Why your New Year’s resolutions suck–and how to ensure success

New Year's resolutions
OK, so you probably haven’t even started planning your New Year’s drunken celebration yet. No matter. I’ll bet you already have a pretty good idea of what your New Year’s resolutions will be.

Planning to start your consulting business in the New Year? Beware! Your New Year’s resolution to start a business could vanish quicker than a bratwurst at a hot dog eating contest.

Just so we’re clear, my New Year’s resolutions usually suck too. They’re full of vague notions about things I’d like to do, but empty of any specifics, and with little motivation behind them.

Worse yet is when I list 87 things I want to achieve. That just ends up being a useless list of well-intentioned aspirations–very few of which ever get done.

“This year will be different”

Yeah, I’ve said that to myself too. A variation is “This will be the year that I _____.” Same difference. Whatever goes in the blank doesn’t get done, and I’ll typically forget whatever it was by the end of the week.

What to do about it

Leo Babauta at Zen Habits has a great article about how to make your resolutions succeed. He suggests:

  • Focus on 1 change at a time.
  • Commit to it publicly.
  • Start with small, easy pieces for your change.
  • Use triggers to help you be consistent in doing your new habit.

These are great ways to make it more likely that you’ll succeed. I’d go further and suggest the following:

  • Plan in advance what you want to focus on, and make sure that you’re excited about the goal.
  • Be specific about what you’re going to do.
  • Reward yourself for taking action, but don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally fall off the wagon.
  • Surround yourself with a supportive network of like-minded people.

Be specific

If you start planning now, you’ll be a lot more likely to succeed than if you just jot down a list of “wouldn’t it be nice to do” goals on January 1st. Advance planning to help make those “I’m going to start my business in 2012″ resolutions succeed.

Plan the steps you’ll take. The Start-up Blueprint gives you a solid starting point, and shows you exactly how to get your business bringing in cash.

For example, you’ll need to be specific about the following things:

  • Be specific about your goal: Something like, “I’m going to start a consulting business and generate $X within the first quarter.”
  • Be specific about the actions needed to reach your goal:
    • research niche(s)
    • create list of marketing channels & tactics
    • draft cold calling script
    • call X prospects per week
  • Be specific (and realistic) about the timeframes & deadlines to accomplish actions: For example,
    • By 1/15/2012: research niche and create list of marketing channels & tactics
    • By 1/31/2012: implement initial marketing strategy & tactics

Hold yourself accountable

You want to motivate yourself and feel good about the changes you’re making. Guilt has no place here–it’s counter-productive. So, if you find yourself feeling guilty or thinking that you’ve been slacking off, fine, but don’t dwell on it. Instead, take a minute or two to write down what you’ll do today or tomorrow, and block out that time on your calendar.

  • Publicly state your goal: to friends, family, Facebook, Twitter, the world.
  • Reward yourself for taking action. Buy yourself a latte for making those cold calls or drafting your initial marketing plan.
  • DON’T beat yourself up for missing a deadline, or going a day without doing something on your goal. Realize that you’ll have setbacks, but that they’re in the past. Focus on what you’ll do TODAY.

Triggers

A great way to make new changes into habits is to use triggers. A trigger is essentially something that comes before the thing you want to do.

For example, if you want to start flossing, you can use the trigger of brushing your teeth: when you brush your teeth, it reminds you that you need to floss, so you floss.

It’s a little like a mousetrap: the mouse goes to the cheese, and BANG! Dead mouse. Except that sometimes the mice are a bit more clever–even if you put peanut butter on the trigger thingy. The mouse licks all the peanut butter off the trigger thingy, and the trap hasn’t sprung. You just have to get a little more clever than the mouse. So, you get one of those sticky mousetraps, and set the old-fashioned mousetrap ON TOP of the sticky trap. The mouse sniffs the peanut butter–creamy, organic peanut butter, mmm–steps onto the sticky trap only to find their feet stuck, but thinks, “what the hell–I can eat the peanut butter and then get unstuck.” A few seconds later, all that wiggling on the sticky trap while licking the peanut butter, and BANG! Problem solved.

(Just in case you’re curious, yes, we do have a few mice around the house–ever since our cats died; the dog is of no help whatsoever…).

Point is, we’re all creatures of habit, and that makes it easy to find triggers throughout our daily routine. Think about those things you do every day–especially when you have a few extra minutes and some mental energy–and connect your goal actions to a trigger. I’ve been working on doing non-billable tasks as soon as I get into the office and fire up my laptop.

And if your first trigger doesn’t make it easy for you to take action toward your new goal, figure out a sticky trap for yourself to ensure you’ll do your new habit.

Make it easy

Set up your new habit so that it’s super easy to do. Instead of thinking that you’ve got to create the world’s most perfect marketing plan, spend just 10 minutes jotting down bullet point ideas for how you can reach prospective clients, or jotting down ideas about your ideal client, or whatever your task for the day is. Just 10 minutes! Think of all the 10-minute blocks you have in your day. You could create a list of marketing channels while you go to the bathroom!

So, the trick to tackling big tasks is to break them into tiny, easy ones. Breaking down large tasks into tiny, easy ones makes the big tasks:

  • less overwhelming,
  • less anxiety-producing, and
  • increases the chances that you’ll actually do it.

Surround yourself with a supportive network

Now, I know that family may not always be supportive or understanding. And there’s nothing like the holiday season to bring out the family dysfunction. If that’s the case, then find someone else who gives a crap about your goal. You want cheerleaders, not naysayers.

This is hugely important, because the people you surround yourself with will have an enormous impact on how successful you are, the scope of your goals, and how much energy you have for taking action. So, choose wisely. If you don’t already have a group of like-minded people around you, find or create one. Meetup.com is a great way to find other people with similar interests, and chances are, there’s a meetup near you where you can plug into a network of other consultants, freelancers, and business owners.

So…

Planning to start or grow your business in the New Year? Get going now, to make sure you’ll succeed at it. And check out the Start-up Blueprint, since it shows you exactly what to do and what steps to take.

 

 

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