It’s time for new year’s resolutions (again).

It’s that time of year. Everyone’s talking about New Year’s resolutions, and about how to keep them this time. We always want to be better at what we do, take better care of ourselves, grow our business, engage with our clients and colleagues, charge more for our services, find new clients, etc. Clearly we really want these things, because we keep resolving to do them.

Keeping resolutions is hard.

But changing habits, changing our patterns of behavior, is really hard. It may not even matter how important a resolution is. Studies show that people who have heart attacks don’t change the behavior that put them at risk – and you’d think they’d be extremely motivated to avoid another heart attack.

There are things you can do to increase your chances.

There are lots of suggestions about things you can do to help keep your resolutions. I googled “how to keep your New Year’s resolutions,” and what did I get? “About 26,700,000 results.” That’s a lot of pages!

Here are the most-frequent suggestions I found:

  • make specific resolutions, the more specific the better
  • decide on specific measurable steps you’ll take to achieve each resolution
  • make only two or three, rather than a whole bunch
  • figure out why you weren’t able to keep a resolution you’ve made before
  • get your friends and family to support you

But what if you’ve already done all of those things?

Maybe you’ve already used all of those suggestions, and still haven’t been able to keep all of your New Year’s resolutions, or maybe you haven’t been able to keep them as well as you wanted to. Maybe you’ve made the same important resolution year after year, and you’re frustrated that you can’t make this change you want to make. So what can you do?

Strengthen your resolutions by imagining your best possible outcome.

You’re more likely to keep your resolutions if you spend time imagining what your life will be like when you’ve kept them, and you’ve achieved what you resolved to achieve. Yes, I said, “imagining” you’ve achieved your resolutions. The technique is called Imagining your Best Possible Outcome.

Does this sound fluffy or woo-woo? If it does, you’re not the only one who thinks so. But here’s the thing: this actually works. Many researchers have done many studies on this, and it helps people achieve their goals.

Imagining your best possible outcome: how it helps.

It’s much easier to succeed at something if you’ve already succeeded at it. That’s common sense, and studies of human behavior back it up. But that’s a chicken and egg problem, right? If you haven’t already succeeded at keeping some particular resolution, that makes it harder for you to keep it in the future.

But if you imagine yourself as having kept the resolution, you give yourself the equivalent of an actual experience. As far as your mind is concerned, imagining something has the same effect as actually doing that something.

Here’s why this works.

Brain imaging studies show that when people imagine doing something, the same parts of their brain light up as if they’re actually doing the thing. So, if you imagine doing the thing well, you strengthen the pathways in your brain that help you do the thing well.

The 4 steps of imagining your best possible outcome

There are just four easy steps to imaging your Best Possible Outcome.

1. Set aside some time

Set aside 10 minutes when you won’t be interrupted. More time is better – say, 20 to 30 minutes – but you can get benefit from even a small amount of time. Have something you can use to record all of the details of your image: your phone, a tablet, or a piece of paper and a pen (old fashioned, but it works).

2. Create a mental image of your best possible outcome

Pick one of your resolutions. If you don’t know which one to pick, pick the one that’s most important, or the one you’ve had a hard time with before. Take five minutes to create a mental image of everything that would be true if you had kept that resolution.

Imagine that

  • you’ve worked hard at keeping your resolutions
  • everything’s gone as well as it possibly could
  • you’ve reached your full potential
  • you’ve realized all of your goals
  • you feel good about what you’ve achieved
  • you’re experiencing all of the benefits of keeping your resolutions

3. Use all of your senses

Use as many of your senses as you can. Studies show that the richer your mental image is, the easier your mind will access it when you need it. So, imagine how you’ll feel (physically and emotionally), what you’ll be doing that’s different from what you do now, the additional respect and admiration you’ll get from clients and people in general, what your surroundings will look like, what success will smell like (yes, really).

4. Write down your mental image

Take another five minutes to record everything about your mental imagery of this best possible outcome. File this away somewhere where you can find it again.

Do this as often as you can.

The more often you imagine your best possible outcome, the better you’ll prepare yourself to keep your resolution. If you can do it once a day, great, or even a couple times a week. If you only have time to do it right before a situation where you especially need to keep this resolution, it will still help you.

Resolve to imagine your best possible outcome.

Now, how can you make sure you keep this resolution – the resolution to imagine your best possible outcome – given how hard it can be to keep resolutions? Here’s how. Schedule 10 minutes for this, at least once a week. Write it down in your planner. Then keep this appointment with yourself.

And benefit from keeping your resolutions.

Making resolutions is all about doing things we want to do to make our work and our lives better. You know that keeping resolutions is hard. So make it easy for yourself by imagining how your life will be better when you keep them. Imagine your Best Possible Outcome of achieving all of the things you want to achieve in the coming year.

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