Inspiration and Motivation

Making Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, a significant slice of the population resolves to change something about themselves, their behavior, or their circumstances. Every year, a significant percentage of those resolvers fail.

The actual success rate of New Year’s resolutions varies according to research, but the reported failure rate is commonly quite high. One of the underlying reasons for this high failure rate is the very nature of a resolution.

A resolution is simply a decision to act. By itself, in a vacuum, an isolated resolution doesn’t mean much. It doesn’t have much power. It isn’t tied to our greater purpose or driven by our guiding vision or major motivation.

Managing the Motivation Gap between Aspirations and Expectations

We all have aspirations. We may aim high, low, or somewhere in between, but we all have some hope of achieving something. Our desires may not always be well formed or clearly stated goals, but we have them.

We also have expectations regarding our ability to achieve our desires. Expectations, like aspirations, range from low to high.

Advice about how high we should set our expectations varies, too.

“High expectations,” said Walmart founder Sam Walton, “are the key to everything.”

When Winners Quit and Quitters Prosper

Back when Warren Buffett’s net worth was a mere $10,000, he sank 20 percent of it into a Sinclair service station in Omaha. Unfortunately, it was across the street from a well-established Texaco station with very loyal customers, and Buffett’s station simply could not compete.

Bill Gates’ and Paul Allen’s first entrepreneurial collaboration was a machine that automated vehicle traffic data collection. It worked, and they attracted some paying municipal clients. Soon, though, states began freely providing their traffic data to local governments, obliterating the now-famous duo’s business model.

Mark Cuban once had the idea that since powdered milk was cheaper by the gallon than regular milk – and, in his opinion, tasted just as good – it would be a booming business and his big break. It wasn’t.

Late Bloomers, Experimental Innovators, and Ulyssean Adults

During the Great Depression, a struggling Irish Catholic family living in Brooklyn decided to return to Ireland in hopes of improving their financial situation.

The alcoholic father could not find steady work in Dublin or Belfast, however, so the family ended up in a slum in Limerick, where the parents and four children all shared a single bed.

Before the family left Brooklyn, one of the children (a baby girl) died a few weeks after birth. Two more children (twin boys) would die in early childhood in the slums of Limerick, and two more boys would be born there. Another boy, Frank, nearly died of typhoid fever in adolescence.

How to Have a Hopeful New Year

January is in the books.

Most people, however, would still consider this the “new year.” Yet, most people have likely already broken one or more of their New Year’s resolutions.

The good news, though, is that even if many people fail at maintaining them over time, New Year’s resolutions have still been shown to be quite successful for helping people resolve problem behaviors without professional treatment.[1]

One study showed that 77 percent of resolvers maintained their behavioral commitments for one week, 55 percent for one month, and 40 percent for six months.[2]

So, what causes the unsuccessful resolvers to derail, while so many others can persist and see their resolutions through?

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