Four Steps toward Making 2014 Your Best Year Ever

2014No doubt you’ve heard the old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I believe the road to failure is paved with unrealistic New Year’s resolutions.  Without a strategy, it is difficult to sustain the behavior it takes to achieve our goals. Have you ever promised yourself that this will be the year that you quit smoking, lose weight, start working out, stop wasting time on your electronic devices, or start flossing? If you have already quit making resolutions because you were not able to keep up your efforts long enough for to experience rewards, you are not alone. According to the results of a recent study, the number of us who do succeed with making New Year’s resolutions stick is a whopping 8%.

Webster’s dictionary defines a resolution as “a promise to yourself that you will make a serious effort to do something that you should do.” Maybe the problem lies with the “should”, not with the promise. When we tell ourselves “should”, and perceive the action to be not much fun, we set ourselves up for procrastination and guilt.

At the end of this year, if you find yourself either unemployed, nervously employed, or in the wrong job (low pay, bad management, stressful, unsatisfying), make a commitment that 2014 will be your year to make a change for the better. But rather than making a resolution a promise that is something you should do, consider a different approach by setting an intention. The Webster definition for this is the thing that you plan to do or achieve: an aim or purpose.” Let’s call your desire for the right job in 2014 your “goal intention.” It’s the starting place, but it’s not enough to achieve the change you long for.

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., writes a blog for Psychology Today called “Don’t Delay”, strategies for overcoming procrastination. He writes that what’ your goal intention needs is an “implementation intention.” “An implementation intention supports this goal intention by setting out in advance when/where and how” you will achieve this goal. Dr. Pychyl outlines four steps to make this work for you.

Getting Started: First you make a conscious decision ahead of time, a commitment to yourself, to implement a specific action step every time you do something that you frequently do out of habit. This is called the “if….then” strategy. For example, let’s take flossing. If you habitually brush your teeth, then every time you reach for your toothbrush, you decide ahead of time that you will also use floss. When it comes to job search, maybe you put off networking, either by reaching out to set up a face-to-face conversation with a key person in your field, or by using LinkedIn. If…then might look like this: every time you sit at your computer to read your emails, before you get lost in cyber space or check Facebook, your commitment  (on a sticky note) is there to FIRST make one contact that might have a high impact.

Staying on Track: Studies suggest that people who have made implementation intentions have an easier time resisting temptations and distractions. Is something calling  you that might distract you from working on a step toward your goal? Try timing yourself, with the notion that if you just get started and stay on track for 10 minutes, then you can reward yourself with the distraction. Often less than 10 minutes is long enough to engage your interest and keep you working longer.

Review and Disengage from Ineffective Strategies: Talk with a wise friend or career professional.  Review the strategies you’ve tried so far in order to change your work life. Rate the effectiveness of each kind of effort. If your job search consists mainly of applying for jobs on-line while you  stay at home in your bunny slippers, time for Plan B. Dr. Pychyl notes that receiving disappointing (or no) feedback leads to uncertainty, which feeds procrastination. Forming a very clear implementation intention to plan ahead for what else you might try can keep you from getting bogged down.

Plan for Preventing Will-Power Burnout: There is not much about job search that is inherently rewarding for most people. It takes discipline to keep at it in spite of risking either indifference or rejection by potential employers. I believe it is essential for job seekers/ career changers to develop an intentional self-care plan to manage stress; renew physical, mental, and emotional energy; and recharge commitment. The “if…then” approach has many uses for keeping up your will-power. If you notice you are feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired (borrowed from AA wisdom), then you will stop and take care of yourself. If you have an exciting job lead, then you will go on to develop more new leads. Give yourself an intention goal of always having more than one iron in the fire so that you are not setting yourself up for disappointment.

Experiment with these four steps and may 2014 be your year to thrive!

Anne Bryant, MA

Anne closed her practice 5/31/17 and retired.

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