“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage“
Paved with Good Intentions – Three Tips for Keeping Your Resolutions on Track
I’m going to start this blog with some audience participation.
Raise your hand if you made any New Year’s resolutions this year? OK. Now keep it up if you’re already finding them difficult to stick to? I’m guessing that’s a few of you.
The new year is historically an occasion that inspires transformation. January 1st represents an opportunity for a fresh start. It’s a brand-new sheet on the flip chart of life, ready to be marked with an ambitious agenda for change.
Professionally speaking, new year’s resolutions come in many forms. They could be getting organised, finding a new job, or growing the business. For most years my resolution as a professional actor was simply to ‘work more’.
By the end of January, however, that agenda may have been downgraded to be a little more conservative. Possibly scrapped completely.
So how can we stick to our new year’s resolutions and achieve our objectives?
For anyone who’s felt the slow puncture of apathy deflating their resolve, here are three tips for keeping on track.
A delegate on a recent call told me his goal for 2023 was to “get better at presenting.” The danger here is that resolutions often collapse when the goal we set ourselves is unspecific and lacks a tangible outcome.
What part of presenting did he want to get better at? Structuring? Delivery? Handling questions? How was he planning to achieve it? By when?
Giving ourselves measurable and achievable goals helps us to stay on track. When we achieve our goals, our brains release dopamine. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system. It gives us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction when we succeed. It also motivates us to recreate those feelings by achieving further goals.
If we haven’t defined what success looks like, there can be no reward. And without a reward, it’s easy to see why we lose interest in our resolutions.
Trying to achieve too much too soon can also lead to us giving up.
At Body Talk, we’re mindful of our delegates trying to put everything we teach into action in their next presentation. If they do, they’re likely to feel overwhelmed and fall back into old, comfortable habits.
At the end of each course, we recommend people choose two techniques that resonate with them. We ask them to practise them until they feel comfortable. Only then should they go back to their notes, select two more techniques and repeat the process.
As the proverb goes, “there’s only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.” The same goes for our resolutions. Breaking them down into smaller chunks makes them less daunting and easier to achieve.
So, be specific about your aims and be realistic.
There’s No Time Like the Present
The sooner we can begin putting our resolutions into practice, the better. Procrastinating makes the journey harder to start, and giving up seems more appealing. I know this from personal experience.
At drama school, the thought of going first in class horrified me. I was terrified of being judged or ‘getting it wrong’. I’d hang back, kidding myself that I’d pitch in when I had something worthwhile to offer. By delaying, the pressure I felt increased with each classmate who went before me. Inevitably, when there was nobody else left, I would be forced to engage, cursing myself for not going sooner. I’d transformed a molehill into a mountain.
It may be that your ultimate aim is to present at the company’s annual conference. The idea of getting started on this journey may fill you with dread. But don’t wait for the day to arrive and hope that everything will fall into place. Look for opportunities to practice, especially in low-stakes situations. Each presentation, however small, will grow your confidence and make the big day seem less daunting when it comes around.
Getting the ball rolling is never as bad as you think. It puts you in the driving seat, which is where you need to be if you’re going to achieve your goals.
Embrace the Weird
Back in the late 90s, David Bowie appeared in a documentary called Inspirations. In it, he was asked what advice he would give to young artists. “Go a little bit out of your depth,” he replied. “And when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
This is as applicable in business as in art. Changing our behaviour always feels weird initially; there’s no getting around it. It can feel exposing and unnatural. But that’s ok. It means you’re in the right place.
To undergo meaningful change, we need to step beyond our comfort zone. It’s there that we can discover what we’re really capable of.
As the saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” Which is surely the antithesis of why we make our resolutions in the first place.
Have courage and embrace the weird. If you commit to it, it won’t feel weird too much longer.
So if you can feel your new year’s resolve starting to falter, revisit your resolutions to see how realistic they are. And keep in mind this pearl of wisdom from the writer Anaïs Nin:
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Don’t give up. You can do it!