News & Insight
January 2008

Your Career Path to Success: The Problem with New Year's Resolutions

Let’s be honest. Despite the best of intentions, our New Year’s resolutions almost always fail – often in record-breaking time. Why?, we ask ourselves. We are so motivated. We want to change. Really, we do. So what goes wrong? Why can’t we ‘just do it’?

The little-recognized problem here is that our resolutions are typically designed around fixing our flaws and correcting for our weaknesses, rather than developing our strengths. As Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton assert in Now, Discover Your Strengths, we all have unique strengths, or talents, that are firmly in place well before we reach adulthood. Trying to turn our non-talents into talents is an exercise in futility. Sure, we can modify specific actions and cut back on self-defeating behaviors. True opportunities for growth, however, lie in developing the strengths we already possess.

Here are some typical New Year’s resolutions. See if you can spot how each is a set up for failure and disappointment:

  1. I’m going to start Atkins and lose all those extra pounds once and for all. True, I love pasta. And bread. And cereal. Still, I’m determined to lose the weight. Steak and bacon, here I come!
  2. I’m going to update my website to better represent my brand and offer more value to my clients and customers. Although I’m not much of a techie and design’s not really my thing, I’ve got to get it done. It’s going to the top of my ‘to do’ list.
  3. I’m going to pay closer attention to the numbers at work. I hate this part of my job, but it’s important. I’m going to prioritize this and then get back to the creative stuff that I really love.

Okay, so perhaps I made these a bit obvious. The point is, this is the kind of thing we do to ourselves all the time. We disregard our natural inclinations – and disinclinations – in an effort to remake ourselves into better, more effective and efficient people. It’s just a matter of willpower, we tell ourselves. All we’ve got to do is focus and commit ourselves. This time it will happen.

Or maybe it won’t. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for setting goals. I believe that well-crafted resolutions can indeed provide focus and motivation for improved performance. The catch is that your goals must be centered on strengths rather than weaknesses. So what if you’re not a carnivore? Skip Atkins! There are plenty of other tried-and-true techniques for getting in shape. Not much of a web designer? Hire someone who is. Free up your time and energy for doing what you do best. Not a numbers cruncher? Delegate the numbers work to someone on the team who excels at this sort of thing. Then use your creative talent to produce truly outstanding results.

So go ahead and set goals for yourself – at the beginning of the year and periodically throughout. Just make sure you’re following a natural, strengths-based path. Let this be the year you achieve your goals – and sustain the momentum beyond the first two weeks of January.

Liz Bywater, Ph.D. is a member WJM Associates’ Executive Coaching Faculty. A specialist in human behavior and behavioral change, Dr. Bywater brings a sophisticated understanding of people, relationships, and communication to the corporate environment. Dr. Bywater writes and speaks on a variety of workplace topics. A recognized expert in organizational performance, she is quoted frequently in the media and has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today, to name but a few.

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