Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to Keep (For Real) Your Professional New Year’s Resolutions

The standard tale of the unfulfilled new year’s resolution—an ambitious goal that one articulates, commits to, and promptly abandons—has become a cultural cliché in our society. In fact, many fitness professionals joke that January is the busiest month of the year at the gym, whereas February usually brings a normal volume of customers. Regardless of the area in which we see room for self-improvement, thinking of a new year’s resolution is one thing; actually following through is another.

What is true of personal goals is equally true of professional ones—setting a work-related resolution is easy, but actually fulfilling our ambitions requires commitment, perseverance, and consistency.

Friends and colleagues can hold you accountable.

“Will power” needn’t merely be a matter of individual steel and grit; you can enlist the help of others
to hold you accountable for your commitments. If your goal is to keep yourself in better physical shape this year, try joining a running group or scheduling exercise sessions with a friend. If you have particular professional ambitions—such as finishing a project ahead of a fixed deadline—announce them to your colleagues, staff, and anyone else who will listen. Although most people won’t go out of their way to remind you of your shortcomings, the desire to avoid the shame of breaking a public promise can be a powerful motivator.

Set manageable targets.

If you have an ambitious, long-term goal, you may find yourself daunted by the thought of what you need to do in order to reach the finish line, and the massive amount of effort and commitment involved. Instead of approaching a challenge this way, you may instead find it helpful to identify intermediate landmarks.

For instance, if your office is disorganized and you’d like to rectify that, don’t allow the scariness of tidying up an entire room to overwhelm you; aim to keep a corner of your desk clear of clutter, then another corner, etc.

Create a roadmap for yourself, including a clear understanding of the process involved in reaching your final goal, and reward yourself as you surpass each milestone. Of course, you can expect that some days will be easier than others, but remember that even slight progress toward your desired outcome is better than none.

Foster new habits.

As human beings, we all tend to be creatures of habit. This partly explains why committing to a new year’s resolution is so difficult; unless we continue a particular activity long enough to cultivate a new habit, we easily slip back into familiar, comfortable patterns of behaviour. Our habits are like molds that shape our personal characteristics and abilities, and it takes time and dedication to restructure those molds. But fortunately, it can be done.

In the quest to develop new habits, planning and intentionality are valuable allies. Establish your intentions, write them down, and commit them to memory. To help manage your time, set temporal boundaries for yourself—for instance, “I will check my e-mail inbox at 11:00 a.m., but no sooner, and I will finish with that task by 11:20.” Personally, I find it helpful to work in segments of 20-30 minutes, and time myself with a stopwatch.

Don’t let a slight shortfall deter you.

Even after an honest effort, you may find that you’ve fallen short of your new year’s resolution. But don’t let that disappointment dissuade you from setting ambitious goals and pursuing the professional success you desire. Even if you don’t quite attain your goals this time, you will learn valuable lessons that will help you in your next attempt.

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