. In this type of film or literature you are allowed to see the effect, before the cause. Knowing this in reality, can help you make better decisions in planning your success.

5. Accurately assess the challenge. No doubt about it, change can be difficult. Whether it is losing 40 pounds, starting a new business or increasing sales by 30% it isn’t going to be easy. It is important to acknowledge that, and to plan for the obstacles and the setbacks. This is a great time for creativity. Is the key to your sales asking for more referrals? Are your current customers likely to refer more business? Why or why not? What happens to your fitness plan when you go on the road for the convention? Is your planning realistic, or are you just creating a failure point? The more thoroughly you think through the initial challenges, solutions and then the subsequent challenges the more familiar the terrain will be when you encounter it. Don’t get bogged down in the analysis. Remember the expression, “analysis to paralysis.” Understand the game plan, know the terrain,then EXECUTE.

6. Keep the self talk positive. Positive self talk is a habit, just like negative self talk. Most of us however have the negative self talk habit pretty well dialed in. We need to spend some time developing the positive habit. Start by telling yourself that you CAN do this. Visualize the outcome or accomplishment of your goal. List the attributes that you possess that will help you achieve your goals, and don’t allow negativity to creep in. For every challenge you identify, get specific with how you will handle it. That will allow you to reassess when the inevitable setbacks occur. Yes inevitable. Setbacks are not failures. These are points that allow us to assess our strategy. The problem arises when we spend too much time thinking about the set back. When we remember the bad shots, or the days when we went off the diet, or the sales that we screwed up, we allow that failure to be imprinted in our brain. Look at the failure, figure out what you could have done better and then forget about it. Don’t think about it again. Focus only on the times you succeeded or gained some improvement and mentally grasp that feeling. Control what you can control and take all of the other chatter out of your head.

7. Success is about conscious choice. All of our results are a function of decisions we make. Success and failure are not a function of what happens TO us; they are a function of how we choose to act, and react. It is less about the obstacles and setbacks that are thrown at us, as how we choose to deal with them. It’s not only about reacting though. It is about making the best choices with the available information. Perhaps you remember the movie “Supersize Me”? A documentary in which Morgan Spurlock ate at a McDonald’s Restaurant three times a day for 30 days and literally made himself sick. He consumed an average of 5000 calories per day and gained over 24 lbs. Contrast that with John Cisna a High School science teacher in Iowa. Three of his students gathered information from easily available resources. They created a 2000 calorie per day diet, with all of the RDA recommendations for nutrients, using nothing but food from McDonalds. Cisna stuck with the diet for 90 days. The results? The teacher lost 37 lbs and lowered his cholesterol from 249 to 170. “It is not McDonald’s that makes us fat,” Cisna says. “It is the choices that we make.”

8. Understand that willpower is limited. Our reserve of stamina and willpower is burned quicker doing things we dislike, than it is doing things we enjoy. In study after study, those who focus on positive steps, and on the benefits achieved, are more successful than those who focus on the discipline and what they are “giving up.” To lose a pound per week you need to make healthier choices in what you eat. But starvation or highly restrictive diets that deny you even a morsel of the food you like just aren’t sustainable and simply set you up for failure. Furthermore, the depleted emotional and physical energy make it less likely to accomplish other things you doing. There is evidence that those of us who take that approach are exercising a self fulfilling prophecy. “I can’t lose weight! I’ve tried all of these diets and nothing works.” Small changes and adding fun always works better. Don’t focus on what you are giving up; focus on what you are getting. Need to make sales calls, or engage social media to drive sales. Look for the most productive hours of the day, focus for a specific period of time then move on. Procrastinating creates stress and reinforces the failure formula.

There is no reason to limit your goal setting to once a year. In fact, with the low success rate on New Years’ resolutions it could be argued that this is a poor time to execute your new game plan. The key is to take the time, think through what you want to change or achieve and why, then create a well thought out plan. Secondly, don’t wait for a year to review and assess your goals. Measure your progress daily. If you are making progress determine what you are doing well. Remember, our results are a function of what we do, and what we fail to do. If you are being successful, what are the behaviors that you are doing to create the success? How have those behaviors enhanced the achievement of your goal?

Most importantly understand that your quest is not perfection. All we really need to do is get a little better on most days. That means that some days we won’t. That’s ok. We know it is going to happen so there is no reason to make a big deal about it. Zig Ziglar once said, “Some people find fault like there is a reward for it.” Stop finding the fault in yourself, and spend an extra minute or two catching yourself doing something right. Remember, its about getting better, not perfect.

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