The Secret to Keeping Resolutions

by | Jan 22, 2016

Last week our Chair Brian Frederick set forth our Fund’s resolutions for 2016 (and 2017-2018!). Two weeks into the New Year, I hope you remain steadfast in the pursuit of your own resolutions. But sadly, statistics suggest that keeping resolutions is challenging. According to Professor John Norcross at the University of Scranton, only 18 percent of Americans keep their New Year’s resolutions—and more than a third bail out by the end of the first month. Brian noted that our Fund has remained relentless in our efforts to advance economic growth and equitable access to opportunity for more than a decade. More importantly, we have set even higher ambitions for the future. 

So given the depressing odds, how do we plan to reach our goals? For one, we have done our research into the factors that make desired changes take root and have built these into our efforts. Here’s what the literature tells us matters and what we’ve done.

  • Visualize the change. You can’t become what you cannot imagine! During our strategic planning process, our members literally spent time visualizing our intended future through a collective mindfulness exercise, complete with silent meditation as members reflected on their own role in achieving that future. More broadly, our plan describes Growth & Opportunity as our “North Star” and sets forth a vision of our community that links job creation, job preparation and job access across collaborative networks that connect local and regional assets.
  • Be specific. On December 31, you shouldn’t simply proclaim that you want to “be healthier” in the year ahead and expect good things to happen. Instead, you must be concrete; for example, you might say “I want to be healthier by lowering cholesterol through more meatless meals and regular exercise.” Similarly, our Fund has broken down our Growth & Opportunity vision into more than a dozen specific strategies (and initiatives within them) around which we expect to make progress.
  • Establish tangible goals. Of course, it is probably not enough to generally aspire to eat more vegetarian meals or exercise regularly to become healthy; you must commit to specific plans, for example, to eating vegetarian dinners five times a week and going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes. Similarly, for our strategies and our initiatives, we have established specific and tangible goals to which we will hold ourselves accountable.
  • Be realistic. Ok, I might like to win an Olympic rowing medal, but that’s highly unlikely to happen given my age and especially my DNA. But there is no reason I can’t blow away my personal record for a 2,000 meter sprint. Likewise in our Fund strategies, we have set goals that stretch us (and will transform the region), but that are also within reach. For example, in addition to tracking traditional indicators of growth (jobs, payroll, capital), we are working with our grantee partners to establish targets for increasing access to opportunity within distressed neighborhoods across the region.
  • Make it a routine. So you want to go to the gym three times a week. When? It is a lot easier to blow off the goal if it is not part of your routine. So how about every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 10:00 a.m.? Our Fund is making Growth & Opportunity our routine by ensuring we embed elements of the approach into every Fund strategy or initiative—this isn’t a “sometimes” thing for us. 
  • Publicly declare your intentions. Who likes to fail in front of others? I mean, what kind of parent are you if you tell your kids you are going to do something and don’t follow through? (I know several people who’ve stopped smoking by making that resolution in front of their children.) Our Fund has declared its intentions in our 2016-2018 Strategic Direction and we have briefed a broad range of civic stakeholders and Fund member boards about our intentions. (Gulp!)
  • Track progress. If you’re like most people, big goals can feel pretty overwhelming. But getting a little better every week feels more doable. We are committed to reporting regularly on our progress. Our staff will meet monthly for a sober, clear-eyed assessment of each of our strategies and we will share this quarterly with our Evaluation Committee. And going back to Norcross’s research, we should expect some headwinds from time to time—a fully 56 percent of people whoachieved their resolutions experienced at least one setback over two years.
  • Enlist the support of others. Did we really talk about going to the gym at 6:30 a.m. two days a week? What on earth were we thinking? Well, we are a lot more likely to follow through if we know that our friends Marco, Sasha and Lynn will be waiting for us at the gym — or better yet, that they will pick us up to carpool there. Our members are in this work together and support each other in following through on our commitments.
  • Celebrate success. To paraphrase the late UCLA coach Red Sanders, winning isn’t the only thing, but it is a lot more fun. Our quest for Growth & Opportunity must not be a forced march; indeed, it is a joy to relentlessly pursue a meaningful cause with people that you love and respect. We will make sure that in addition to working hard, we will laugh a lot, pause to recognize progress, express appreciation for our colleagues, and continually remind ourselves of the sanctity of our work.