Photo by Solange Gaymard
My last post looked at 3 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail. Now I’ll look at how you can keep yours. I’ll start by reviewing my progress on the three New Year’s Resolutions I posted on this blog last year.
I had noticed that my blog was proving increasingly useful as a coaching tool, and wanted to develop my blogging style so that it was closer to my style of coaching. Part of this involved blogging more of the stories, ideas and examples I share with clients in sessions, and part of it involved developing the conversational aspect of the blog and making more use of questions.
I definitely think I’ve succeeded in the first respect, in posts such as 7 Ways to Stop Worrying When You’re Under Pressure, What Amadeus Shows Us About Creativity, my mini-series on Giving Feedback on Creative Work, and especially in my e-book about Time Management for Creative People. The fact that the e-book has been downloaded 25,000 times in a month tells me that I’m providing something valuable for my audience.
I also think I’ve made progress in developing the blog as a conversation and using questions to stimulate readers’ creativity – although I think I can do a lot more in this respect. I’ve certainly had some great conversations on this blog and elsewhere, and I’ve started to make more use of questions in posts such as What’s the Difference Between Incubation and Procrastination? and Should Artists Give the Audience What They Want?. So I’ve made a good start but think I can take this further – look out for more question-based posts this year!
Having finished my MA the previous autumn, I resolved to reclaim some of my writing time for poetry. I’m pleased to say I managed to do this, even amid the pressure of so much work-related writing (this blog, training manuals, client proposals etc). My success was largely down to joining Mimi Khalvati‘s advanced workshop at the Poetry School. As well as the terrific feedback and encouragement I’ve received from Mimi and the rest of the class, the fact that I committed to bringing poems to the workshop gave me an extra incentive to actually write some. The class has definitely helped me improve my poems, which in turn makes it more enjoyable, reinforcing my motivation to write more.
Again, I can do more in this area, and I’m hoping to find more time for writing poetry this year, but I’m really pleased I got back into the poetic groove in 2007.
After spending two years doing the MA and one year writing this blog, my gym membership was a distant memory and I was seriously in need of exercise. But instead of rejoining the gym, Mrs WT and I enrolled at Meridian Aikido dojo. Aikido was something I’d been curious about for years, so I was really excited about it and wanted to establish a regular routine of practising some of the basic movements as well as attending classes.
With the exception of a hiatus in the summer I managed to do this, to the point where most weekdays I would spend a few minutes practising some of the basic movements and ki exercises. The summer break was a lesson to me – once classes finished for the summer, I made up my mind to attend a summer course to keep up the momentum. Unfortunately I was in the middle of a concentrated burst of writing course material – I felt ‘too busy’ and not only stopped classes but got out of the habit of doing my daily exercises. After too many days hunched over the laptop my shoulders seized up, requiring several trips to the chiropractor and a regime of daily yoga and aikido practice to relieve the pain.
It was a relief when the autumn classes started and I got back to more vigorous practice. I also started going to the gym again and I’m finding it a surprisingly welcome late afternoon break after a day spent at the laptop or in meetings. I now want to attend more than one aikido class a week, so the next challenge is to find the time to fit it in…
Looking back over 2007, it feels great to have got back into regular exercise and I hope the summer hiatus was a lesson well learned!
So how can you make sure you keep your resolutions?
Here are the principles I used to keep my resolutions in 2007, and which I’ll be using for my new resolution in 2008. As well as using them for your own resolutions, you may find it useful to keep them in mind any time you are planning a project or setting yourself a new goal.
1. Find something you want to do
This one might seem obvious, but as we saw in my previous post, we often think of resolutions in terms of what we don’t want – i.e. enjoyable things we ‘should’ give up, or unpleasant things we ‘should’ do. It will be far easier to motivate yourself if you focus on something you actively enjoy doing.
All three of my resolutions were based on things I really enjoy – blogging, coaching, writing poetry and aikido. To take the last one as an example – after all those months of studying, I was arguably more in need of a gym than an aikido dojo, but it turned out that aikido was the perfect way to get me back into an exercise routine. It’s not the most physically demanding form of exercise, but I enjoyed it so much I looked forward to the weekly classes and hardly missed any. That got me back into ‘exercise mode’ and after a certain point it was fairly easy to pick up the gym routine again.
Even if you don’t particularly enjoy the whole activity, look for the bits you do like. E.g. in the gym I enjoy doing weights but can get bored doing cardio, so if I’m trying to get started again I might ‘treat’ myself to a few sessions of weights-only.
Focusing on what you enjoy is particularly important if your resolution involves your creative work. As I said in my post about Amadeus and creativity, intrinsic motivation (i.e. enjoyment of the work itself) is highly correlated with creativity – so if you want creative success, you’d better enjoy yourself!
What’s the most enjoyable part of your resolution? How can you keep that at the front of your mind?
2. Focus on What’s In It For You
Not every resolution is based on things you enjoy doing. The actual business of resisting the urge to smoke, running on a treadmill for the first time in months, or going through the fear barrier of a new challenge can be pretty unpleasant. It’s vital that you find a positive focus to motivate yourself in these cases – by asking ‘What’s in it for me?’
For example, I can have the best accounting software in the world but the actual business of entering invoices and receipts is never going to be high on my list of favourite activities. But if I ask ‘What’s in it for me?’ to get this tedious job done, then I find there’s quite a lot – peace of mind, freeing my attention up for other activities, knowing exactly what I can budget for and make decisions.
If you’re faced with a tedious or unpleasant task, imagine what it will be like once you have finished it and can start enjoying the benefits. Take a moment to register the positive feeling (relief, pleasure, etc). Then remind yourself that every action you take on the task brings you one step closer to that feeling.
3. Aim low and overachieve
In an ideal world it might be great if you went to the gym 5 days a week. But if you make that your resolution then how are you going to feel the week where you’re so busy you only manage 4 visits? It’s amazing how we can sometimes demotivate ourselves by setting our sights too high.
Supposing you resolve to go twice a week and anything else is a bonus? It might not sound so impressive to start with, but once you’ve done a couple of gym sessions, the chances are you’ll be on a roll and feel like doing more.
I certainly don’t recommend ‘aiming low’ for all goal-setting – but remember, the point of a resolution is to get you to do something different. It’s much better to make a small resolution that leads to action than to formulate a grandiose plan that never happens.
With my poetry writing resolution, I knew that realistically I wouldn’t have as much time as I really wanted, but committing to write a few poems each term helped me to actually get some writing done.
What’s the smallest commitment you can make, which virtually guarantees you will do something?
4. Anticipate and avoid obstacles
We can all be ambitious on Day One of a resolution, but there are plenty of pitfalls lying in wait. Faced with getting out of bed on a freezing winter morning, going the extra mile to the gym after a hard day at work, or having that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding, you’re only human if you’re tempted to take the easy way out. But if you’ve already anticipated the pitfall and worked out a way round it, your chances of success will be much higher.
Being ‘too busy’ is a recurrent pitfall for me. So one of my criteria for picking an aikido dojo was that it had to be within walking distance of my flat, minimising the chances of it being ‘too late’ for me to get to the class after work.
What obstacles will you face in keeping your resolution? What can you do to avoid them?
5. Make a public commitment
After posting my resolutions on this blog I’d feel pretty silly (and pretty inept as a coach) if I didn’t keep them. Funnily enough, I still feel like that even though those of you who read them last year have probably forgotten them long ago. There’s something about making a public commitment that makes us keep it.
One of my first posts on this blog was about Anthony Trollope, who paid one of his manservants to wake him with coffee at 5.30 am so that he could write his novels before breakfast. That strikes me as a very clever way of setting things up. He was obviously committed to writing the best novels he could – but I don’t think that was the main thought in his mind when he woke up in a warm bed in December, with the old man standing over him. If he were alone, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to turn over for ‘five more minutes’ – but there was no way he wanted to lose face in front of his servant. So he got up. And got the novels written.
Sadly I don’t have an elderly manservant to bring me coffee in bed, but the same principle applied to my resolutions. Having told you about my ambitions for the blog, I’d have felt a fraud if I didn’t make an effort to achieve them. Having promised to bring a poem to the class, I’d have been letting the side down if I turned up with excuses. Having signed up for the aikido class with my wife, there were a few evenings where she raised an eyebrow at the suggestion that I was ‘too busy’ to come to the class tonight… and off I went.
You don’t have to tell the world – but tell someone who counts. Someone who will remember, and notice whether you do it.
6. Do it with others
Last but definitely not least – hang around with other people who are doing the same thing. When you’re in a group of people with a common interest, it’s hard not to be infected by their enthusiasm, easy to sympathise with their difficulties, and very rewarding to help each other succeed. Once you’re with the group, you hardly have to worry about motivating yourself – as Mark Earls tells us, it’s the most natural thing in the world for human beings to be infected by the feelings of others and to start copying what they do. So choose your friends wisely.
All three of my resolutions – blogging, poetry and aikido – involved interacting with other people, giving each other encouragement, support, feedback and inspiration. Most of my friends are still baffled by the idea of blogging, but that’s OK, there are plenty of you out there who give me all the encouragement I need to keep writing Wishful Thinking. Most people I know have no interest in poetry, but as soon as I walked through the door at the Poetry School several years ago, I instantly felt at home – here were people just like me, as obsessed with poetry as I was, and writing to a disconcertingly high standard – could I keep up with them?
As for aikido – if you look at the picture at the top of this post, it might look as though I’m winning the fight. But if you look a little closer, you’ll notice that my ‘opponent’ is wearing the black hakama that signifies a black belt. And if the picture were in colour, you’d see that I’m wearing a lowly red belt, so the chances of me defeating a sensei like Huw Woodman would be pretty slim. In fact, the picture shows Huw very patiently teaching me how to execute a throw correctly, by allowing me to throw him over and over again while he gives me feedback on my technique. Huw’s patience and helpfulness is typical of the supportive atmosphere at Meridian Aikido, fostered by Tony Ecclestone sensei (looking on in the background). That atmosphere is what makes aikido one of the highlights of my week, and renders the concepts of ‘motivation’ and ‘willpower’ irrelevant in terms of keeping the resolution.
Whatever your resolution, if you can find a group of people with an attitude like that who all want to do the same thing, you won’t have to worry about keeping it.
Who else is trying to do what you want to do? How can you join in with them?
Edit January 2011: If you want some help keeping your New Year’s Resolution this year, check out my new coaching program The New Year’s Resolutionizer – available only until 31 January 2011.