Reinvent your New Year's resolutions by starting now

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Many resolve to improve aspects of their work and personal lives come the new year. But setting out our goals a few weeks ahead allows more room for focus and for a design-thinking approach

How many times have you set the same financial, fitness or career goals only to find yourself not attaining them in the end? You are not alone. The challenge begins with rethinking one's approach completely if success is to be attained.

Only 20% of people stick to their New Year's resolutions for longer than six weeks and this number becomes much smaller for resolutions that require more time to achieve. The most upsetting part is that the energy and willpower exerted on New Year's Eve will turn to painful self-loathing after failure.

Setting (and keeping) New Year's resolutions means a great deal to us. If we are to do things right we can compare our failures in keeping them to failure in business plans. They have surprisingly similar repair patterns. Unlearning the past approach, rethinking timing details, embracing design-oriented brainstorming, and making sure we do all these when we are fully ready.

First we need to unlearn our past ideas of what New Year's resolutions are about. It's not a fleeting act but a positive life-changing attitude we have to adopt. It requires a great deal of effort and energy to be set in motion. To unlearn take a look at the past five years, turning your failures to learning opportunities, and echoing to yourself the reason why this time it has to be different.

Secondly, timing is an integral part of New Year's resolutions. Most people feel that the only time to think about their resolutions and implement them is New Year’s Eve. For instance, gyms get up to a 400% increase in subscriptions during January and February. We have to ask ourselves how reasonable it is to wait until 31 December to declare our wishes to become better. Setting out our plans and goals a few weeks ahead puts less pressure on us and allows more room for focus.

Furthermore, conceptualising our new and improved year before it starts with a design-thinking methodology is invaluable. In her research Maria Molfino shows how we can use the five stages of design-thinking empathy, define, ideate, prototype, test – to rethink New Year's resolutions.

At the empathy stage we have to figure out what we want for the coming year and how we will be different.

In the define stage we make a concrete scale of what we want and what we can do without, fitting them around our life patterns.

In the ideate stage we brainstorm all our wild and unique ideas, literally pouring out as much as possible.

During the prototype phase we test the feasibility of our ideas. Pick one of your goals and set plans around it, prototyping the real thing. Choose the easiest one with the highest impact.

Finally, in the test phase we adjust our choices, keeping in mind environmental and motivational considerations. You can start up all your resolutions earlier just to see how the new year will actually look. That's testing.

Readiness is all about getting your wits about you. If you have resolved to save 20% of your monthly income so you can purchase your first home, being ready means you have to start observing how and on what you spend your income. You can also seek advice and consistent support from people you trust are good at managing their finances. Getting ready entails calling your banker and making certain changes to your accounts that will help keep your goal in check.

Readiness involves seeking out the things we have to personally contribute to achieve our aim, and the ones we will depend on others for; such as motivational support, cash loans and other resources. Assessing the availability of all these factors and finalising our plans weeks or, even better, months before the year ends boosts our self-esteem when the time rolls around, and we just use New Year’s Eve to cut the ribbon and kick off.

Although willpower is invaluably important in life and business, it's nothing without design and readiness. We all want to turn the thrill of every new year into something beneficial, and having it serve as a launch pad for our goals is truly magical. We just have to accept that it won't be any less magical if we start planning before the new year – thinking things through, testing our plans, and getting everything ready for takeoff. Find out what we need and how to get them, who we need and keep them in the loop.

If we do this right, keeping our New Year's resolutions won't be a failure anymore.

Simon Rey is a strategist, educator and designer currently working as group head of talent, learning and organizational development at Ecobank. Rey is also founding director of the Ecobank Academy

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