How to Keep New Year’s Resolutions Using Project Management

If you are like 50% of Americans, you must have made your New Year’s resolutions recently. And if you are one of those “new-year-resolute” folks, then you could use some help right now: over 40% of new year’s resolutions do not survive past one month.

Indeed, one of the definitions of the NYRs is “A To-Do list for January.”

There are several reasons for the high failure rate, the most common ones are the following:

  • Too many NYRs. Having too many objectives does not allow you to focus properly on any of them.
  • NYRs are unrealistic or vague; you realize that you will not be able to achieve them, or your progress cannot be monitored, and that demotivates you.
  • Your willpower is not as strong as you would like it to be.

The last reason is aggravated by the notion that willpower is a limited resource, and therefore “ego depletion” is inevitable if too much mental and emotional energy has been spent elsewhere (e.g.: at work). Today, there is enough evidence that this theory does not hold water, but the comforting explanation it provides in many situations (e.g.: devouring “comfort food” and screaming at your spouse being the leading examples) encourages quite a few individuals to support it. It is possible that they just fail to deliver on their NYRs and therefore need a scientific excuse. However, if you are reading this, that is not your case, and you are looking for ways to ensure that your progress towards the noble goals shaped as NYRs.

Here are some practical suggestions that will help you improve the New Year’s Resolutions stats.

First of all, consider dropping the “New Year” part. As one scholar put it, NYRs are a form of “cultural procrastination.” A long time ago, people used to make yearly commitments to their gods, but that is hardly your main driver. As the vast majority of the NYRs are related to self-improvement or health, consider this as an ongoing personal improvement project that you are responsible for, and therefore creative application of advanced PM 2.0 approach will help you on the way.

1.      Being a good PM, do the due diligence, ask yourself one fundamental question: “Is this project a good investment?” Your answer must be a resounding ‘Yes!’ with a confidence score of at least 8/10. If not, then you should kill the project. Be honest with yourself: do not pretend to do something useful when you know it is not.

2.      With the ‘Yes!’ in place, take the time to specify your project goal. Using the most popular self-improvement NYR – and often the vaguest one – ‘fitness’, you will have to decide what exactly is your goal: your overall health, body weight, looks or physical fitness. I’ve done this exercise with quite a few clients, and they realized that those are different goals, albeit related. If your answer is “All of the above,” then we are back to square one: multiple goals lead to failed NYRs.

3.      Having the clear goal established in your mental Project Charter, you will now be able to build a list of meaningful personal project objectives. The ‘overall health’ goal will probably call for some organizational changes in your life, and buying a stationary bike will have little or nothing to do with it. Likewise, if the goal is ‘be more organized’, do not rush to buy a new iPad: keeping your desk clean is a more effective alternative.

4.     Plan to proceed in small steps: make your objectives achievable and sequential, with not too much space between them. They say, it takes 66 days to develop a new habit. Prepare yourself to be patient and do not get discouraged on the way to your next objective. But better – define milestones that will help you progress between the major objectives and put them on your list as well.

5.      Praise yourself for each achieved milestone and objective. Self-motivation helps to stay the course by boosting your willpower, and willpower is defined as a struggle between long-term expectations and short-term results. Although many psychology gurus argue that willpower is not something one can grow, you will be able to claim the opposite if you have your objectives thoughtfully planned and properly celebrated.

6.      When formulating your personal project goal, objectives, and milestones, state them in the ‘now’, i.e., “I am slim and healthy,” or “I eat healthy food only,” or “I speak French.” With the exception of perhaps “I do not smoke,” which has become a set expression, always use the affirmative form, i.e., “I read at least 30 minutes a day” is better than “Read more” which is better than “Do not watch stupid TV shows.” This has a subtle but very powerful effect on your subconscious mind.

7.      Start a journal, or a diary. It will help you to stay more mindful and thus improve your chances to succeed regardless of your NYR (or even lack of one). All great men keep journals; and if written well, your journal could make you immortal, too!

Finally, if just getting good health and immortality is not enough for you, and your overarching objective is to really become a Better Person, find yourself a coach. I have just closed ‘the first wave’ of the online Weight Management Project, with several outstanding individuals, and they admit that achieving the results with a coach was more efficient than doing it alone. And it is definitely more efficient than waiting for the next New Year in order to try again.

Is you experience with NYRs more encouraging? Share your comments below and feel free to contact or connect if you need help with your NYRs.

Published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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