Making 2016 Matter: New Year’s Resolutions that Change Behavior

Happy new year's puppy.

It’s that time of year; all of us are focusing on the future and defining new goals for the new year. If you are like me you want to use the start of the year as a platform for raising your sights and becoming more successful, more likable, healthier, and better looking (might as well include that while we’re at it).

But if you are like most people, a month from now you will probably be discouraged, depressed, and angry at how you’ve failed once again to achieve those lofty goals. Committing to and then not achieving New Year’s resolutions has become a rather unpleasant annual ritual.

Well, I have one overarching resolution this year (which I fully intend to accomplish):  it is not to make resolutions I won’t achieve. This year I’m focusing on being realistic; for me, getting half a loaf (or even a single slice of bread) is a whole lot better than going for the whole thing and ending up with nothing.

In November I attended a two-day National Speakers Association Tech Lab in San Jose, California. There I was exposed to a number of compelling presentations about how to leverage new (and old) technologies to support my business efficiently, impact my clients effectively, and both capture and share knowledge in meaningful ways.

I’ve been a student of individual and organizational change for many, many years. But this was the first time I had come across B.J. Fogg’s behavioral research. B.J. Fogg is the founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University; his model is a deceptively simple but powerful way of understanding why individuals do what they do. And I believe it’s directly relevant to the kinds of New Year’s resolutions we are all defining for ourselves right now.

Here’s my short, crude interpretation of the Fogg model (see for the full scoop). Behavior is driven by the intersection of Motivation and Ability. In other words, we do things that we want to do and are capable of doing. Even when motivation is neutral or trivial, if something is easy, we may do it frequently (for example, washing an apple before eating it).

On the other hand, if your desire to do something is high but your ability is low, you probably won’t be successful. I might want to dunk a basketball or shoot a golf score in the 70’s, but given my athletic ability I’m probably doomed to failure and frustration. However, if I really, really want to lower my golf score (that’s a real-life example!) I can choose to work very hard at it, practicing every day, increasing my ability, and perhaps eventually succeeding.

But the FBM (Fogg Behavior Model) has another important component: a “Trigger.” A Trigger is a stimulus or spark that helps initiate the desired behavior. For example, it might be something as simple as a scowl from your spouse that reminds you of your promise to stop eating so many crackers before dinner (that’s very relevant for me right now!). Or something you say to yourself every morning to remind you of that resolution you are working on.

Here is my graphic adaptation of the model as professor Fogg depicts it on his website:

Fogg Behavior Model









It’s a terrific way to think through all those New Year’s resolutions you are making this week.

As just one example: I am currently beginning a month-long effort to drop about 15 pounds and several inches from my waistline (I’m relying on the Fast Metabolism Diet from Haylie Pomroy, which I have used in the past with great success). In this case it’s a matter of committing to eat certain foods (and not others, of course). I want to lose the weight for several reasons:  to feel better physically; to fit into my clothes more comfortably; and to feel better about myself.

I have several Triggers that I’m relying on. First, I get on the scale every morning so I am aware of how much I weigh. If I’ve lost a pound or two I congratulate myself. If not, I remember what I ate yesterday and make a mental note not to do that again. And I also notice which hole on my belt I use when I put my pants on. All those are Triggers that reinforce my desired eating habits.

I didn’t intend to get so personal here, but I think this example is a good demonstration of the Fogg model (but of course that’s my opinion, not his). And it serves to reinforce my original comments about making New Year’s resolutions that are realistic (10-15 pounds, not 50) and doable (I’ve done this before), and to set a relatively short time period for achieving my goal (a month or six weeks, not a whole year).

To make your New Year’s Resolutions matter:

  • pick a small number of things that you really want to accomplish
  • set realistic goals that you know you are capable of achieving
  • take pleasure in marking progress along the way

And to paraphrase a saying I recall from the last century, “If it feels good, do it.”

The truth is that if it feels good you will do it. It’s that simple.

I am a meeting design strategist. Contact me today for a free 30-minute conversation about how you can make your meetings and corporate conversations matter. Please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter to explore what’s possible.


1 reply
  1. Bary Sherman
    Bary Sherman says:


    Hi Jim,

    Very sound advice!

    Our PEP process has proven over the decades that focusing on one or two important goals at a time is the way to achieve lasting change.

    Happy 2016!


Comments are closed.