The science behind New Year's Resolutions
Even though the new year can be exciting and full of possibility, it can also be pretty stressful. You might be saying things like, "Why don't any of my pants fit?" or "How am I still in this horrible job?"
Enter the New Year's resolution. About 45 percent of Americans make them. We imagine ourselves in that new job or smaller pants size. It's exhilarating.
The good news: A Journal of Clinical Psychology study found that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behavior than those who don't.
The bad news: Short-term urges can trump long-term plans. Another Journal of Clinical Psychology study reports that 54 percent give up on their resolutions within six months -- and only eight percent ultimately succeed by the end of the year.
So each year, why are we writing proverbial checks we can't cash? A few answers have emerged from scientific research on the topic.
Read related articles on Business Review USA
- 13 traits of successful businesswomen
- Why your business needs an employee wellness scheme
- Doing aerobic activity or just kidding yourself?
Two types of resolutions that will always fail
"Pie In the sky" resolutions
Even though making a resolution is thrilling, keeping it isn't easy. Many people aren't ready to make the serious commitment needed to succeed.
In my new book, Happy People, Bottom-Line Results and the Power to Deliver Both, I talk about a workplace phenomenon that I call Delusional Development. Delusional Development is the futile hope that you will get better at something just because you want to. For example, a manager might say she wants to improve her listening skills, not do anything substantive to change that, and then be surprised or disappointed when she isn't a better listener.
The same applies to your New Year's resolutions. When you say, "This year, I will lose 30 pounds," but have no real strategy to make it happen, the number on the scale simply isn't going to change. As the saying goes, hope is not a plan.
"All over the place" resolutions
Many people toss out a laundry list of resolutions every year. In 2014, you might decide, you're going to fix your finances, stop drinking beer and run a marathon! Hot dog!
Unfortunately, when we take on too much at once, our brain chemistry works against us. Successful resolutions require self-control - say, the self-control to wake up early and run five miles - and self-control is an exhaustible resource.
In one study, Baumeister and his colleagues divided participants into two groups - one completed a series of tasks requiring self-control, and the other completed tasks that didn't. Then, the researchers measured their blood glucose levels. Glucose is best thought of as fuel for the brain - when it metabolizes in the bloodstream, the brain can carry out its major functions. In Baumeister's study, not only did the self-control group show lower glucose levels, low glucose levels led to poorer self-control.
So, in a nutshell, having too many New Year's resolutions is a prescription for not keeping any of them.
Plan to achieve your goals in 2014
Three ways to keep your 2014 New Year's resolutions
1. Work on one thing at a time
We live in a society where more is better. But when it comes to goals, less is usually more. Another example: In business, even though 64 percent of executives believe they have too many priorities, companies with fewer priorities show more growth.
So take a page from the late, great Stephen Covey and put first things first. Instead of picking four resolutions that you'll abandon, choose one that will give you the biggest payoff. This doesn't mean you can't work on more than one resolution per year, it just means you shouldn't focus on more than one at a time.
2. Translate your resolution into specific behaviors
Keeping resolutions usually means replacing old, bad habits with new, better ones. People who successfully change their habits achieve something called "habitual automaticity" - performing the new habit without having to think about it.
In one study, researchers tried to improve participants' dental habits. All participants were told to floss more, given floss, and shown how to use it. Participants who planned exactly when and where they would floss were more successful at changing their habits than those who didn't.
So, break your resolution into specific behaviors and put them on a timetable. For example, to get to the gym on weekends instead of lounging around drinking mimosas in your pajamas, join a gym and schedule time on your calendar. Before you know it, you'll be going without even thinking about it.
3. Practice every day
As shown by K. Anders Ericsson and Daniel Coyle, daily practice allows people with average talent to achieve extraordinary things. The best marathon runners, for example, don't show physiological differences in lung capacity or muscle. The difference lies in how much each runner trains in the weeks leading up to the marathon.
For your resolutions, the amount and quality of daily practice you choose will be proportionate to the level of improvement you will see. Period. So if you're not working every day to, for example, curb your smoking habit, you won't get long-term traction.
So in 2014, keep things focused. Pick one resolution at a time. Make it specific and real. Practice it every day. And every day, you'll be one step closer to making your resolution a reality. Good luck, and here's to a prosperous 2014!
About the author
A proud leadership geek, executive coach, speaker, contributor to Huffington Post, and author, Dr. Eurich is the author of the new book, Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both. She also helps organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams. Dr. Eurich passionately pairs her scientific grounding in human behavior with a practical approach to solving some of today’s most common leadership challenges. Her decade-long career has spanned roles as an external consultant and a direct report to both CEOs and human resources executives. The majority of Dr. Eurich’s work has been with executives in large Fortune 500 organizations, including CH2M HILL, Xcel Energy, Western Union, IHS, Destination Hotels and Resorts, Newmont Mining, Centura Health, CoBiz Financial, the City of Cincinnati, and HCA.
With an M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Colorado State University and B.A.s in Theater and Psychology from Middlebury College, she serves on the faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership. She has served as an adjunct faculty member in Colorado State University’s Psychology and Business Schools. She is also a popular guest speaker at the University of Denver and Colorado State University’s Executive MBA programs.
She has been featured in The New York Times and Forbes and she has published articles in Chief Learning Officer Magazine, The Journal of Business and Psychology among many others. In 2013, Dr. Eurich was honored as one of Denver Business Journal’s “40 under 40” rising stars in business.
A true renaissance woman, Dr. Eurich enjoys cycling, traveling, theater, and fashion. A resident of Denver, Colorado, she is married to a wonderful man, and has three dogs.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.