Resolutions That Stick: The Science of Goal-Setting

Composite image of new years resolutions on january calendar
Tis the season for making resolutions that we all too often don’t keep. As you enter into 2016 and are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve summarized some of the science behind setting goals in the attached PDF, What We Know About Goals, drawn in large part from one of my favorite books, Succeed, by Heidi Grant Halvorson.

I created this summary to use with my team as a New Year’s gift– to help them in making their personal resolutions stick. These guidelines carried over into our ongoing performance conversations. And, we used these when we set shared goals for the year for our team.

FYI: My absolute favorite among these guidelines is “if-then” goal-setting–an extraordinarily simple and powerful way to frame your goals so that they become easier to recall at the time that you really need them. So, setting a goal of eating fewer carbs is far less effective than stating an “if-then” intention such as: “When I have a craving for a slice of bread, I will drink a glass of water.” (Yours needs to be unique to you, of course.)

Some other resources that you may want to explore on the topic of goals and habits are:

1. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

You can also find an Actionable Books Summary of Duhigg’s book, here. These are brief and fun-to-read synopses of books that call out a few key ideas. (I like these so much that I recently joined the team of volunteer writers!)

2. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

The Actionable Summary for this book is here and here (there are two and each are helpful.)

I hope you enjoy these resources–and that they help you to start 2015 off powerfully–and maybe even make resolutions fun!

3. Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin’s book gives some practical tools for creating lasting habits. My favorite take-away is that it’s not about self-control–create conditions where you don’t need to make decisions–executing your goal is “built into” your routines and systems. (Click on the link for the full summary.)

Happy Holidays!

The Benefits of Gratitude

Thanksgiving. Perhaps my favorite holiday. I love that we have a day all about gratitude. And, it’s a great time to think about how we can make gratitude a part of our lives, every day.

The thing about gratitude is that it really, truly IS good for you and for everyone around you. There’s an article in the Sunday New York Times, written by David deSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University about holiday shopping and willpower. Numerous studies over many years have demonstrated that our proclivity for immediate gratification is surprisingly strong and our willpower is a limited resource. We want things now and when we say “no” to “now” we decrease our willpower and ability to keep saying no. Not a great combination as we enter the buying season that begins with Black Friday and keeps going for all the weeks of December. So, here’s what the latest study revealed:

deSteno and his colleagues asked a group of 75 people to write about a typical day, an amusing event, or a time they were grateful. They then tested to see how financially patient the subjects were. How much money would they accept now vs. a larger payout in the future. They discovered that the gratitude stories resulted in more financial patience, when compared to the other types of “priming.” And, the more grateful, the more patient. After writing about something other than gratitude, participants were willing to give up on $100 in the future for $17 today. The gratitude stories doubled that amount (people wouldn’t accept less than $30)–and the most grateful people were the most patient.

So, gratitude actually increased self-control and impulse control! deSteno concludes:
“If you’re looking to avoid impulse buying this year, take time not only to celebrate with your friends and family, but also to count your blessings. You may find that the easiest way to thwart retailers’ enticements.”

Barbara Frederickson, a positive psychologist and author of the book Positivity, has done extensive research on the value of positive emotions. She developed what she calls the “Broaden and Build theory.” Positive emotions–and gratitude is a particularly potent one according to her research–help us to be more creative, come up with new ideas, and build stronger social bonds. They broaden us. They have a lasting impact as well–thus the “build” part of the theory. She describes positive emotions as an “upward spiral.”

For some ideas about how to “practice” gratitude, here’s a resource that is full of great suggestions. Many of these are remarkably easy and, if you’re interested, this link can take you to an amazing set of resources all about increasing gratitude in the world.

So, as you enter the holiday of giving thanks, remember that gratitude is not only good–it is good for you–and for everyone around you. And, it just might help you with the willpower to make wise purchases through this holiday season.