01 Jan

Mind the Gap: Why it’s so hard to keep resolutions and how to up your odds

“I know I shouldn’t yell so much, but I just can’t seem to stop!”

“I know I shouldn’t eat this entire pint of ice cream, but here I go anyway . . .”

“I know I should stop reading Facebook, but the other things I have to do are far less interesting!”

Does any of this sound familiar?

Even when we know what to do, and why it’s important, many of us struggle with translating what we know into what we do.

Marshall Goldsmith, my favorite Executive Coach, explains it this way:

“If the understanding equals doing equation were accurate, everyone who understood that they should go on a healthy diet and work out would be in great shape. Why is it, then, that Americans weigh more than we have ever weighed in our history? We all know what it takes to get in shape, we just don’t do it.”

This gap between knowing and doing may explain why only 8% of New Year’s Resolution-makers are successful in achieving their resolutions (The Scranton Journal of Psychology, December 2015)

But it’s certainly possible to achieve our goals, right? We old dogs can learn new tricks.

We now have overwhelming evidence that the brain is plastic – it can literally create new neural pathways where none existed before, even in old age. (The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.)

The problem is that behavior change takes a lot more time, practice, and focused attention than we think it will. Life gets in the way.

And we tend to give up before the new neural pathways are strong enough to stay.

Based on my own research and training, here are some of the most widely agreed-upon methods to close that gap between what we know we should do, and what we actually do:

1. Write down your resolutions or goals. It’s such a small thing that can make a big difference. According to many behavioral economists including Dan Ariely of Duke University, writing things down significantly increases your odds of following through. Other research demonstrates that “you are 10 times more likely to attain your goals if you explicitly make them.” (The Scranton Journal of Psychology, December 2015) Not surprising, right?

In my family, we have a one-page form we use to capture resolutions and intentions each year. It is fun to look back at the old ones and notice what was important and how we’ve all grown! This example is from my then 5YO:MESB 2012 Resolution


2.  Be inspired. If your resolution feels like an exciting opportunity rather than an obligation, you’re much more likely to take it to the finish line. For example, “Carefree in a bikini!” is more inspiring than “Lose 15 pounds!” – even with the exclamation point. If you still can’t get excited, consider a different goal! You will be much more likely to reach it if you are emotionally driven toward it. (David Rock, Results Coaching curriculum)

3. Focus on behaviors, not just the result. For example, “lose weight” is a result while “swim 3 times / week, 30 minutes each time” is a tangible behavior. You’ll also want to consider what needs to be in place for “swim 3 times / week” to happen. You may need to find a pool that accommodates your schedule, purchase a new swimsuit, and schedule the time into your calendar. Thinking through the “how” will dramatically increase your odds of success (Christine Carter, The Sweet Spot.)

4. Set up your environment to support you. Put a recovered drug addict back into his old environment and chances are very good that he will use again. The environment we are in is a powerful force. Consider this experiment from Google:

“The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.”

“Your surroundings should make the things you need to do easy
and the things you shouldn’t do hard.”
(The Observer, 2015)

Environmental supports could be anything: a lid, items in your home, a post-it note, a repeating calendar entry, an alarm, a piece of clothing, a sign, or really anything that reduces the need for “will power.”

My own example: I yelled much less often after posting “PAUSE” signs around the house that reminded me to take a breath before reacting in anger to my kids.

5. Go public. Tell someone about your resolution, and enlist their support. “It takes courage – and humility – to publicly admit that you need to do better. But once you do, having that band of supporters will help you stay disciplined to reach your goal.” (Marshall and Kelly Goldsmith, Moneywatch, March 8, 2011)

After posting the “PAUSE” signs, I asked my kids to remind me to hit the pause button when they started to notice that I was “losing it.” My kids are wonderful at holding me accountable!

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08 Jul

It’s OK to Say No

I’ve written about this word before.

It was in the context of parenting, however, and this time I’d like to share the empowering side of “no” in the context of life in general.

It’s funny that I feel inspired to write about “no” when I’ve just begun an improvisational comedy class where the motto is “Yes, and . . . “

So I want to first acknowledge that I definitely subscribe to the philosophy of being open to life, open to possibility, and open to new experiences.  YES!  And. . . It’s still OK to say no.

I see it often in my coaching practice:  high-achieving, hard-working, kind and generous parents and professionals who have a hard time saying no.

Some of them have a hard time saying no to a fun night out even though they are exhausted.

Some have a hard time saying no to their work colleague who pops in to chat at the end of the day, even though they’re dying to get home.

Some have a hard time saying no because they think they can do it all – all of what’s already on their plate AND that new thing, too — but then find that it takes longer than they think, and the unexpected little things all add up.

Some have a hard time saying no because they know they are capable of doing that thing well, and they don’t want to let others down.

Most of us have the best of intentions when we take on more at the request of others (or ourselves). We want to be helpful, supportive, and productive. We want to show up for others and live life fully. We don’t want to let others down.

Showing up for others, being open to new experiences, and being of service are wonderful reasons to say yes.

The problem comes when the “yes” leads to exhaustion, overwhelm, stress, poor self-care, or irritability (etc.) in yourself.  The fear of letting others downs can end up letting yourself down — or someone very close to you.

I know you’ve been there. Some of us are there more than others. Are you there now?

Here’s a little tip I came across years ago:  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULDYou are talented, competent and capable of doing a lot of great things.  You want to be thoughtful, helpful, productive and kind.  When there’s something to be done, you may feel like you should jump in and do it.  Well, not necessarily!

When you say, “yes” to something, recognize that you are saying “no” to something else.  What are you saying “no” to?  You might be saying “no” to much needed alone time, exercise, conversation and connection with loved ones, or sleep.  Do you really want to make that trade-off?  Sometimes the answer will be yes.

The point is to be conscious of the trade-off.

I struggle with saying, “no” at times, too. Like you, I am capable of doing a lot of great things. I don’t like to let people down. I want to be helpful and contribute to my communities.

So I struggled when the President of the Parent Association at my kids’ school asked me to co-lead a new initiative with her. I really liked her and thought it would be fun to work with her. The initiative was a worthy cause and one that I was sure I could do well.

However, I was already overcommitted.  I knew in my gut that another project would be too much. And still, I was leaning toward accepting.

I paused long enough for the President to notice my hesitation. She then said something unexpected:  “It’s OK to say no.”

“It is?” I replied. “Wow, thank you. No.”

I was so relieved. All she had to do was reassure me that she wouldn’t be upset if I said no. And then the no was clear.

So that’s my second tip for you . . . whenever someone asks you to do something that is optional, imagine that person following up the request with, “It’s OK to say no.”

Because it is.

You may still decide to say yes!  That decision depends on your own set of values and commitments, for sure.  But to say no in order to protect your highest values and commitments is most definitely OK!

And if you want to decline, but can’t right away, perhaps you can say, “Let me think about it.” Then give yourself some time to consciously consider what you will happily say “no” to, in order to make room for this new, “yes.”

Let me know what you think!  I always appreciate your comments ( :

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31 Aug

In parenting, I do better when I feel better. How about you?

When my 3rd baby was born, something happened to my 2nd-born.  She transformed from a sweet, cheerful, optimistic and easy-going child into a needy, super-sensitive, irritating being.  She was bugging the crap out of me.  I didn’t like the way I was feeling, and I definitely did not like the parent I was being.  So I enrolled in my first parenting class.

The parenting class was great.  I learned a ton and gained many new tools.  Our relationship improved, and her neediness declined.  However, I am aware that my goal in taking a parenting class at that time was to change my child — to get her to stop being so irritating.  Wrong goal.

Many years later, while training to become a life and leadership coach, I began to see my role as parent in a new light.  For the first time in a long time, I took some time to reflect — not on my kids, my husband, my home or my career, but on me!

I began to reflect about what I needed to feel happy, peaceful, “on purpose” and fulfilled.  I began to listen to my heart rather than always my brain.  I allowed myself to let go of some long-held beliefs about who I “should” be, and began to explore who I really was.  And in doing so, magically, my children started to become more easy-going, joyful, and cooperative.  Huh?

Dad with Daughter balanced on feetIt’s a lesson that you probably already know:  when we feel more grounded and “balanced,” that confidence and ease breeds the same in others, including our kids.  I’m not saying that parenting tools aren’t helpful.  They are incredibly helpful!  But for me, the real transformation happened when my goal changed:  from getting my kids to do better, to getting myself to feel better.

“Children do better when they feel better” is a famous quote by Dr. Jane Nelsen of Positive Discipline.  But it’s not just true for children.  It’s true for everyone.

What do you need to feel more balanced and fulfilled?  How can you get more of that in your life? (Life is too short to feel chronically stressed-out, bummed-out, exhausted, irritated or burnt-out!)  Take some time to ask yourself these questions.  Take a risk on having the life you dream of.  What are you waiting for?  You’ll feel better, you’ll do better, and that’s better for your kids, too.

If you’d like some help getting the process started, contact me to set up a 30-minute sample coaching call.

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