You pick two!


‘Tis the time of year to talk about resolutions for the coming year. But not here. We have a time-honored tradition of pooh-poohing them. The problem isn’t that resolutions are bad in and of themselves, but that they are so often done poorly.

Resolutions also come off as sort of mean-spirited and bossy. Do this, don’t do that. You aren’t good enough until you do these things. In fact, if you don’t do them, you are also a failure. Nobody likes to be bossed around, even by well-intentioned resolutions. Try a gentler approach this year for a change. Instead of scripting a list of dictates we are sure to turn a blind eye to by Groundhog’s Day, identify the “guiding stars” that will lead you to greater happiness, effectiveness, and success.

The thing is that these stars come from inside of you, so you have to look and listen carefully to find them. Give yourself some quiet space. Reflect. Allow things to bubble up. Think about what you would change if you could about the preceding 12 months. Think about what you want to achieve in the coming week, month, year, decade. Think about your strengths and weaknesses. Think about your relationships, your life. Given all that – what are three things that, if you let them lead you, would improve your life?

Then write them down on a post-it note and stick it to your mirror, sacrifice them on an altar of fire, loudly proclaim your allegiance to them on Facebook, whatever floats your boat. Do whatever you need to make them yours.

For me, this year will be about joy and courage. These are pretty vague. Doesn’t that violate every rule there is about goal setting? Yes, and if I were goal-setting, these would clearly not be SMART goals. That’s because they are guiding stars! Think about how many decisions you make every day. How many times are your choices influenced by time pressure, prior behavioral patterns, and other people’s demands – and how many times were you truly guided by your values and goals? Behavior change is hard. Behavior change without changing something inside of us can only be temporary. We have to fine-tune our internal rudders.

This year, I am not resolving to run three times a week and eat less cheese. Those resolutions may make me fitter, but they aren’t really going to improve my life. I don’t need a dictate to encourage me to run. I would run every day if I had a habit of choosing to prioritize what brings me joy. I need “choose joy, choose joy, choose joy” echoing in my head like a mantra. Because then not only would I likely run more, I would also feel more joyful, and make other choices that lead to joy and rejuvenation and ultimately make me more effective. And I need “Courage, Dana!” to inspire me to take risks, large and small, out in the world that help me grow and succeed.

When we talk about employee motivation, we understand that carrots and sticks only go so far. We know that allowing people to harness intrinsic motivation produces better results for both people and outcomes. Personal development is the same. Resolutions rely on external pressures; you exchange feelings of self-worth for behavior change. Guiding stars leverage intrinsic values and motivations. Don’t focus on what you are doing wrong, or not enough of, but what you deserve more of in your life. Focusing on what you want to bring into your life makes it easier to make choices that are aligned with those things.

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