Raising the Odds on Hitting Important Goals


Some thousand people making New Years Resolutions agreed to share their experience with Professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire in England. Over half were confident at the beginning that they’d succeed. That tells you something already, no? Half weren’t confident from the outset. What percentage do you think made it through the year? I bet you’re not surprised that it was only twelve per cent. But here’s the amazing part – as I write this, on Monday, January 17th: over half had busted their resolutions within two weeks.

Maybe you’re thinking, “thanks for the upbeat news, man!” Or maybe, like me, you never put much stock in resolutions. So, here are two alternatives for those for whom resolutions don’t do much good.

Alternative 1: Follow the data on resolution-achievement. Of those who were successful, five variables stood out as enhancers: (1) break it into small pieces, (2) tell people about it, (3) reward yourself for small wins, (4) focus on and remind yourself of the benefits, and (5) journal or chart progress. I suspect that this is as true for teams in pursuit of goals as it is for individuals. My bias is to focus on (4): be very clear and specific about what the end result is – which will make it worth the sacrifices required.  (Curious point: Wiseman found that women had a 10% better chance for success when they told others; men had a 22% better chance when they broke their goals down specifically. The success rate went up to about 50% when people pursued all five strategies.

Alternative 2: Pursue daily strategies.  Florine Mark knows about as much as anyone about weight loss, as she’s been the largest franchise owner of Weight Watchers. She rejects resolutions, telling me on my show that “they set you up for failure.” Florine’s system of course focuses on some of what Wiseman has described: the weigh-ins, points, and group involvement all relate to the factors he’s isolated. But Florine also has a remarkable practice that she’s described in her well-titled book, Talk to the Mirror.

Florine simply (?) tells herself every morning, “Florine, this is going to be a great day.” She talks to herself about what she wants to be like and to get done: e.g., to be forgiving, forgetting the negatives, contributing to community. If she’s feeling unbelieving, she’ll talk back to herself and continue the discussion until she’s ready to take on the world. What amazes me about Florine’s story is that she lived this practice in the two years that her husband was getting disabled by Lou Gehrig’s disease. She had all kinds of reason to feel self-piteous, slack off her practice, or otherwise fall short. But her daily practice sustained her and helped her give joy to her husband. With no recovery possible – no long-term achievable goal – her morning practice gave her strength, purpose, and yes, even joy.

If it feels too awkward to be talking in the mirror, why not write to yourself this morning. “My friend, this is going to be a great day. I expect to accomplish . . . I will bring . . . to those I meet.” As Florine and some brilliant philsophers and psychologists have clearly argued, we are what we think!  Think those things that will allow you to

Lead with your best self!


  • Thank you Dan.

    Florine’s practice reminds me a bit of Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World. It also reminds me of a Twitter Chat in which I participated recently about Appreciative Inquiry, during which we discussed the notion that “language does not describe reality, it creates it.”

    We have far more power than we often are willing to acknowledge!

    With gratitude for your weekly insights.


  • The second method reminds me of Al Franken’s old Saturday Night Live bit about positive thinking, but you can’t argue with success so if that works for Florine good for her.

    It has been my experience that failure to properly plan on how to acheive a goal is where most managers fail. As you discuss, making a resolution just means you’ve identified the problem. Usually a problem which didn’t suddenly develop on December 31 and on January 1, you realize that you need to do something immediately. Whether it’s losing a few pounds, increasing revenues or improving operational efficiency. Think about what you want to acheive first, plan how you are going to get there and how will you makes sure you are on the right track second and lastly when you have all those ideas in place, implement. Jumping from the first to last may make you feel very decisive, but it will also almost always result in failure to acheive your goal.

  • Failure and sucess can be programmed into a person. THe child who is told they are inferior will in so many times end up being inferior. This is Martin Luther King day. So I think the message you present is well suited to MLK Day, and his memory. Today is going to be a great day. I am somebody.

  • Self-hypnosis! I like it! Good for those dark, dreary January days when positive self-talk is challenging because one can’t remember what a positive thought looks like, much less how to create one. I suppose a lot of Michiganders are in that place right now. Maybe it gets one to possibility thinking. Like, there’s a lot of things I can’t control, but here’s something I can do, and that might, just might, get me to a better place. For example, I can’t cure my husband’s ALS (or in my case, bring him back to life) but I can bring acceptance, light and joy and hope to those I meet today. I can’t control the economy, but I can spend some time learning to be a more effective jobseeker. I can’t get anywhere better sitting on the couch watching TV or playing video games, but I can… help my neighbor by shoveling the walk, volunteer at my favorite nonprofit, visit someone lonesome at a nursing home, write to a soldier… Possibilities!

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