02/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011


Today being the first real business day of the New Year, I am writing this e-letter about New Year's resolutions - those commitments of resolve we find on January 1st that unfortunately often fall by the wayside on or about February 1.

After studying the process of willpower and self-discipline for twenty years, I have some thoughts about resolutions. Here they are:

1. It's silly to make a resolution, and expect to stay with it, unless you are really really serious about the goal you set. There are so many distractions and competing pressures we all must deal with - if we are not very committed, we will falter.

Freud described the mind as "an arena, a sort of tumbling ground, for the struggle of antagonistic impulses." Many of the day-to-day choices we make are the result of balancing competing impulses. Without a very firm reason for wanting to achieve a certain commitment, your chances of success aren't good. So, look within yourself: how badly do you want to keep your resolution? Napoleon Hill, who in 1937 wrote a huge best-seller (which stills sell well today), Think and Grow Rich, suggests that no goal can be accomplished without "white hot intensity."

2. As I have written in other contexts, before making a resolution, tell yourself that the journey will, at times, be very difficult. Set your mind straight and you will be better prepared for the inevitable adversities that accompany every challenge. As said by the father of American psychology, Dr.William James:

"(Some people) choose their attitude and know that the facing of its difficulties shall remain a permanent position of their task ... They find a zest in this difficult clinging to truth, or a lonely sort of joy in pressing on the thorn ... And thereby they become the masters and the lords of life. They must be counted with henceforth; they form a part of human destiny."

3. Be very specific as to what it is that you want to accomplish. Vague goals ("I am going to lose weight") never seem to work. You need to be specific in amount and duration. "I am going to lose 10 pounds within three months." Psychologists who have studied the mind have confirmed this rule in many contexts (weight loss, physical fitness, word processing). One of the leading authorities in the United States on the subject of motivation (J. Reeve from the University of Iowa) has stated:

"Translating a vague goal into a specific goal typically involves restating the goal in numerical terms. Goal specificity is important because specific goals reduce ambiguity in thought and variability in performance."

These are my thoughts for today. More to follow. By the way, if you will forgive a little self-promotion, my new book, The Skinny on Willpower, was just named by the New York Daily News one of the 9 must-read self-improvement books for 2009

Jim Randel is the author of the just-released book, The Skinny on Willpower (Clover Leaf, 2008).