New Year’s resolutions: Most of us make them; most of us fail to keep them.
Why do we fail?
Usually, we resolve to do something amazing: Run a marathon. Mentor 20 kids. Go on a mission trip. Lose 40 pounds. Read—not just skim, not just breeze through, but really read and study the Bible.
Sounds great, right? In fact, you can almost see yourself achieving that goal. You’re so excited, you tell your family and friends about your goal.
And that’s the problem, as I learned when I was researching my book, The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.
According to studies, people who talk about their goals are much less likely to follow through on those goals.
Say you want to create a summer program for kids. You’re having dinner with friends, and you tell them about it.
“Oh, wow!” one exclaims. “That sounds amazing. But won’t it be really hard?”
“Yes, it will,” you say, trying to conceal your pride, and you share what you know about developing a curriculum, finding volunteers, creating meaningful moments for the kids and how rewarding it will be.
As you talk, you’re having fun. It feels awesome to bask in the glow of people who admire you for wanting to take on such a huge challenge.
It feels like you’re already working with the kids.
It also means you’re less likely to actually be working with the kids, because according to the researchers, “When other people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioral intention, this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the aspired-to identity.”
In short, you already got a kick out of people thinking of you as a person who launched a summer program… so now you’re less motivated to actually launch that program.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? Aren’t we supposed to share our intentions so other people can help support and motivate us?
According to NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, one of the authors of the study, that’s not the case.
Gollwitzer thinks the issue lies in our sense of identity. Each of us wants to be certain things, and we naturally declare those intentions, even if we have not yet become those things. (Check out Twitter bios if you don’t believe me—you’ll find plenty of people whose profiles are aspirational, not actual.)
Describing how I plan to run a marathon, and how I bought running shoes and joined a gym and created a training plan, certainly makes me feel good, but it also makes me feel like I’m already part of the way there … even though I haven’t trained at all.
Declaring what we want to be and how we will get there causes us to somehow feel we are farther along the path of becoming who we want to be, and therefore less motivated … even though we’ve actually done nothing but talk.
This year, try something new. Pick a goal. Then create a plan to achieve it.
And if you feel you need peer pressure to keep you on track, fine: Tell people your plan. Say what you will do this week, next week and the week after. Have people hold you accountable not to your goal, but to your plan.
That’s why I end my book this way: “Don’t tell me your goals. Don’t tell me your dreams. Tell me your plan.”
How do you create a plan? I provide a number of strategies in my book. One is to “Do What the Pros Do.” Another is to “Work Your Number.” Another is to “Do More by Doing Less.” But ultimately creating a plan is relatively simple; determine your goal and then lay out the steps required to achieve that goal. Not the steps you want to take or will enjoy taking—but the steps that will guarantee your success.
As long as you work your plan. When you do, when you keep your head down and stick to your plan and tick off the boxes day after day after day … one day you will look up and realize just how far you’ve come.
Your dreams are important, but your plan is what will allow you to achieve your goals, and live out your dreams.
Editor’s note: This piece has been excerpted from Jeff Haden’s book, The Motivation Myth:How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win. Used with permission.