I have good news and I have bad news.
First the bad news. We’ve all heard the depressing statistics surrounding New Year’s resolutions. According to research by the University of Scranton published online at statisticbrain.com (great website, by the way), while nearly 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent actually achieve their goals. You can easily research online why so many of us fizzle in our resolve, so I won’t dedicate this column on the what-not-to-do angle. Instead I’ll offer a few tips on how to increase our chances for success with work-related resolutions, and offer a single, simple suggestion that I think every business owner — in fact, everyone — should focus on in 2016.
So here’s the good news. According to an article by Forbes.com contributor Dan Diamond, new research on brain function is revealing why we gravitate to setting New Year’s resolutions and, more important, how we can keep them. Diamond offers four practical tips for setting achievable resolutions:
Keep it simple: Essentially, shooting for the moon can be so psychologically daunting, you end up failing to launch in the first place.
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Make it tangible: Goals should be bounded by rational, achievable metrics.
Make it obvious: Experts recommend charting your goals in some fashion. For some, making a clear to-do list is enough of a reminder.
Keep believing you can do it: The researchers found that people “performed better or worse [on tests] depending on their belief in the durability of willpower.”
With Diamond’s suggestions in mind, I’d like to offer a single, simple suggestion for a business/work-related resolution that I hope all of my readers will resolve to keep in 2016: If you’re a business owner, discern the purpose of your business beyond profit. If you’re not a business owner, discern the purpose of your work beyond income. In either case, take time this New Year to connect with why you do what you do in terms of the value you create through your work for others, and resolve to allow that higher purpose to guide your efforts at work.
I know that in business, we are taught to focus on the more pragmatic “what” as well as the most basic elements of the “how” we do what we do so that we can maximize efficiency and increase shareholder wealth or income. But despite what we may think or have been told, that’s only part of the equation for achieving ultimate success. Having a purpose deals with the “why” behind it all … beyond the profit.
Remarkably, this is where most people — even major corporations — get stuck. This concept is so simple that even a child can understand it, yet it eludes the best and brightest among us, the so called “experts” who over the years have led Corporate America away from a “value-based” system to a “what’s-in-it-for-me” system, which, as we saw in the sub-prime mortgage debacle of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed, is simply an unsustainable business model.
What we do and how we do it is huge, but why we do it is “huger” because out here in the business world — where most people feel like they’re drowning in a sea of ambiguity trying to get ahead and distinguish themselves from their competitors — the what and the how of business are difficult enough as it is. So difficult are they in fact, that they're why most people give up on their resolutions. The why, however, helps us navigate even the most turbulent waters on our journey toward, not only success, but a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment.
As the infamous 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote, “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how.’”
Happy New Year!