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Op-Ed: Achieving New Year’s Resolutions

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We’re all Stanford students who want our lives to have an impact. If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time thinking and reading about how to become more effective. I’ve had awesome conversations with people about achieving goals and resolutions and read a lot of books, yet this is the first time I’ve written any of this down. If you have any thoughts, don’t let this remain a monologue; let’s talk.

Start small; it’s all about momentum, so build from the bottom up. Make things as simple and concise as possible. Let the words expressing the resolution have more meaning to you than to others. Word resolutions as if you’ve already achieved them. Phrase them in terms of what you do rather than what you don’t do. Use the SMART criteria for your resolutions—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Check that your resolutions don’t conflict; go beyond this: align them. Write down your goals on a piece of paper. Achieve your resolution on the shoulders of giants by modeling their behavior. Make a plan for how to deal with the temptation to break the resolutions. Take care of the downside, and the upside will take care of itself. Tell yourself that you must do it, rather than that you will. This will transform hundreds of decisions into one.

Setting the goal is only the beginning. A few factors have a disproportionate impact. 20 percent of your efforts account for 80 percent of the results. Think about what to do first.

Develop self-knowledge and pay attention to yourself. Cultivate your positive emotions. Negative emotions tell you something, so don’t ignore them. Your resolutions are probably what you want to want to do; make yourself want to do them. Behavior is driven towards pleasure and away from pain. Associate achieving your goal with something you like and not achieving it with something you don’t. Program your subconscious; give it stuff to think about. Examine your beliefs about yourself. If they are limiting, address them. When you change what you believe, you change what you do.

Become the kind of person who lives by the resolutions you have set. Internalize every lesson into your behavior. It’s not enough to “know the good.” Take responsibility; make it a part of you, a part of your active thinking. Knowledge is not powerful if you don’t use or apply it.

Focus your mind and energy on what you’re trying to achieve. Thinking is usually a process of asking and answering questions; ask the right questions. Carefully decide how to spend your time and then totally focus on one goal per block of time. Positively visualize how you’ll achieve the resolution; think through the required steps. Make the journey enjoyable rather than just the result. The achievement of the result happens in an instant; the journey is immeasurably longer.

Do something small to start towards the goal. Research shows that people are more likely to achieve a goal that they’ve made 20 percent of progress on than one that is only 80 percent as long. Focus on the distinction between activity and productivity. Be efficient. Take action. Only expend energy on things over which have control or influence. See every step back as a chance to learn. Make automatic triggers for your behavior. Make it a ritual in your day or week. Take control of the time between when something happens and your response. Choose how to interpret any situation relating to the resolution; mentally redefine it.

Keep going. Repetition forms habits. Keep track of progress; review your goals on a regular basis. Help others achieve their goals and have others help you. If your goal includes other people, include them as early as possible. If you can, tell them what you’re going to do and by when. Declare some of your goals publicly. When you tell others, still take total responsibility. Surround yourself with people who already do your resolution. You inevitably pick up traits from those around whom you hang out. If you want to become a leader, hang out with leaders.

That’s pretty much it; remember, it’s all about momentum. Build it and you’ll rock these resolutions.

Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13

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