One of the biggest points of failure in New Year’s resolutions is a lack of scaffolding. If you want to ensure lasting and positive change you have to structure the change in a manageable and reasonable way.
Photo by Foxtongue.
People consistently set themselves up for failure by focusing too strongly on the end-game and too little on the planning and progress stages of personal change. Scaffolding is a technique well known among educators and coaches but largely ignored elsewhere — especially when it comes to personal growth. When a teacher structures lessons so that they move the student from being dependent on the teacher for help to being an independent learner they are scaffolding the student’s growth — ensuring they continue to succeed and have greater sense of accomplishment without just throwing them in front of a difficult task and saying, “Figure it out.”
The “Figure it out” approach is the approach most people use with themselves, however. Across the world millions of people made vague and difficult to achieve New Year’s resolutions last week. People resolved to lose weight, quit smoking, be a better parent, have a better work/life balance, get out of debt, get organised and so on. The vast majority of those people will approach the resolution with the best intention and within a matter of months — if not weeks! — they will have abandoned their resolution or outright forgotten about it. This happens because the distance between one’s present state, whatever that state may be, and the future state that people dream of when they make a New Year’s resolution is a nearly impossible distance to cross without a map — a map you can build by reading the following guide and answering the questions in it.
Choose a Concrete Goal
What does being a better parent mean? Spending more time with your children when you get home from work? Making a bigger effort to listen to the things they say? Don’t settle for an abstract goal. “Be a better person” is the kind of New Year’s resolution shifty politician would make. Dig at your resolution until you find the meat inside. Photo by PhillipC.
What’s the Next Action?
- What do you have to do right now to start achieving your resolution?
- If you don’t know, where can you go to find out?
- What will you have to do next month? The month after that?
- Does your resolution have an end?
- What skills or behaviours will you be adopting from this point on?
If you can’t answer the first question “What do I have to do right now to start achieving my goal?” then you’ll never achieve it. For every one-in-a-million person that stumbles into fame, fortune or success, thousands of people get there by asking “How do I achieve this?” and getting to work. Photo by D Sharon Pruitt.
Make Your Resolution Open Ended
It might seem like psychological slight-of-hand but you’re way more likely to keep a resolution that focuses on a positive aspect of your life and gaining new skills than you are to keep one that focuses on how much you hate your beer gut and want it banished. Open-ended resolutions do not excuse you from adhering to the “Next Action” rule. Photo by extranoise.
Seek out a Support Network
Nobody is telling you to ditch your friends, mind you, but you need to be aware of what a support network looks like and what it doesn’t. If you want to lose weight, surround yourself with health-oriented people. If you want to be more frugal with your money, stop going out on the town with your $US10-a-drink-or-bust socialite friends. At the minimum be very conscious of how being around the people that encourage/embrace the negative habit you’re trying to stamp out makes you feel and impacts you. Seek out people that support positive change. Photo by Mike Baird.
Be Realistic and Be Kind
You’re not weak for setting a realistic goal instead of firing off a lofty and unattainable. Setting reasonable goals that you can achieve will reinforce your desire to continue to improve yourself.
If you were a teacher, you would never expect your students to be able to ace the final on the first day. If you were a coach you’d never expect your players to be ready for the championship game after the first week of practice. If a friend came to you and asked you to help them with the very same resolution you’re struggling with, you’d help them plan out a course of action and support them in undertaking. Yet most people don’t treat themselves with that degree of care by any measure.
You wouldn’t put a bat in first grader’s hands and say “Alright. Go hit a home run.” and you shouldn’t stare at yourself in the mirror and say “Get it together” as your only support for achieving your resolutions. Support and scaffold your own change like you would that of someone you cared about.
Have a bit of advice, tip or trick for helping your fellow readers have New Year’s Resolution success in 2010? Let’s hear about it in the comments.