“What’s the use?! I’m not making any new years resolution this year. I didn’t accomplish any of them last year.” A dear friend and colleague shared with me his feelings on resolutions when I asked if he made any. He believed new years resolutions were useless and served no real purpose.

While I may agree with him on the superficial aspect of it, it’s the purpose of the new years resolution that we need to focus on.

The purpose of any kind of resolution is to create a positive change in one’s own personal journey. However, its the purpose of the that change which ends up being lost for the person making that commitment.

In this day and age where information and issues are bombarding us and all vying for our limited attention, it’s no wonder that we get so lost and end up loosing our purpose or cause for our actions.

Therefore, in order to rise above the fray and background noise, our decisions to make changes needs to be made consciously toward the overall purpose of our resolutions. Most often, the purpose are too abstract or superficial.

For example, if we are making a goal to spend more time with our employees, we might try to have regularly scheduled brainstorming meetings, or more social team building events. However, what purpose do they serve? Not what does the meetings and events serve, but what purpose does “spending more time” serve?

We had a client once tell us that he was going to be spending more time in the lab, because he felt that his team wasn’t working “hard enough”. I asked him what will that accomplish? He said that if he was in the lab more, it will motivate his people to be there too and to work harder. On the surface, that may seem like a valid plan. However, that’s assuming the people he recruited were motivated by the fear of a looming supervisor or a peering boss.

In this day and age of knowledge workers and/or academics, many of the people joining their groups are motivated by the work and their personal growth. The problem wasn’t his omni-presence. It was his misaligned purpose or cause for his people. His people wanted to do the work, they wanted to be productive. Unfortunately, they had no direction, nor felt they could ask for any.

His people weren’t complaining that he wasn’t there enough, but that he wasn’t there to offer direction or guidance. They wanted mentorship and coaching. To solve it, he had regularly scheduled meetings with his team members on a weekly basis for 1 hour each. They reviewed what they accomplished, what they were working on, and what future tasks needed to be accomplished. Here he was able to help them prioritize and to guide their work. After 6 months, he felt that he had a great sense of his teams’ work and their relationship improved dramatically. They felt comfortable and confident to share exciting new discoveries and data with him and the rest of the team.

He easily stuck to the regular 1 on 1 meetings because it served a greater unifying purpose or goal. The goal of helping his people to be better at their work, their science, and his vision.

Many times, it’s not so much the changes that are difficult, it’s the purpose behind those changes that make it difficult. If we align our goals and our resolutions to our overall vision of why we do science, the tasks associated with them become increasingly small and manageable.

It makes having the will power to stick it out that much easier. As a leader of teams and of your own life, it is up to you to find your purpose and to help others to find theirs. Here are some choice reading materials that nicely highlights the process for discovering one’s purpose and to become resolute when executing resolutions.

  1. The One Thing, by Gary Keller.
    Wall Street Journal bestseller, Gary Keller says “What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This is a great question to ask yourself when faced with millions of distractions during the day, week, or month. So many things will call out to side track you from your goal or purpose. Ask yourself, “what’s the one thing?”
  2. Good To Great, by Jim Collins.
    When it comes to motivating your lab or teammates to keep on task, don’t. Help them by removing obstacles. In this NY Times Bestseller, Jim Collins does a thorough analysis of over 1400 companies and analyzed the top 10 companies to find out what made them great. To summarize, it’s about the people; the who, not the what which makes them great. “They don’t “motivate” people—their people are self-motivated.” They help to guide their teams. If you have to use stick and carrot to motivate your people, you have the wrong people. Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.
  3. Start With Why, by Simon Sinek.
    Think Big. Act small. Simon Sinek, one of the highest rated TED speaker helps to solidify our unifying cause and beliefs about why we do what we do. Big motivating visions help guide, but small steps and systems gets to the goal. It’s our why which guides the how and what we do. Therefore, its important that we carefully define our inspirational why, which will drive our desires toward positive changes.

What were your 2015 new years resolutions? Were you successful at accomplishing them? If so, how did you do it? Are there others in your lab or other colleagues who struggle with sticking to their resolutions? Share with us in the comments below. We’d love to hear what things have helped. So that we can be better at being resolute with our resolutions.