Turn 2019 around with these New Year's resolution hacks

by Steli Efti

“2019 is going to be different. I’m going to get into shape, I’m going to read more, and my sales team is going to have its best year ever!”

You’ve probably heard something like this before—everyone loves making New Year’s resolutions. But the truth is, year after year, almost everyone fails to complete them, and right now in February is typically when things start to unravel.

Whether it’s the guy who wants to bulk up and get into shape, or the sales manager looking to shatter old records, people see the New Year as a blank slate. They shoot for the stars, telling themselves they can do it all. And almost everyone falls short, gives up, and repeats the whole process again the next year. It’s a massive waste of time.

The problem is that most people get too ambitious and set really hard goals, without a plan to actually follow through and get shit done. Instead, tap into the energy and motivation that comes with the New Year, and harness it for real, actionable results. Here’s a three-step strategy to reclaim your New Year’s resolution.

1. Pick one resolution

Most people screw up before making it out of the gate, by committing one simple, but fatal mistake—they pick too many resolutions. There’s always a million ways you can improve yourself, and when the New Year rolls around, it’s tempting to try to do them all.

The reality is that if you have 10 New Year’s resolutions, you really have zero. Pinpoint one goal, and throw all your energy behind it.

In their famous book Willpower, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney tell a story about a psychologist giving a talk at the Pentagon to a group of 4-star generals. He asked each to complete a deceptively easy task: to summarize their military strategy in 25 words or less.

Only one general—the only woman in the room—managed to do it. She wrote, “I make a list of priorities: one, two, three, and so on. Then I cross out everything from three down.”

The other generals failed because they wasted all their time thinking about how they would accomplish their goals, missing a key step in the process. The female’s general’s success was because she knew she had to decide what to accomplish first—before ruthlessly prioritizing it.

When you set your New Year’s resolution, you need to cut through the noise, and focus on what’s really important. Think about what you want to achieve, and ask yourself, “Which of these would have the greatest positive effect?” Boom, that’s your New Year’s resolution.

Choose the right goal

When it comes to ramping up your sales performance, take a page out of our general’s book. Start by making a list of achievable goals. Some examples would be:

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and try and think of a way to accomplish them everything. Make the tough decision and choose the one goal that will make all the difference.

Qualifying better customers, for example, might lead to a higher closing rate and also slash churn. That one improvement would get you the most bang for your buck—it solves multiple problems and improves your entire sales pipeline. Instead of half-assing a bunch of different goals, full-ass one.

2. Make it a habit

Once you’ve nailed down your New Year’s resolution, the next step is to buckle down on the daily behaviors that will allow you to achieve it. Take the larger goal, and break it down to even more manageable chunks.

Charles Duhigg, who wrote the book on accomplishing goals in business by changing daily habits, calls this the “science of small wins.” Duhigg describes a man who wants to start jogging—if he starts with something as small as putting on his running outfit in the morning, soon he finds himself walking around the block, and jogging becomes an automatic next step.

By taking baby steps toward completing a larger goal, you build momentum that snowballs into your desired end result. Our brains are wired to reward a sense of progress, however small. By achieving “small wins” every day, you turn these little changes into daily habits and that behavior becomes part of your routine—which over time, adds up to more than any one-off, massive change.

Build on momentum

Creating a sense of momentum is one of the most powerful ways to motivate yourself and your team to accomplish your New Year’s resolution. If you turn your big goal into a series of gradually increasing tasks, your team will get that feeling of improvement they need.

For example, let’s say you’re a sales manager who wants to triple revenue, and in order to get there, you need your sales reps to go from making 30 cold calls a day to 100. Don’t ask them to do it all in one day—create a 6-week plan for them to gradually get there.

Each week, have them make 10-15 more calls per day, and celebrate each week you stay on track. By reinforcing positive behavior, you allow your reps to turn making more calls into a habit that they naturally do.

3. “Always be testing”

At the beginning of the year, you’ll want to pour a ton of time and energy into coming up with the perfect plan to accomplish your New Year’s resolution. What’s even more important is that you obsessively revisit that plan, check your progress, and adapt to changing circumstances throughout the year.

A recent study compared the weight loss results of men who used an online tool to track weight loss versus a control group. After three months, 56% of participants who followed their progress online met their goals, compared to 28% of those who didn't. Monitoring progress is crucial to accomplishing any goal, because it shows you when you’re on track—and when you need to adapt.

Obsessively monitoring your goals lets you adjust your strategy when circumstances change or things go wrong. Maybe your estimation on how to achieve the goal turns out to be wrong or the landscape has changed—the market shifts or a new competitor arrives. Any number of things can happen, and you need to be prepared to adapt your goal to the current situation at hand.

How to keep your plan on track

Whether it’s every month, every week, maybe even every day, you need to look at your trajectory and ask yourself, “Am I on track to hit my goal?” If the answer is no, then you need to evaluate your results more deeply, and dig to the root causes of what’s holding you back. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to tweak your goal to get back up to speed.

Get your team involved in that process so that everyone can be accountable for the plan and have a clear understanding of how and why it’s changing.

Here’s a couple of ways to make sure your plan for success stays on track all year.

  • Put up a scoreboard of the key metrics associated with your resolution somewhere in the office. Everyone on the team will know where progress stands and be able to track their individual impact.
  • Take note of how close you are to achieving your New Year’s resolution at every team meeting, and open the floor to discussion on how you can improve the trajectory.
  • Use a checklist tool like Process Street to lay out for your team the steps they have to take toward the goal. For example, if you’re the sales manager who needs his salespeople to get to 100 cold calls a day, they can use Process Street to check off each milestone they hit along the way.

The plan you come up with to hit your New Year’s resolution isn’t set in stone—it needs to change to get you the best results possible. If your team understands that, you’ll easily be able to change up your plan and stay on the path to success no matter what the year throws at you.

Take the New Year by the horns

To many people, New Year’s resolutions are a joke. Everyone sets them, they stop thinking about them by March, and no one ever accomplishes them. That’s their reputation.

Reverse the trend. If you choose one attainable goal, focus on day-to-day behaviors, and constantly reevaluate your process, you’ll be do what so few manage—you’ll actually improve yourself year-to-year. Rather than making the same mistakes, each New Year will become an opportunity for you and your company to make progress in leaps and bounds.

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