New Year's Resolutions...

Happy New Year everybody--

I've been thinking about New Year's resolutions over the last few days. A friend asked me what mine were, and I told him I didn't like them. He wanted to know why not.

Partly, my issue with the New Year's resolution is the way it suggests that I am the problem. I'm doing too much of something (smoking, drinking, watching TV, surfing) or not enough of something (working out, helping the kids with homework). Why? Because I'm rotten. If I just had a little more resolve, this issue wouldn't exist.

Many resolutions, it seems to me, are addressed at long-standing issues or behaviors. It isn't that I turned bad last year all of a sudden, it's that I've been this way for a long time. But what's changed, besides the big number at the top of the calendar? Nothing. All the reasons for my bad behavior remain the same. There's a book I like, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, that addresses this point. Keegan and Lahey point out that there are almost always competing priorities that have been preventing you from changing whatever it is you now want to change by making a resolution. Underlying those priorities are assumptions. (For example: I can't take time to run because that's not productive work; other people need me. Running is selfish; if I'm selfish I will be shunned, which is much worse than heart disease).

The point is this: in the absence of some careful thought, even our best-intentioned resolutions are unlikely to be successful. The system will prevail. Worse yet, the role of the system will remain invisible to us! We will likely see our failure as a reflection on our own lack of willpower, our insistence on subverting our own good intentions, our own failure in self-management. This is all in the structure of the New Year's resolution: "Do this... or else know yourself to be an irresolute failure."

Better would be to develop some big strategic goals for yourself, and then start devising plans to address those big goals. My wife and I have made "healthy and happy" a strategic focus for the last couple of years. There are hundreds of ways to go after that goal-- and if many of them fail, that's OK. Keep trying! Find some things that work! Reflect regularly on what is and isn't making you happy! Ditch what isn't working! Maybe a conscious program of saying "please" in the family setting would increase happiness! Give it a shot! Try a pilot! And then think of ways to sustain it!

Let me briefly bring it back to the subject of the blog: one, self-management is a key success factor, the foundation of good leadership. Two, don't do "New Year's Resolution"-style planning and then expect good results. Do solid strategic planning, and then do solid business planning on specific action items.

--Steve Orton