We all do it once a year. And when we do, we do it with the best intentions but how often do we actually achieve what we set out to? I'm talking of course about New Year's Resolutions.
After recovering from yesterday's obligatory New Year's Day hangover maybe you went for that first run or maybe you are still waiting to put plans in to action. But how long do you think this 'new leaf' is going to stay turned over?
Researchers at the University of Scranton found that only 8% of people kept to their resolutions. Even after just one week 25% of people were found to have fallen off the wagon. So how can you set resolutions that you'll actually stick to? How can you join this holier-than-thou 8%?
If you ask the management consultants (and why would you?) about how to achieve goals then they'll give you a nice little acronym: SMART. This stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed. They will tell you that if you set a SMART resolution then you'll "get results" - to put it in their terminology.
But who wants to think SMART? It sounds a bit clinical and dull doesn't it? Isn't this supposed to be fun? So let's spice things up a little and set SMUTTY resolutions. Okay - we're going to give the consultants the first two because S & M are smutty enough for us to work with (wink wink). Taken together this forms the six steps to setting resolutions that you'll actually achieve.
How do I know that this works?
A little while ago I was turned down by all six universities that I applied for and had to take a year out to re-take some exams - boo hoo, right? I've never been the academic type but I knew that a top degree would give me so many advantages. When I finally did get in to the course that I wanted I felt completely lost, overworked and confused by it all. And at the end of the first year I was averaging less than 50%. I knew that if this continued then I'd be just another statistic to add to the rising unemployment count. So I did what I had to do and tried something different. I probed and tested the assumptions of degree success and on the New Year of 2009 I wrote down some SMUTTY resolutions. What's the worst that could happen I figured?
So how does the story end? Well it worked. Not only did I improve my grades - in some cases by up to 70% - but somehow I graduated top of the class averaging close to 80% in my final year (read more about this here). I didn't give up socialising or live in the library - I did it all with the minimum required effort by finding out The Truth About University. The key to all of this was SMUTTY thinking. So let's run through these 6 steps in a step-by-step way and you can adapt these for whatever it is that your resolutions are.
Step 1: Specific
Let's say you want to lose weight. What do you mean by "lose weight"? Do you want to lose fat? Do you want to lose weight in one part of your body? What specifically is it that you are trying to achieve? Losing weight or otherwise, if you can nail this down then you're on the right path.
Step 2: Measurable
With some resolutions it's hard to really measure improvement - "live life to the full" etc - but you can always find something to judge whether you're making progress. Suppose you want to be a better friend, what does this look like to you? Are you going to call your friends more often or arrange to meet up with them? You don't need to get obsessed by this, just find something to keep you on track so that you can see whether you're progressing.
Step 3: Unachievable
Who wants a resolution that's achievable? Achievable is boring. You don't want a boring life so why would you want a boring resolution? Now of course you can't say "lose 100 lbs tomorrow" - that's just impossible - but if you set some ridiculous resolution, even if you don't achieve it you will probably have got further than you would have done with a boring achievable goal. In my case I set a resolution of getting a 90% grade - I never managed it but there's no way that I would have got close if I'd chosen something that I thought that I could achieve.
Step 4: Timed
It's so easy with resolutions to think that you'll get to it eventually. It's January, you've got plenty of time, right? But if you get caught in this mindset then soon enough the year will have passed and you will done nothing. Set a deadline. Set a stupid deadline if you must - you'll be amazed what you can do in a week. As an example, the first Facebook site was created in just 7 days. What if Zuckerberg had put it off?
Steps 5 & 6: Putting Words In To Action
By now you've got a resolution that's better than at least 80% of resolutions that people make. But writing it down means nothing if you don't act on it. So what are you going to do to turn talk in to walk?
Step 5: Today
What are you going to do today? It doesn't need to be a 24 hour gym session or studying 18 hours (or whatever it may be) but it needs to be something. If you add up those somethings over time then you'll get somewhere. Yippee!
Step 6: Yesterday
And what did you do yesterday? What went well and what could you improve? Habit formation takes time but if you stick at it and are willing to be honest with yourself then you'll have no troubles at all.
So there you have it: SMUTTY resolutions. If you're feeling brave then commit right now by posting your own resolutions in the comments section below. And if you're feeling all gloomy already then bare the following in mind. Just because 2012 wasn't the end, doesn't mean 2013 can't be a new beginning.
You can read more about SMUTTY resolutions and the new information revolution at TruthAboutUni.com. Let's crush 2013 together.
Follow Tom Cornwall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thomascornwall