Resolutions Don’t Work

You’ve told yourself a million times you would start going to the gym. But it’s 7 AM and you still haven’t put your running shoes on. You roll over and hit snooze again. You’ve promised to eat a salad for lunch, but you decide that the drive-through at Hardee’s looks a little bit easier. Double cheeseburger it is! You told yourself three years ago that you were going to start writing that book. But you binge watch Modern Family instead. This is the effect of most resolutions on most people. We fail. Over and over and over again.

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There are many reasons why resolutions don’t work. Here they are:

 

  • It’s just too big. Resolving to lose 20 pounds, write a book, or run a marathon is pretty BIG. It’s daunting. It’s overwhelming. It’s so easy to get discouraged and give up before you even start. You can’t eat a 24-oz Porterhouse in one bite. And when you don’t, you give up your resolve and throw in the towel. You’ve got to break it down into itzy bitzy pieces.

 

  • There are a million distractions. As Beverly Flaxington wrote in Psychology Today, “Even the most minor distractions slow you down, wasting your energy and time – consequently adding more stress to your everyday life – and keep you away from things that you really want. Distractions cause you to miss many opportunities in life. They make you feel busy and tired all the time, and frustrated at the lack of progress despite your best efforts.” These distractions are stressing you out and keeping you from achieving your higher goals.

 

  • You don’t write them down. Believe it or not, keeping your new resolution in your head is not that effective. It’s difficult to keep it at the top of your head all day when you don’t have it memorialized somewhere. In addition, you have a world of distractions (see the bullet above) that are constantly taking you off course. As a coach, I write my clients goals down and then they make a copy themselves, or my clients write down their goals as we talk. Writing them down helps embed it in your head.

 

  • You don’t clarify what is at the heart of the resolution. Resolving to lose weight or quit smoking isn’t really the heart of the issue. It’s probably more about feeling energized, having a more positive outlook, or regaining your confidence. What is at the core of this new resolution? Knowing what is at the core will help you see it through when your willpower is waning.

 

So what do you do about it? It’s the New Year and you have a whole new clean slate. I’ve got the solution for you and it’s free.

Try out my 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits. Just click here to receive your free copy.

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The Danger of Assumptions

You assume that your boss remembers that you will be out of town on Friday. You assume that your partner remembers that you have a late appointment this afternoon. You assume that your co-worker didn’t include you in the invite because your opinion isn’t needed…or wanted. You assume that the CEO knows that you’ve been burning the midnight oil for weeks to get the financials done. You do it. I do it. We all make assumptions. It’s a dangerous path.

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Left unchecked and unexamined, assumptions can destroy relationships, teams and organizations. Your boss is expecting you at the ad hoc meeting she set up on Friday and is disappointed that you didn’t show. Your partner is angry that she left work early to surprise you at home, only to find you missing in action. You resent your CEO for not acknowledging all the extra work you’ve been doing on the financials. Assuming is easy. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. Just a jump or two. Tying two dots together that really aren’t related. But looking down the assumption path a little further can reveal resentment, lack of trust and undermine your relationships.

Here is what you can do to fix it:

* Clarify. It seems simple to clarify. Obvious, really. But it takes effort. Your brain is hard wired for negativity. You have survived extinction because of this negativity bias, but there are no more saber-toothed tigers chasing you. It is easy to assume that not having been included in the meeting is an intentional slight rather than an oversight. But if you clarify with the meeting organizer that you would like to attend the meeting, if at all possible; or if you proactively tell your CEO that you’ve been working hard on the financials, you change up your personal dynamic. This is clarification and not boasting.

* Listen. Part of the Assuming Process is not actually listening. We ask a question we assume we know the answer to, and then don’t listen. I am so guilty of this. I think I know the answer and as a “show of concern”, I ask the question but never listen to the response. Just a short cut to save time, but so disrespectful. I get distracted by my grocery list or trying to remember if I need to go to the bank,  and never hear the response. It could be the time of the meeting that you assume is at 10, but has been pushed to 10:30. You are smiling and nodding but never connect to the answer. Listen.

* Be open to conflict. Yeah. I know. Most of us are conflict averse. We’d rather hold onto our assumptions than actually step into a conflict. Keep everything copacetic. Keep everyone happy. Don’t rock the boat. As a consequence, the safety issue is never brought up, or the budget short fall isn’t discussed, or your positive assumption he’s flirting with that woman remains intact. I actually recently assumed my husband was flirting with someone. When we actually stepped into the conflict, it turns out he was opening a new account with the restaurant she worked for. I lost some sleep over that assumption. Unchecked, it could have lead us down a completely different path. Step into conflict–you can resolve it.

* Slow down. Part of what fuels an assumption is taking a short cut. If you slow down the pace, you will stay in your prefrontal cortex, where you do your best thinking. When you are in a reactive mode, you’re in the back of your head, where your flight or fight response is. Where you don’t do your best thinking. This is why it’s called jumping to conclusions. Your anxiety is up, your cortisol is pumping and your body is ready to run from the saber tooth tiger. My coach starts off every session with a breath-in for the count of 6 a total of 3 times. Slow down and breath to quit jumping to conclusions.

* Forgive. This can be for yourself, as well as others. As Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” I’ve grappled with this myself. It’s hard to forgive someone for an assumption you created and may have carried for decades. It can be the frenemy who didn’t invite you to the graduation party back in 1979, or the family member who never thanked you for the gift, or even when you continued to meddle in your child’s life. The resentment is hurting you more than them. Take out a piece of paper or journal, and forgive them one and all–even yourself. Forgive early and often.

* Use technology. When I travel out of town now, I send my husband a meeting request with the airline information. I will frequently forget to tell him that I’m going out of town, and this keeps him proactively informed. Give your assistant access to your calendar. It’s still a good idea to inform people but a sure-fire safe guard is to use your technology to keep them informed.

* Be positive. Envision the upside. I recently saw Rick Hanson and his great Ted Talk on the topic “Hardwiring Happiness. It’s so easy to just decide that we are going to be worry warts for the rest of our lives. The thing is, you can develop a positive brain that lets the worry go. It takes work and practice, but we ALL have the capacity to have more positive reactions. This can help keep harmful assumptions at bay. Build positive pathways in your brain.

This is not accomplished overnight. We are all works in-progress. Even if you just spend 5 minutes a day meditating on what is positive in your life, you can start breaking down the pathways to assumptions. One assumption at a time.

S.P.E.L.L. it Out. 6 Ways to Set Expectations.

Spelling out expectations is so critical in all aspects of life; like when you have a new employee, when your child cleans their room and, even when we start on a new project.  If you don’t spell out the expectations, it will, at the very least be frustrating and at its worst, an epic fail.  I see this step being skipped constantly.  Why bother?  Shouldn’t your child know what the expectations for a clean room are?  Didn’t we hire that employee because they were the most qualified for the job?  Haven’t you accomplished other projects?  You will be doomed for disappointment without clarifying expectations.

I can imagine that if we did a poll of one hundred parents about their expectations for room cleanliness that we would find at least 80 different sets of expectations (this assumes that some of those poled are married and have already had a few grumbles about room cleanliness and, therefore, have the same expectations).  The point is, you cannot assume that we would all agree about what a clean bedroom is.  And we certainly cannot assume that your child has the same standards.

Your child gets grounded because they didn’t realize that stuffing all the toys under the bed does not mean “clean”.  You’re disappointed in the home improvement project because you didn’t realize that fixtures you really wanted were five times more expensive.

So how do you avoid the tendency to think that everyone knows your expectations through osmosis and get down to the nitty gritty before you send that new employee off into battlefield of ambiguous work standards?  Here are a few steps.

1. Reflect. What do you want?  What does the perfect outcome look like?  You need to be clear with yourself and/or the team before you set your new employee a drift.  Why did we have to hire someone new?  Did the last customer service rep go down in flames because he didn’t know that the schedule was completely inflexible?    As they say, history tends to repeat, so reflect on what went wrong (or right) the last time.

2. Anticipate. When I send my husband to the grocery store for milk, you might think that is a very basic, simple item for him to purchase.  Well, it isn’t.  I need to anticipate who will be opening that refrigerator door for the next seven days.  If it’s my daughter, it better be soy milk.  If it’s my son, it better be organic skim milk.  If my husband is the intended user, it better be 2% lactose free milk.  Simple item.  Complex expectations.

3. List. It’s a good idea to have a list; whether it be a written checklist, employee manual or just a short mental checklist. “Benson”, that’s my son, “a clean room means clean clothes hung up or folded and put away, the bed being made and no items on the floor”.  In my days as a Sizzler restaurant owner, we had a pre-meal checklist for each meal period.  It was important that even the temperature ranges for the food was spelled out.  Soup < 145 degrees.

4. Engage.  Have a conversation.  It might even be a lecture.  But explain your list.  As in, the soup needs to be over 145 degrees because we don’t want anyone getting sick.  The bed needs to be made because we are having visitors this weekend.  We need personal phone calls kept to a minimum because we have a limited amount of incoming phone lines.  Explain the rationale.  It makes for more buy in.

5. Clarify.  There may be a deadline.  There might be a budget.  There may be other resources.  If the grandparents are arriving at 6 PM, this might be important information when my husband heads out for milk at 5 PM.  The new employee might want to know who else on the team has done this job so they have them as a crutch.  S.P.E.L.L. it all out.

6. Rinse and Repeat. Unfortunately, this is not a one shot deal.  It can be time consuming and tedious.  It was obvious which Sizzler restaurant was not using its pre-meal checklist.  And it usually translated into lower sales.  The customers had expectations.

Take the time and energy to S.P.E.L.L. out your expectations.  It will save you frustration, time and energy.  It will also keep your relationships on a higher plane.  Those around you will appreciate knowing what to expect.

What would you do?