Resolution in the absence of action is worthless.
We’re all familiar with the new year’s resolution trap: on January 1 (an arbitrary day, no better than any other for goal setting as far as I’m concerned) we’re all supposed to declare to friends and family the “new and improved” version of ourselves. “I’m going to be more giving!”, “I’m going to exercise more!” and so on. But according to research from the University of Scranton, only 8% of people actually achieve their new year’s goals.* What gives?
NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer led a series of experiments indicating that people who publicly declare their intentions to perform a behavior that is aligned with their ideal identity were significantly less likely to engage in the behavior. Gollwitzer found that when people discussed their intentions to manifest their new identity, they were able to establish their desired image within their social sphere without ever actually taking action.**
Some say perception is reality. But in this case, nothing could be further from the cold hard truth.
Bottom line: it is not enough to decide, think or believe. It’s an excellent start, and I do believe mindset is important. But if making a change is something you care to do in this century, then starting with your behavior is where it’s at.
Here’s why: the process of changing thoughts, beliefs and attitudes can literally take a lifetime. Taking an action can take mere seconds. For example: let’s say I hate exercising. I’ve always hated it and as for sweating, well, that’s what the sauna is for. It is highly unlikely that after years of disliking exercise I will magically be able to switch my mindset and get excited about hitting the gym. On the other hand, it would take less than 10 seconds to cruise out my front door and go for a jog or hit the floor for a few sit-ups. And, chances are that if I repeat the behavior long enough, I will start to see and feel positive benefits from these new behaviors that will inherently shift my mindset and motivate me to continue.
You can change your mind 9435897 times before you actually get around to doing anything. Once you take the action, you’ve sealed the deal.
Of course, the inevitable question becomes: how can I start making behavioral changes when my mindset is keeping me stuck? Here are three simple strategies to help jumpstart your action potential today:
1. Start before you’re ready: Everyone wants to feel ready before they dive into action. We want to have all the right resources, education, financing, research, confidence, experience, etc. before we actually DO anything. Challenge yourself to create an action plan and jump in, even if you feel uncomfortable. Discomfort in the name of action is worth it every time!
2. Start small: Big dreams, projects and goals are exciting, but tend to cause overwhelm and ultimately paralysis. Grand plans like “building a website” or “losing 25 pounds” can be easily broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Be realistic: assign yourself one small task per day. As you build momentum you will naturally be able to take on larger action steps without skipping a beat.
3. Build in accountability: This is not about trying to establish your new identity within your network. This about being held responsible when you commit to making a change. It’s easy to fall off the wagon, especially when negative beliefs or mindsets creep up. Heck, you could easily skip that run to watch a Real Housewives marathon and no one would be the wiser, right? To prevent action drop-off, communicate your new actions and deadlines to a trusted friend, family member or co-worker who is easily accessible, supportive and responsible. When you start to feel stuck, your accountability buddy can keep you on track with reminders and words of encouragement
*University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology Published: 12.13.2012
**Gollwitzer, P. M., & Brandstaetter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 186-199.