12/27/2011 05:23 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2012

A Vision Is a Dream With a Deadline

At the end of the year, people make New Year's resolutions that last a week or so at the most. Why is it so difficult to change when the world is filled to the brim with self help books? It is not that people are unable to commit to action; most people would pass though fire or shark-infested waters to help a loved one, a child or a pet. Why can we not do this for ourselves? The trouble is that it is nearly impossible to change your own behavior. In fact, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and most have few if any real incentives to change themselves.

Perhaps it is time to seek out ideas from an area where change is essential to survival, such as new product design. It takes years of persistence to develop a new automobile and even a toaster can take a year to bring to market. Even with the high failure rates inherent in the design of new product, chances of their process succeeding are much higher than that of the average New Year's resolution.

Business has been dealing with the motivational challenges reminiscent of New Year's resolutions for decades. Their most valuable assets and their biggest cost are their knowledge workers. A recent Harvard Business Review study shows that the strongest motivation for an employee is not money, recognition or perks, but for the employees to see that they are making progress.

Interestingly enough, this is one of physiatrist Victor Frankel's three essential meanings of life, as described in his book "Man's Search for Meaning." When you cut to the bare bones, the essential meaning of life is: love, courage and accomplishment. Can these three essentials be used to focus and make the important changes we desire? This life on Earth is limited and at the end most people wish they'd had the courage to live a life true to themselves, had loved more and done their own thing as opposed to following another's directions.

Applying a three-phase design process -- direction, design and development -- to personal change might look something like this: Spend some time formulating a positive direction that you are really passionate about. Attempting to stop doing this or stop doing that is not as motivating as striving to create a new and passionate intention such as, "I will graduate this year."

Design your New Year's resolution so that it sticks: Use the "Made to Stick" formula from the book of the same name by Chip and Dan Heath. Be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and use stories to make it real. Make sure it is a measurable goal and make a realistic schedule, including frequent reviews and rewards throughout your program. Develop your resolution by taking action.

Using the intention of graduating from a university as an example, immerse yourself in the experience. Wear your university's T-shirts, drink from their coffee mug or use their calendar and make their website and email account your default setting. Commit to and involve your family and friends and stay in constant contact with your study group and fellow students. Pace yourself and remember to reward yourself for your small successes. Don't wait until your work is overly perfected to share it, instead review with peers often and early to make your deliverables a continued learning experience. If you lapse, take an honest look at your previous action or inaction and seek to learn from it. Continue taking deliberate small steps toward that which you are passionate about. As Albert Einstein famously said: "Never underestimate the power of compound interest."