If you’re one of the 92 percent of Americans whose New Year’s resolutions fail, you might assume you have a willpower deficiency. Not true, says Brian Moran. The real problem is that a year is just too much time—switch to 12 weeks and you might finally reach your goal.
Everybody loves a new year. It’s a bright, shiny, fresh, clean slate. A vista unblemished by mistakes or regrets. A brand-new chance to make Those Changes and accomplish Those Things we’ve been meaning to do forever. Yet, undermining all this glorious potential is the hidden truth we’re aware of even as we proclaim that this time we’ll really lose 20 pounds or get out of debt or finally launch that long-dreamed-of business: New Year’s resolutions are nothing more than fairy tales we grown-ups tell ourselves.
That’s right. If you’re like 92 percent of Americans, you’re not going to keep those resolutions. What’s more, you know it. What you may not know, says Brian Moran, is why.
“The number one enemy of most New Year’s resolutions isn’t feasibility, a lack of know-how, or even a lack of motivation, though those things can come into play,” says Moran, coauthor along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times best seller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months www.12weekyear.com . “The number one enemy of most resolutions is time.”
Think about it: It’s all too easy to procrastinate through January, February, March, and even longer. No problem, you think. I have over half a year left to do what I said I’d do. Even when July and August roll around, there are still enough months left in the year that you don’t feel a real sense of urgency. Next thing you know, the holidays are almost upon you. You’re still over your ideal weight, drinking too many sodas a day, working the same job, with less savings than you’d like. Too late to do anything now, you figure. I’ll try again next year.
“For many people, this depressing chain of events recycles on a yearly basis because far-away deadlines allow—even encourage—us to be slack on execution,” comments Moran. “Give yourself too much time and you will procrastinate. It’s just human nature.”
“When you redefine the concept of a year, your life will change,” promises Moran. “A year is no longer 12 months; it is now only 12 weeks, followed by the next 12 Week Year, ad infinitum. Each 12 week period stands on its own.
“You no longer have the luxury of putting off critical activities, thinking there is ‘plenty of time’ left to meet your goals. When you have only 12 weeks, each week matters, each day matters, each moment matters. And the result is profound.”
Here, Moran offers eight ways to get yourself out of the annualized thinking trap—and into the much-more-productive 12 Week Year, where resolutions do come true:
Realize that success is created in the moment. According to Moran, most of us have a skewed definition of success. We see it as the end of the road: the completion of a project, the day you’re finally able to button your old pants, receive an award, etc. However, he argues, true success isn’t any of those things. It isn’t a list of all the clients you brought in over the course of a year, or the number you see when you stand on the scale on December 31. It isn’t something that happens only once at the end of a planning cycle.
Redefine your relationship with deadlines. Most of us see deadlines (December 31st featuring prominently among them) as the bad guy. They’re always looming on the horizon, overshadowing our peace of mind and hassling us to work faster, or else. They make us nervous, resentful, or both. But what would happen if we thought of deadlines as good guys instead?
Put a little less faith in your yearly planner. In other words, be realistic about your ability to plan ahead. Life—including what we want out of it—can (and often does) change in an instant. What you thought you wanted for yourself in January might not be what makes the most sense by the time July, or October, or December rolls around. Your circumstances and abilities may have changed. The truth is, even the most thoroughly thought-out annual plans are based on assumptions that are stacked upon earlier assumptions, which are stacked on even earlier assumptions—and a lot can (and often does) change from start to finish.
Keep score starting January 1st. As Moran has noted, it’s relatively easy to ignore or rationalize procrastination and low productivity when you have to look at the numbers only once a year. But when you start measuring your productivity, progress, and performance on a more frequent basis, you can’t hide behind the illusion that the present moment isn’t important. Measurement drives the execution process because it creates productive tension, or the uncomfortable feeling you get when you know you’re not doing the things you need to do.
Be honest about your track record. How many promises and commitments do you welsh on in the course of 12 months? Probably more than you’d like to admit to. The fact is, at the beginning of the year, it’s all too easy to make promises and commitments. “Sure, honey, we can remodel the kitchen this year.” “Of course our department will reduce its operating costs by 15 percent this year.” Frequently, though, we fall short of our personal and professional commitments because over the course of 12 months, we encounter unforeseen obstacles, our priorities change, or our interest wanes.
Stop saying “have to” and start saying “choose to.” As you pursue a long-term goal, it’s all too easy for your daily tactics to turn into daily have-tos. “I have to go to the gym.” “I have to spend an extra half-hour working on this project for my boss.” “I have to use that money to pay down my credit card, even if it means skipping a night out with my friends.” That’s a problem, because have-tos quickly turn into things we loathe—and if you loathe the things you need to do to accomplish a goal, you’re less likely to reach the finish line.
Be proactive, not reactive. Sure, modern life is hectic, and it’s easy to feel like there just aren’t enough minutes in the day to get everything done. But the truth is most of us don’t make the most of our time because we engage each day reactively instead of proactively. We are driven by input triggers—the phone rings, the email dings, a new task appears, someone knocks on your door, and off you go to solve the problem du jour. When you live reactively, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to stay focused on high-value activities.
Making the reactive-to-proactive switch won’t be easy. You’ll have to become more comfortable with saying no, and you’ll have to crack down on procrastination. But in the end, you’ll get more of the right things done each day, and ultimately reach your goals faster and with greater impact.
Celebrate your 12 week wins. Companies often throw end-of-year parties and receptions to celebrate growth, acknowledge outstanding achievements, bestow awards and bonuses, etc. On a personal level, you may promise yourself a reward if you keep your New Year’s resolutions. It’s very gratifying to be recognized for achieved goals. And, the promise of celebration—especially when you allow yourself to celebrate at the end of each 12 week period—gives us something to look forward to, motivating us to keep our noses to the grindstone when the going gets tough.
One more great thing about switching to a 12 Week Year: Because there’s a built-in reset every few months, you can switch gears when you realize something isn’t going to work.
“We all know how demoralizing it is to realize that a year-end goal is just not going to happen,” says Moran. “By July, it’s already clear that you’re not going to be able to sock away as much into your retirement account as you wanted to. Or in September, you have to admit that you’re not going to be able to lose the 30 pounds you pegged for your resolution. And because annualized thinking is so ingrained in your worldview, you automatically assume that you’ll just have to wait months to try again.”
Brian P. Moran is founder and CEO of The Execution Company, an organization committed to improving the performance and enhancing the quality of life for leaders and entrepreneurs. He has served in management and executive positions with UPS, PepsiCo, and Northern Automotive and consults with dozens of world-class companies each year. As an entrepreneur, he has led successful businesses and been instrumental in the growth and success of many others. In addition to his books, Brian has been published in many of the leading business journals and magazines. He is a sought-after speaker, educating and inspiring thousands each year. Brian lives in Michigan with his wife, Judy, and their two daughters.
Michael Lennington is vice president of The Execution Company. He is a consultant, coach, and leadership trainer, and is an expert in implementing lasting change in organizations. He works with clients in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to help them implement corporate initiatives that drive sales, service, and profitability. Michael holds a BS from Michigan State University and an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He lives with his wife, Kristin, and their children in northern Michigan.