The clock counts down and the crowd anticipate a cheer. The New Year very suddenly becomes a reality for us all, be it a good one or a daunting one. I haven’t met someone who doesn’t appreciate a new beginning, that precise moment when you can decide who you will be, without your past holding you back. A fresh start. Resolutions.
Some people swear by New Year’s resolutions, a lot are put off by social pressures that comes with them, and others shrug shoulders as it’s just another day. Personally I think that New Year’s Resolutions are actually just glorified goals. Why are they glorified? Well a recent study shows we are more likely to follow through with our goals if we align them with the start of a week, month, season or (guess what) a year! My assumption is that the more significance placed on ‘fresh-starts’, the more motivation can be leveraged, i.e a new year is a more defining moment than a new week.
To me it’s clear why goals are needed to succeed, but why do so many of us fail with New Year’s Resolutions?
I think it’s simple. Although studies may suggest we are more likely to follow through on goals if they are at the start of a day, month or year, the danger is we end up creating a sense of obligation. If we do things out of obligation, you and anyone who may be involved are never going to end up better off. In fact you’ll end up burning out in the most extreme cases. This is a classic mistake many people make as the New Year comes around. The irony is that they’re not actually opposed to the idea of setting goals, everyone wants to improve part of their life. No one is perfect, right? These all sound like perfectly reasonable statements to me.
So what’s the counter-attack of obligation; the thing we need to dramatically outweigh or override any sign of obligation; the miracle drug that people don’t seem to leverage enough?
Ownership. (drops figurative mic)
It’s probably the best word you will read today. Not in the proprietary sense of owning things and not to be confused with ‘selfishness’ but to clarify, I will list definitions below.
(of a decision) an attitude of accepting responsibility for something and taking control of how it develops (the positive reasons for you decision outweigh the negative ones)
(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
The distinction between these two words is crucial.
It’s time to stop thinking ‘I have to’ and start consciously giving ourselves reasons to think and say ‘I want to…’, ‘I’d like to…’, ‘I don’t mind’ or even ‘I can’t wait to…’. A lot of you would probably be unaware of where you have ‘ownership’ and where you do things out of ‘obligation’ in your life. You’ll probably be thinking of some already: meetings, dishes, the gym, social events, even your job?
So what am I proposing?
I’m going to tempt you to try something slightly different. Think about the year that has passed. What decisions did you make during the year? Have you been going to dinner with your in-laws every month because you ‘have to’? Did you set a New Year’s resolution for 2015 because everyone else did? Write down a list of things that make up your life, it might be your job, your relationships (or aspects of them), or maybe you can’t stand using public transport to travel to work. For one, or each of these things, write down a list of positive and negative reasons why you should or shouldn’t continue to do these things. Hopefully for most of them you will end up with a long list of reasons in favour of why you do these various tasks. However, I guarantee there will be times where the negatives outweigh the positives.
Once you’ve identified a list of things you do predominantly out of obligation, reflect on what the alternative options or solutions might look like. Then write them down. Sometimes you need help from a colleague, friend or partner for this but the important thing to know is that there are always options. People often assume this can mean letting others down. Nine times out of ten, you won’t. If it’s a healthy relationship people will understand. If it helps you, explain your decision, but remember that you owe nothing to anyone. This tends to be the number one thing that hinders the ability to embrace ownership. It can also lead to you becoming resentful of others if you do something repeatedly out of obligation.
For some it might seem like a big deal, other times the options may be as bright as day for some situations. Going through this process will really help you think about the list of pros and cons you previously wrote. Is it really worth it? Are there enough reasons for change?
To execute some of your alternative options it will require skills: assertiveness, negotiation, even compromise and empathy. It’s important to remember not every task has to be enjoyable, but I guarantee it’s possible to get 100% ownership over your life. For tasks less enjoyable just remind yourself of the reasons you identified to justify you doing it.
Doing this exercise gives you a much better starting point, you might even find goal setting way more enjoyable and the follow through way more energising. Once you get a hang of it, it’s good to repeat this process on a regular basis for continuity.
A life full of ownership over the decisions and goals you make will give you refreshed energy that will sustain you far beyond an early night, lie in, or vacation.