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Hope springs eternal at the beginning of each year. We look back on the past year and decide the new year will be better, and this is a good thing. However, research in the area of the New Year resolution shows that because we often form our resolutions during the holidays, a time when we are not hurried by work and other social pressures, our resolutions are often doomed from the start. This goal-setting is done in a vacuum, away from the daily grind, and may not be based entirely in reality. Our resolutions, however well-intentioned, may be a little big, even grandiose. When we get into the New Year, we are immediately faced with urgency issues we left behind when the holiday started, and our resolutions quickly fade away. Another factor that tends to doom these resolutions is that they are set for the future. It’s a lot easier to plan than it is “to do”.
So what is Stephen Covey’s philosophy on New Years resolutions? In Habit 1, the habit of proactivity, Covey introduces us to the concept of the “Circle of Influence”, or the model that shows we can choose to focus on those things over which we have influence, rather than those things that are outside our control. Covey states that at the very heart of our Circle of Influence is our ability to make and keep promises to ourselves and to others and that by doing that carefully, with baby steps, we can slowly strengthen our “proactive muscle”. As we make and keep promises – as we set and achieve goals – we begin to build character and integrity. Eventually, our honor becomes greater than our moods, and we can expand our goals and achieve true personal growth.
The secret, according to Covey is to start very small and simple. Set a small goal and work on it weekly. Enlist the help of an accountability partner – someone you are close to who can help you, check up on your progress, and help you get back on the wagon when you fall off. Try to develop a specific action plan that will help you achieve your goal, and again, make these actions simple and well-defined.
Covey also emphasizes that these new resolutions or goals should come from extensive introspective study and ideally, from a well-formed mission statement. Covey demonstrates this through the example of the classic weight-loss resolution. If one has set a goal to lose weight so they look better and can fit into a smaller size dress before a social event, this goal is doomed for failure because the driving force is not coming from within but rather from social forces. But if one develops a goal to reduce weight as part of an integrated plan to live a healthier life, this inside looking out approach is likely to result in goal accomplishment.
Try a new approach to New Year resolutions. Follow Dr. Covey’s recommendations and see if they don’t help you change for the better. Here’s to making promises and keeping them in 2014! Happy New Year!