Forget about making New Year’s resolutions if you want to get off to a good start in 2019. It’s that time of year when you might feel compelled to promise to improve your bad habits or achieve more in the new year. The question is: are you making the promise because you want to or because that’s what is expected?

New Year’s resolutions are a tradition that started with the Romans who made promises to the god Janus (the origin of January) to do better at the start of the year. The goal is to start the year with a sense of hope and determination. The reality, however, is often disappointment and frustration. Fifty percent of Americans make resolutions and more than 80% fail, either because they forgot or made too many resolutions.

This year why not do resolutions a bit differently? These suggestions will help you be in the 20% of people who make and keep their resolutions.

Don’t make too many resolutions

Make one resolution instead of several resolutions. You’re more likely to succeed. Have you read Grit by Angela Duckworth? The author shares the principle on goal priorities. Goals should be stacked kind of like your Christmas tree. There’s the star at the top, supporting branches and then presents at the bottom. You set one goal, the star, and achieve it by fulfilling the underlying supporting goals, the branches. Your daily activities are the presents.

Pick one resolution and drill down. Map out the steps that support you as you complete your goal. Devote a whole month to finishing each underlying goal.

For example, say you want to increase your revenue. Create a list of things that impact your revenues and investigate each one to discover how you can stop leaking cash. Your list could include items like:

  • Determine which services are profitable and which lose money
  • Explore how your utilization, realization and collection rates stack up against the industry standards
  • Create metrics to track how many billable hours are discounted
  • Decide which of your projects you can outsource so you can focus on more billable time
  • Hire freelance lawyers
  • Explore local billable rates and adjust yours

Breaking a big task down into specific projects allows you to create an actionable roadmap to success and motivates you to keep going.

Be like Pavlov’s dog

You know the story of Pavlov’s dog experiment. Pavlov used a metronome to condition his dogs to associate a sound with something pleasurable. Eventually, the sound of the metronome caused the dogs to salivate because they associated the sound with getting fed.

Not to say that you’re a dog, but you can create the same effect to help you stay on course to achieve your resolution. What will you get, do or have if you meet your goal?

Increasing your revenues means you have more profit (assuming you kept expenses low) at the end of the year to pay yourself, invest in your business, give bonuses to staff or travel.

But waiting until the end of the year to get your reward is hard. Better to condition yourself to keep going by giving yourself a nice treat for every step you complete. Indulge in your favorite activities. Take advantage of the fact that, as humans, we are conditioned to favor short term gains over long-term gains.

Incidentally, that’s the reason why most resolutions fail. It’s hard for people to make the short-term sacrifice. You want to lose those winter ten pounds but who can resist the guacamole and hot wings at the Super Bowl party?

Choosing one resolution then rewarding yourself as you complete each step towards reaching your goal makes it much more likely that you will hit a home run. Need a bit more inspiration?

Make it hurt

What? Yes, pain. The pain of giving away money. Have you heard about It’s a website where you can set a goal with consequences. On Stickk, you promise to achieve your goal or pay money to the charity of your choice.

It seems counterintuitive, I know. But most people would rather keep the resolution than pay the charity. That was the theory behind the ALS Ice Bucket challenge that swept the nation a while back. Participants had 24 hours to accept the challenge or donate to ALS or another charity. Even President Obama took part in the ALS challenge.

A resolution is a good thing

Whether you make one resolution or many, what’s most important about New Years is making the commitment to keep the promise. You make many promises as a lawyer: to the court, to your clients, to the profession. But the most important promises are the ones you make to yourself. Those are the promises to keep because if you can’t count on yourself, who can you count on?

Dina Eisenberg

Dina Eisenberg


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