I have just finished an interesting book by a guy called Marshall Goldsmith.
Here is a brief chapter that I am sure everyone can associate with and hopefully think about the next time a resolution doesn't quite go as planned.
When people initiate a personal campaign to improve themselves - for example lose weight, shed a bad habit, exercise more, be nicer at home (or at work), run a marathon, learn a language, or play a musical instrument - there is a high probability they will fail. At some point, early in the game or near the finish line, most people will give up their campaign to get better. Why is this ?
Here are the six major reasons :
- It takes longer than we thought. Our need for instant gratification trumps our patience and discipline.
- It's more difficult than we thought. Improvement is hard. If it was easy, we'd already be better.
- We have other things to do. Distractions tempt us to take our eye off the ball.
- We don't get the expected reward. We lose weight but no one notices. We put in extra effort but no one sees it or seems to care. This creates frustration rather than inspiration to persist.
- We declare victory too soon. We lose a few pounds and say "Let's order pizza."
- We have to do it forever. It's not enough that we have to quit smoking. We can't have another cigarette for the rest of our life. Maintenance is tough.
Most of us don't articulate these reasons to ourselves. We simply accept defeat and vow to do better next time.
What is going on here is not merely a failure of discipline, or an unrealistic vision of the future, or being overwhelmed by distractions or failure. It's a crisis of optimism. After the first easy wave of success, when improvement gets harder to maintain, our efforts can seem more hopeless than hopeful. You lose your initial burst of optimism and optimism is the fuel that drives the engine of change. If you can maintain your optimism in the face of these six negative forces, you have a huge advantage over most people. Optimism is not just a mind-set. It's a form of behaviour that guides everything we do. It can be self-fulfilling and it's contagious. The optimist in the room usually has more influence than most of the other people.
I am not suggesting that you abandon realism. My suggestion is the opposite. Take at a hard look at the six factors that could derail you from achieving your goal. Know that they are coming. Then, when they happen (and they will) you will realise that this is normal and you will be more likely to hang in there and maintain your optimism.