Why is it that so many of us do not achieve our New Year’s resolution goals? Recent research shows that while 52% of participants in a resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12% actually achieved their goals. While these stats may not be news to those of us who have made a new year’s resolution in the past and failed, it is somewhat surprising to see that failure rates are so high, especially because resolutions are usually about personal development goals that could really benefit our lives such as improving our: health, finances, career, or education or helping others. In fact, despite the fact that so few resolutions are achieved, those who make a meaningful resolution are more likely to achieve their goal than those who make no commitment at all.

So how can we improve our New Year’s Resolution success rate? It seems that goal setting and support from others are two of the major factors in achieving our resolutions, along with a third factor, which is expecting to achieve the goal. The same resolution study showed that men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends. Here are the 3 actions to help you achieve your New Year’s resolution(s):

Set Goals

Goal Setting involves establishing specific, measurable and time-targeted objectives to help us break down our goals into smaller, more manageable chunks. In a nutshell, they provide a sense of direction and purpose. And it’s interesting to note that goals that are difficult to achieve and specific tend to increase performance achievement more than goals that are not.

Here’s how goals work their magic:

  1. Choice: goals narrow attention and direct efforts to goal-relevant activities, and away from perceived undesirable and goal-irrelevant actions. In other words, goals focus attention towards goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities.
  2. Effort: goals can lead to more effort; for example, if one typically produces 4 widgets an hour, and has the goal of producing 6, one may work more intensely than one would otherwise in order to reach the goal. So, goals serve as an energizer; higher goals will induce greater effort while low goals induce lesser effort.
  3. Persistence: An individual becomes more prone to work through setbacks if pursuing a goal. But keep in mind that constraints with regard to resources will affect work pace.
    Cognition: goals can lead an individual to learn strategies to change their behavior to cope with the situation at hand.

Make the Goal Public and Ask for Support

Making a goal public and asking for support and encouragement from the people around us is also important for goal attainment and can be a powerful strategy for achieving our personal goals. At the heart of this is the concept of “self-efficacy,” a social cognitive theory of psychologist, Albert Bandura. Self efficacy is defined as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.

The main concept in social cognitive theory is that an individual’s actions and reaction in almost every situation is influenced by the actions that individual has observed in others. People observe others acting within an environment whether natural or social. These observations are remembered by an individual and help shape social behaviors and cognitive processes. When people see someone succeeding at something, their self-efficacy will increase; and where they see people failing, their self-efficacy will decrease. It’s the old adage of “If they can do it, so can I.”

One of the greatest strengths of group programs such as Weight Watchers and the like is the benefit of group support and encouragement that members observe and receive. This significantly increases the chance for members to succeed in achieving their weight loss goals. At each meeting, members share their challenges and receive ideas from others in the group for managing their personal challenges for the upcoming week. The outcome of the group support process is that members observe others who are succeeding. They also learn strategies for handling problems related to their weight loss goals and leave each meeting encouraged and with a renewed purpose and belief that success is attainable.

The idea of a support group can be extended beyond Weight Watchers and can also work in a family or work environment. What’s important is to seek help and set up on-going opportunities to discuss the personal challenges we encounter towards the achievement of our goals and ask for support and ideas from relevant others to help us succeed and stay motivated.

Expect to Keep a Resolution

If we don’t expect to keep a resolution, it is highly likely that we won’t succeed. So it is important to keep optimistic about our ability to achieve our goals. If we take on a goal with the expectation to succeed-that is with an optimistic perspective-we will usually be able to cope better when we hit obstacles along the way and be less likely to abandon our goals when the going gets rough. This is because optimists react to setbacks from a position of personal power.

So if you’ve set a New Year’s Resolution for the year ahead, whether it is personal or business related, we hope you use it as an exciting opportunity for adding meaning, purpose and success in your life.

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh. On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends. You may contact her at sstanleigh@bia.ca.