“My New Year’s resolution is going to be the same one I made a year ago: find a new job. This time I’m serious. Plus, the economy is good and employers are looking for workers; it’s a workers’ market. Wages are also up so I should be able to expect more pay in the new job. What do I need to do to be successful?”

These words, written to a newspaper columnist who specializes in advice for job seekers, illustrate how not to cope with a challenge. First of all, note the excuse for last year’s failure: “I wasn’t serious last year.” Secondly, note how the writer focuses on external factors like the economy and having no advisor to explain his earlier failure, rather than focus on what he may have done wrong.

When failure occurs, effective coping requires correcting mistakes, not focusing on external factors. The former is under your control; the latter is not. Any athletic coach understands this principle. After a loss, coaches say, “We’ve got to correct our mistakes, and that’s what we’ll be concentrating on in practice. We can execute better if we work hard.”

The coach does not say, “We need to petition the league for better refs, and make sure we don’t get that crew again! I’m also bringing in a new morale coach so we can be in a better frame of mind before our next game.”

We’ll never know, of course, but I would not bet the farm that our letter writer is not going to have more success this year than last. He’s got a lousy strategy based on chance factors and reliance on someone to take care of him.

One recent Christmas holiday an acquaintance was bemoaning the fact that her gym would soon see hordes of “resolutions nuts” descending upon her and other gym regulars. “These jokers don’t know the first thing about gym etiquette and they’re just a royal pain. The only good thing is that by the end of February most of them will be gone. They dump those resolutions in a hurry.”

Bingo! Resolutions don’t last. That just about says it all. The fact is, resolutions like those made for the new year are a lousy way to cope with things bothering you, whether it’s being too heavy, smoking, lack of exercise, being inattentive to family, etc., etc., etc.

Why don’t resolutions work? For one thing, the very fact that you pick a specific date to begin your transformation into a better person shows that you are procrastinating, and are really not motivated. Picking a date is artificial and just means you’re kicking the can down the road.

Another problem is that many folks use resolutions to motivate themselves. Well, that’s just putting the cart before the horse. Resolutions must be the result of motivation to do something, not the catalyst for generating motivation.

If that’s not enough, resolutions are also usually unrealistic. You make grandiose, unattainable resolutions (“be able to run a marathon by Spring,” “lose 30 lbs. by February,”) and you also believe that you’re going to be involved in reinventing yourself, creating a new you. That’s unrealistic thinking.

To have any chance of success, a resolution must involve specific goals involving specific actions: “I will eat a piece of fruit, an apple or a pear, for lunch instead of a sandwich.” “I will do a workout at the gym 3 days a week.” “I will walk my neighborhood (or my treadmill) for 30 minutes every day.” “Every Monday I will weigh less than, or at least the same as, the previous Monday.”

If you want to change something about yourself, don’t wait until some future date to begin; start now. It’s important to remember that there is often a huge disconnect between “will” and “want.” You may indeed “want” to change your behavior, but you can’t quite muster the “will” to make a step towards that new end. Many problems like smoking, weight loss, exercise, and getting in shape all fit this distinction.

So, how do you begin your attack on such actions? First of all, you must connect your resolution to a specific motivator: “Warm weather will be here soon and I want to be able to look decent at the pool”; “That wedding I’m in is only a few weeks away and I need to look sharp”; “The boss invited me to join in a jog last week and I nearly died of exhaustion. That’s no way to get a promotion. I have to be able to keep up.”

Second, your resolution must involve your values as well as your actions. Specifically, you must engage in values-oriented thinking and make your actions consistent with that thinking.

The following examples show the disconnect between values and actions that gets you into trouble: you put off investigating diets (an action) that may work for you even though you say, “I care about my health” (your value); you put off joining a gym (an action) even though you say, “I want to get in shape” (your value); you put off spending more time with your kids and spouse (an action), even though you say,  “I value family” (your value); you put off signing up for a course at the local community college (an action), even though you say, “I want to become more educated” (your value). Well, if you truly value those things, then you must admit to yourself that your actions are inconsistent with those values, and you must work to correct that problem.

A key to successful resolutions is to use them to connect actions and values. Identify those things that you really value, the things that are important to you. Then resolve to coordinate those things you value with specific actions that are compatible with those values.

Once you identify constructive actions and begin engaging in them, they will tend to become a part of your routine; they will become automatic and it won’t take much effort to maintain them, making your resolutions successful. And in the future, definitely resolve not to wait until January 1st to put them into action!

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