Setting Goals and the Shelf Life of Emotion

By Timothy R. Clark

Dr. Timothy R. Clark is founder and chairman of TRClark Partners, an Advantage Thought Leader. In this post, he offers eight “Here-to-There Questions” to help leaders and organizations prepare for goal achievement.

Two weeks ago you could walk into any health club and greet the same scene: An hour wait for a spin bike. Pilates classes spilling into the halls. Smiles, sweat and heavy breathing. From gym to gym, it was the same story. Simply electric.

Two weeks later: Rows of idle ellipticals, racks of stoic weights. And listen. What do you hear? The decibel reading has plummeted from 85 to 42. Give it one more month and the annual burst followed by the desolate aftermath will be complete. A lot of things change over time, but the basic pattern of human behavior remains the same.

In most cases, a goal — in this case a New Year’s resolution — is an act of violence against the status quo. It pits you against yourself. Self 1 wants to experience the exhilaration and rewards of pushing to your outer limits. Self 2 is firmly ensconced in the routines, stability and equilibrium of life. Self 1 wants to disturb. Self 2 wants to preserve.

Self 1 feels the excitement, promise and anticipation of a new year. There is an air of expectancy. Self 2 is resistant and content. But in the first days of the new year, Self 1 overpowers Self 2 with a sense of urgency and renewed hope.

Most New Year’s resolutions are goals to achieve meaningful behavioral change. For example, exercise more, eat less, get out of debt, stop smoking, demonstrate more patience, become a better leader, and the like. These things are more than tweaks or tinkering at the margins.

Effecting behavioral change is astonishingly difficult. It pegs out at a 10 on a 10-point scale. If you have doubts, consider the avalanche of confirming data. Success is a deviant case. Studies show achievement rates in the 10 percent to 20 percent range, so there’s a high chance you will wake up one day before January has expired and realize that your resolutions have passed into history in the form of noble intent.

The pattern is one of early failure. We tend to flame out quickly because we rely on the shelf-life of emotion. Emotion is a great catalyst for change, but it’s more like a booster rocket. It gets you off the landing pad, but it won’t sustain the journey.

Read the rest of the article. »

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