I just learned there is a day every year called National Quitters Day. It’s the second Friday in January (we just missed it). On that day, 80% of people who have made a New Year’s resolution have given it up. Think about that—it’s such a sure thing, there’s actually a day to commemorate it!
I have a theory about why this interesting behavior—making a New Year’s resolution only to break it—keeps happening year after year. And I believe the answer to the problem is in our company’s flagship leadership training program, SLII®. SLII® teaches leaders how to empower their people to succeed by offering the right amount of direction and support needed on specific tasks or goals. (More about SLII®, and my theory, as we go along.)
So let’s say you made a resolution that this year you would eat healthy and exercise every day. You were excited about getting healthier, you felt sure you could make it happen, but you really didn’t know much about what you were getting yourself into. (NOTE: In SLII® terminology, when it came to your goal of leading a healthy lifestyle, at this point you were at a stage of development known as Enthusiastic Beginner.)
On January 1 you got up and walked around your neighborhood. As you walked, you thought about all the healthy food you had stocked in your kitchen. When you got home, you made yourself a tasty egg white omelet. You walked more and ate healthy the rest of the week. Feeling triumphant, you gave yourself a one-minute praising. Good on me! I won’t have any problem sticking to this program—I’ll just keep doing this every day. This is fabulous!
A few days later, the weather was cold and cloudy. You decided to skip your walk. What if it snows? And I can’t find my gloves. I’ll just stay inside. At lunch you didn’t feel like eating another salad, so you grabbed the peanut butter and made a sandwich. No biggie, peanut butter has protein and the jam is made with fruit. In the middle of running errands the next day, you had some hunger pangs so you drove through a fast food place for a quick burger and fries. I deserve a treat—and it’s still good because I got a diet soda when I really wanted a milkshake!
But later you felt guilty. The next day you fell a bit further behind. You were worried that reaching your goal was not going to be as easy as you thought. And it was clear you were no longer enjoying the journey. You decided it might be best to just quit. (NOTE: These thoughts and feelings regarding your goal of leading a healthy lifestyle signaled that you had now entered the SLII® developmental stage known as Disillusioned Learner.)
So here’s where my theory comes in. My guess is that National Quitters Day would have happened right around this point in the story. Why? Because everyone who made a resolution on January 1 had been attempting to move toward achieving that goal and was going through the same thing. This is the discouraging, but predictable, stage when people begin to question their commitment to their goal. And with a vague goal, no way of knowing what’s ahead in their journey, and no one to give them direction or support, it makes sense that most people would choose to walk away now if it were their choice to make.
You may be going through these feelings about your resolution right now. It is true that getting through this phase of any goal or task isn’t easy—but it is achievable. These three tips will make the difference:
- Rewrite your resolution/goal to make it SMART: Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. SMART goals give you a clear target to aim for.
- Understand the predictable development level curve we all go through when learning a new task or embarking on a new goal: from Enthusiastic Beginner (needs specific direction) to Disillusioned Learner (needs direction and some support) to Capable, but Cautious, Contributor (needs support)to Self-Reliant Achiever (needs little direction or support). Follow the curve and don’t give up!
- Most important: Don’t go it alone. Ask for help from knowledgeable friends. Everyone working on a goal or task needs accountability partners and cheerleaders to connect with on a regular basis. Ask them to check in with you to ensure you are making progress on your goal. Let them know what you need in terms of direction and support on the way to goal achievement.
The end of the story? After rewriting your resolution to make it a SMART goal, learning what to expect along the development curve on the way to achieving your goal, and enlisting friends to encourage, support, and cheer you on, you are well on your way to the healthy lifestyle you designed for yourself! Congratulations and Happy 2023!