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Successful Resolutions Come from Thinking Gray, Not Black and White

The idea of dichotomous thinking means that you look at the world as if everything is either black or white.  That kind of thinking can be dangerous, especially to the accomplishment of goals and in the new year, “New Year’s Resolutions.”

To illustrate, I think of a friend of mine who was addicted to alcohol. At one point when he was trying to quit, he did very well not drinking for the first several months, but then fell off the wagon and went on a binge.  I encouraged him to get back on but instead of sitting just on the “edge of the wagon,” so to speak, to sit in the middle of the wagon, staying away from parties or friends that would encourage him to drink.  It helped a lot!  He told me that prior to this new way of thinking that when he made a mistake he would look at it as complete failure (black and white thinking) and would no longer care  what happened to him so he’d just keep drinking.  But changing his approach to more gray allowed him to make mistakes, knowing that all was not lost and that he did have the power to change. Eventually he fell of the wagon less and less often until one day he quit drinking all together.

Here are some clear actions that anyone can take to quit thinking so black and white about your New Year’s Resolutions. They may help you stop being so hard on yourself when you make a mistake and help you avoid the urge to give up all together:

  1. Write down precisely what it is you want to change or accomplish.
  2. List all the things that keep you from that change and avoid them.
  3. List all the support people, things, and mechanisms that will help you achieve your goals and schedule them into your life.
  4. Keep a daily journal of what you have been able to accomplish, reviewing weekly and making corrective action.

And, in addition to these four steps, be sure not to expect 100 percent perfection as a means to measure how well you have done or a motivation (or lack thereof) to continue on with your goals. I have found after years of tracking my goal setting, that I consistently accomplish about 50 percent of my New Year’s resolutions each year. Okay, you may think that doesn’t sound very good but I beg to differ. If over a 20-year-period I can say that I have been able to accomplish at least half or a little more of the goals I have set over the years, that’s a pretty darn good return on my investment. Hey, 50 percent is better than 0 percent and zero is what you get if you can’t at least shoot for half!

In addition to the idea that if you can’t have it all, why bother, here are two additional observations as to why people fail in their attempts. 

First, they don’t really write down on paper what they are trying to accomplish.  They think they “know” better and the goal should be obvious to they don’t write it down. Because of this, they can’t refer back to it and hold themselves accountable. Write it down. This is a great way to track yourself and to see how much you actually do accomplish in one year. Writing my goals down is what has allowed me to go back and figure a percentage of success as noted above.

Second, the other mistake often made when people fail to achieve success with a resolution is they don’t keep a journal, therefore, they don’t meet weekly with themselves to review and take corrective actions.  Everything in this world is changing all the time, including you, so you have to adjust!  You may have to adjust to less money, or a spouse’s lousy attitude, or the death of a loved one, or changes in your health that derailed your New Year’s weight loss goal, or whatever. Keep a journal so you can have documentation as to what changed and make needed adjustments weekly.

If you will take these 4 simple steps, you can have at least a 50 percent chance of success, and as much as 80 percent, rather than the dismal  national average of 8 percent. 

Dream with me:  

  • If you can change even a few things in your life, wouldn’t that make 2017 better? 
  • As you get more accustomed to this 4-step process, you can look forward to next year and the next!

For me, in my coaching work with people who want to change financially, I teach people to set goals with their spending, debt, and savings/retirement. I make them write these goals down in the form of plans, and then I work really hard with my clients to help them track the success of these plans. This constant planning, recording, tracking, and comparing/re-evaluating helps my clients see clearly what they want financially and how to get there realistically, day by day. I help them hold a weekly meeting with themselves or spouse and this helps them be more accountable. Teaching them in this way has changed many people’s lives for the better in a matter of months!

Take the challenge in the New Year to apply these 4 simple steps to anything you want to accomplish. Remember the cautions of being specific, writing the details down and reviewing daily.  Then keep track of it all.  You will find within one month you are half way to your objective.  This I know for a fact because I’ve tracked my own life this way for years, as I have already noted.  

Have a terrific new year and feel free to contact me for further consultation:   peter@moneymastery.com.

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