Wednesday, December 12, 2012

One Thing You Need to Achieve Your New Year’s Resolution: Yourself vs. Yourself

Intersection: what we say and who we are.
As you celebrate the successful achievement of your 2012 goals (we hope), you are likely looking forward to set new goals for 2013. Maybe you have heard the old proverb: write them down for yourself and be sure to tell others about them.

Why? Well, most people think it is about record keeping. Yes, good record keeping is helpful when it comes to September and you try to remember what you promised. However, that is not the main reason why writing a resolution down and telling other people about it makes it more achievable.

The real reason is because of what psychologists call the power of cognitive dissonance.

It's a simple insight we have into the psychology of how our minds work. There is indeed a power to writing things down and telling others. Consider the following two statements: “I am a good person,” and “I tell the truth.” Most of us believe both of these to be true about ourselves. Now when you write down your resolution and you achieve it you connect the achievement to your internal belief of being a good person and being a person that tells the truth. Everything fits.

However, let's say you wrote down your resolution and you are maybe not going to achieve it.  Cognitive dissonance kicks in.  Perhaps “I am a good person” and yet “I don't tell the truth.” This is unlikely and your mind rejects it. Instead, your conscious and subconscious mind works on the idea that “I am a good person” and “I tell the truth” therefore … “I should try to achieve my resolution.” 

So, turn yourself on yourself. Since most of us believe that we are good and truthful, our mind will try to achieve resolutions to keep these self statements correct. Work up a resolution that pushes your boundaries of potential goal attainment. Make it real, but make it something challenging and worthwhile to achieve. Then turn your internal battle loose. The act of writing down your resolution means it’s hard for your mind to think you went to that effort, you're a good person but you didn't tell the truth.

The power of cognitive dissonance also says that the more effort you put into writing down your resolution the more your unconscious will motivate you to make it true. Buy an expensive notebook; use a fancy pen and use your best handwriting. Then give handwritten duplicates to all your friends.

Of course, you could argue that by sharing with other people it is the desire to avoid shame that makes you complete your resolution. Really the same thing, isn’t it? Take a moment now to imagine writing down your resolutions, sharing them with people whose opinion you value, and then finding yourself facing not being able to achieve your goal. If you are a good person and you tell the truth and you look like you are not going to achieve your resolution…either you have to put a lot of mental and social effort into explaining to yourself and others why…or you just put extra effort into achieving the resolution!

Take it a step further. Go organizational. If you are leader of a team, department or company, get the people you work with to write down their resolutions, goals and promises for the coming year. Join them, be the first one prepared to share your resolutions publicly. Watch how the more effort is put into writing down the resolution, and the more publicly it is shared, the harder people will work at all levels to make it come true.

Cognitive dissonance was one of the first things I learned as a psychologist. Counseling people to use it has been a real revelation. It works nearly every time. So, with a few days left, what is your resolution? Comments on this blog are one way you can share it publicly.

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