THE BLOG
02/18/2014 04:57 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2016

Keeping on Track: Being 'Mission-Minded'

Now that we are just over a month into the new year, let's all take a moment to reflect on the progress of our "New Year's resolutions," or -- as I like to call them -- our "2014 Missions."

Are you still training for that first marathon? Have you taken those first steps towards becoming an entrepreneur? Are you a few weeks into a new life with habits that are supporting and cultivating your best self? How are your enthusiasm, grit and willpower holding up so far?

Believe it or not, this is something that has been studied for decades. Researchers have found that about 66 percent of people who decide to make a meaningful lifestyle change as a New Year's resolution maintain it after the first two weeks of the year, but that number precipitously drops to approximately 40 percent by mid-year. [2] [3] In other words, if you have made it this far, great work! If you've dropped the ball, no worries. Right now is a great opportunity for you to reconnect and stop doing that crazy self-critical-thinking-that-keeps-you-stuck stuff.

Either way, you have more work ahead of you...

Statistically speaking, sticking to the plan for the next three to six months is all you need to develop a sustainable change in behavior. [4] For some of you reading this, you just said to yourself, "WHAT?! That's a long time..." yet for others, you just said to yourself, "Yeah, OK. Cool. I can do this."

Having a mission mindset is important, if not critical, to your being committed to a long-term goal. This is particularly timely with much of the world transfixed on the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Rest assured that the elite athletes you will be cheering on have met and overcome countless obstacles, failed more than they have succeeded, and persevered throughout the whole process. You don't make it to such a world-class stage without being steadfast, tough and "gritty." [1]

At this point in time, I would encourage you to do three things:

  1. Finish this statement to put a sharp focus in your life for 2014. THE YEAR OF: __________. In a word (or two), what are you centrally focused on this year? In a word, what is at the center of your mission? This will take some thinking. If you prefer an introverted discovery process, write and/or meditate about it. If you're a better learner as an extrovert, talk it through with trusted and kindred spirits. Challenge them to make the same focused commitment in their lives.
  2. Break up your mission into smaller, more manageable goals. Once you have a mission to accomplish, you can then develop a step-by-step plan for how to achieve it. I encourage athletes to work backwards from the destination. For instance, if your first marathon is on June 1, you may want to sign up for a half-marathon in the beginning of April, a 10k sometime in March, and maybe a 5k in February. To prepare for that, you may want to set a goal for yourself to run at least 15 miles a week, starting this week. So, how many miles do you want to run today?
  3. Revisit your mission often. There is great meaning in what you are doing. Take inventory of the variety and multitude of resources that you have assembled to support you on your journey, such as family and friends, a new diet regimen, or those new running shoes. When things get difficult, remind yourself of why this mission is important to you, and make the conscious (and daily) decision to stay the course.

These skills can help keep you on track, but it's your genuine and enthusiastically-fueled commitment toward your mission that will keep you connected for the long haul. Maintaining a sense of eagerness allows your mind to balance being focused on both your future-oriented goal and the potency of the present moment.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

References:

1. Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.

2. Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld lang syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and non-resolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.

3. Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1989). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1, 127-134.

4. Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1983). Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: Toward an integrative model of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 51, 390-395.

5. Winerman, L. (2013). What sets high achievers apart? Monitor on Psychology, (44), 11, pp. 28