Don't Flunk Your Resolutions by Accident

08/01/2012 23:37 GMT | Updated 09/03/2012 10:12 GMT

New Year is the season for new commitments and new failures to see our commitments through.

We begin well and mid-way through January we seek out those who abandoned their resolve early and use them as an excuse to do the same.

It's too easy not to do what you say you really want to do.

But if we are going to change our destiny, and we're failing to change our habits (bad ones), then we've got to change the way we motivate ourselves.

Unfortunately, we find it too easy to forgive ourselves. Research shows that we continually revisit and rewrite our memories, each time changing them and improving the way we look.

Cognitive dissonance theory holds that we will always make our choices seem the right ones. We don't really have to live with our mistakes - we can always explain them away. (You might want to browse Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me).

It may not be the right thing to do. Probably isn't.

Still painful

Some years ago, I was invited to pitch for some work in the North East. For some odd reason, when asked whether I understood the brief, I did not opt for the easy answer which was: "Yes, of course".

Instead, I chose a more challenging response.

It was the beginning of the end of my chances of working with this client.

Even as I think back on it now, some seven years later, I flinch at my stupidity, as much today as I did then.

It's not a feeling I want to lose because it reminds me not to be so stupid again.

The fact that I can still feel the discomfort and embarrassment is useful: I use it to motivate me to do better.

Proving people wrong

A friend of mine described a similar thing to me when talking about his time at Cambridge University. "People told me I'd never make it. Everyone I knew tried to persuade me to abandon this folly and go to an ordinary university. But it was their negativity that drove me. I kept on saying to myself 'I'll prove them wrong'".

We have a powerful ability to delude ourselves. Anyone who has read Eric Berne's book, The Games People Play, will recognise the games he describes in their own behaviour.

We can play games for our entire lifetime.

Whilst we may not be masters of our own destiny, we are wonderful creators of personal fictions.

We are not only the stars in our own lives, we are the script-writers and directors too.

But patently, not all of us are successful. Objectively, many people fail to achieve their potential.

If we are determined to change our direction - and now is as good a time as any to start - then changing the way we describe our reality is a great place to start.

Peter Drucker's book, The Effective Executive, is a useful resource and worth a read as is Simply Brilliant by Fergus O'Connell. Both allow us to look at how we use our personal resources and in particular our talents and time.

You won't go far wrong dipping into Covey's Habits either.

But when all is said and done it's not what you read that changes your life, it's what you do.

And in those quiet moments, when you're on the point of abandoning your New Year aims, it may not be literature that sees you through. You might find that pulling up a memory, particularly a painful one, could help keep you on focus.

Dredge up a comment from your school days, a teacher perhaps saying that you would never amount to anything. Or a partner talking about your lack of commitment or inability to follow through.

Find something painful and use it to drive yourself. And no matter how tempted you may be to explain away past failures, don't.

Make them seem acceptable and somehow understandable, and you may struggle to find real success again.