Another way to look at resolutions
It's that time of year - looking back at close of this year and looking ahead to the next one. And the attendant work of making goals and resolutions. I do this every year, but I take some time to get it right for me - I start thinking about it now, but usually end up with a final list for myself near the end of the month. This gives me time to consider what worked previously, what didn't work, what my current priorities are, and where and what I'd like to be in the future (not necessarily in this year, but eventually).
Over the last few years, I've been including an approach that is becoming more recognized in the mainstream: the anti-resolution (although I didn't call it that at the time). Picture this: someone asks you what you want for lunch. You're not picky so you say you don't care. The person suggests sushi - you say, "no, I'm not in the mood for that." They suggest pizza - "no, I had that yesterday". So you do know what you DON'T want, which is part of the way to figuring out what you DO want.
An anti-resolution is about changing something away from current practice - not something to do, but something to NOT do. This approach can be helpful when the big to-dos are unformed or unwieldy, not lending themselves to specific actions or goals. These resolutions most often fail in retrospect - we recognize later that we didn't achieve them, but we can't really pinpoint why. But we can sometimes recognize actions or behaviours that are clearly NOT part of achieving that goal, and so we can focus on stopping those things as way of getting to our objective.
As outlined in this article, an example could be "eat healthier". This is laudable but difficult to achieve, not least because it it not a SMART goal - specific, measurable, achievable/agreed-upon, realistic/recorded, time-framed. We need to define healthy, outline how we can measure how healthy we eat now and how much we want to improve that, recognize the constraints and requirements of our life and lifestyle to determine how much improvement is possible, how much change we can accommodate to get there, and how quickly/often we want to measure and see progress. From a project perspective, what exactly are we trying to accomplish and why, and how will we know when we're done?
One way to make this goal SMART might be to define it as what we are going to NOT do, as way of contributing to that change. So if eating healthier is a resolution, a specific goal might be "limit fast food to once per month" or "bring lunch from home twice per week." Absolutes such as none or never rarely work, as once we break them we lose our momentum and commitment to pursue them further, so putting number (measurements on them) can help considerably.
Sometimes our resolutions are even subtler, and so it can help to provide some narrative around your current state and the way you want to be in the future. If "eat healthier" is your resolution, consider what other changes you would look for to realize the benefit of this goal. Perhaps its "take the stairs up to Bill's office without getting winded" - that might be a way of measuring for yourself that your "healthier" objective is being realized.
A resolution that's been on my own list for the last several years has been "less abrasive". Some context: after a difficult negotiation with a collaborator, I received some feedback that others in the group characterized me as "abrasive" - quick to anger, inconsiderate of the feelings of others, unapproachable. While I was initially surprised, I quick self-review told me their perceptions were not off the mark: I had been difficult throughout most of the exchange, and not for any defensible reason. I could recall several instances of language and tone that exemplified that harshness, as well as the strong feelings of frustration and impatience at those times.
One specific incident involved me on the phone with someone; I recall being in my office, standing up from my desk and pacing around the office and speaking very harshly and loudly (my imagination includes me punching and kicking the air, and while that's unlikely to have been a part of it, the image helps). I remember that conversation and how I was feeling then, and then I consider how the other person likely felt. Abrasive is a mild word for it. I felt ashamed by how I'd behaved, wincing when I remembered that conversation and how I must have sounded to the other person, and to those around me who heard just my side of the call.
While the entire episode had been difficult, my own behaviour and responses did not help, and likely hurt both the team and my reputation. I resolved to be more collaborative and approachable going forward.
But what does "collaborative and approachable" look like? How does someone be "more" of those things? How could I measure it? Part of my approach was to turn it into an anti-resolution: be less abrasive. That meant being more self-aware, paying attention to the way I was talking and interacting with others, and listening for that tone in my own voice, the one that grated so harshly. I remember as specifically as possible the tone and language and posture from those harsh times, and how I was feeling in those moments, and use that as a measure for my behaviour.
Another factor in successfully achieving these kinds of goals is to be accountable to someone for them. That might be a partner, a boss or a mentor. For me, it's my coach. Throughout the year, we work through the list of resolutions, and I'm challenged to address whether and how I'm meeting my goals and resolutions. It's not for judgement or evaluation, but to provide some objectivity to those goals that might be hard to see and to keep. Having to explain out loud how or why a goal is being met (or not) can help with strategizing how to get back on track or to maintain behaviours. Learning about and then building on your own strengths can also help to meet these resolutions.
This approach works for goals (specific things to achieve) and resolutions (ways you want to be) by narrowing the field a bit and allowing some focus on things that can be done. Sometimes it is easier to start out by describing what you don't want first, narrowing the field a bit so you can determine what you do want, and then plan how to acheive it.
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Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.