Aiming for Lasting Change: Why So Many Resolutions Miss the Mark

Nearly everyone starts out in coaching and development with good intentions. Yet, some fail to achieve their goals. This time of year, as so many of us are making New Year’s resolutions, these failures can sometimes be seen as a punch line or a cliché. As a researcher, I’m curious about why, if we want something so badly we resolve to do it – sometimes year after year – we often fail to achieve those goals.

Of course, I had to take a deeper look. When I did, it was clear that the situation is far from hopeless. (Which is a good thing, considering we’re in the business of developing people!) We found that there are some things people can do to increase the chances of achieving their goals – sometimes significantly!

It turns out that just setting the right kind of goals and receiving regular feedback increases the chances that we will stick to our goals and make the changes needed to succeed.

  1. Goal Setting

Isn’t it easier to drag yourself to the gym if you know what you’re aiming for – being ready for that trip to the Caribbean? Similarly, knowing that you are going to impress your boss at meetings if you work on your persuasion skills will motivate you to work on that skill set. The idea of fulfilling the goal becomes the motivator for change.

While many times people who want to make change feel that they’ve set a goal, if it is too vague or detached from a specific result, it may not be doing enough to help them stick to it. Good goals should be specific and should be closely tied to an impact that has meaning and value for the individual.

  1. Regular Feedback

Think again about that well-known New Year’s resolution: losing weight. Getting on the scale not only reminds us of our goal, but it provides instant feedback about whether the visits to the gym are working. Sometimes the feedback leads to positive emotions – Yes, it’s working. I need to keep doing this. Next stop, the beach! We want to continue to feel those positive emotions. Other times the feedback leads to negative emotions – Um, this isn’t working. I might need to put some more effort into this or try something different. We want to do something to stop feeling the negative emotions. In either case, feedback motivates us to continue to work toward the desired goal.

If you are trying to be more persuasive to impress your colleagues, regularly checking where you stand will help you get there faster. Gathering informal feedback regularly, scheduling frequent check-ins can offer some guide rails on your progress. For more specific feedback that can be tracked over time, consider investing in a tool that supports pulse surveys, which can generate real-time feedback that may be more candid than what face-to-face conversations can yield.

Goal setting and feedback work best when used in a supportive environment. As coaches, we can help our clients turn their good intentions into meaningful actions that yield results.

While New Year’s resolutions may seem cliché, there is a sense of optimism at the start of a new year that can help energize people to commit to their developmental goals. This coaching crib sheet offers several practical techniques for helping clients reach their goals through sticky development.


About the author

Maria is Head of Research at MRG. She loves a challenge and often gets a little too excited about running new studies. She finds peace and balance by cooking (as long as her husband is doing the cleaning) or being anywhere near the ocean.

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