The LinkedIn Influencer Guide to Creating the Perfect New Year's Resolution

January 9, 2014

happy new year

Ah, January. There's something satisfying about the start of a new year, and with it, the promises we make to lose weight, get organized and spend more time with the people we love. It's a moment when even our most ambitious goals seem achievable.

So what's the right way to make, and keep, those New Year's resolutions?

To find out, I turned to our Influencers, the business luminaries and authors who blog regularly on LinkedIn. This is a group of impossibly accomplished people who know how to develop a plan and stick to it. So what do they have to say about self improvement in 2014?

Over the past few days, they've enlightened readers with personal stories of weight loss (Likeable Media's Dave Kerpen here; my colleague, John C Abell, here). They've implored professionals to set the right goals, and to apply resolutions to the workplace, too. Much of their wisdom is practical -- don't make too many goals, for example -- and designed to help professionals who may have stumbled in years past.

If you're looking to make a change in 2014, here are a few of their top strategies:

What Will Make Me Happy?

Before committing to a resolution, take time to reflect. Ask, "What will make me happier?" The question could lead you to give something up (less nagging of your spouse) or to take something on (more volunteering, more movie nights with friends), says Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project.

By thinking about your goal, and asking a series of questions, you'll be more likely to accomplish what you want, says Deep Nishar, LinkedIn's senior vice president of products and user experience.

He recommends taking stock of the past year prior to establishing a resolution:

What do you feel good about? How can you continue doing that this year?

What could have been better? How can you make that happen?

Answering those questions will also help you to avoid the mistakes that tripped you up in 2013 -- a resolution RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal urges professionals to make.

Big, Audacious Goals Are Great -- But Should You Go Simpler?

OK, sure, it's admirable that you want to write the Great American Novel, travel to the Himalayas and volunteer every weekend. But are you being realistic? Sometimes the best resolutions aren't the big, world-changing goals, but the ones that are easy to do repeatedly.

Like eating dinner with your family. Brad Keywell, a Chicago-based entrepreneur and a co-founder of Groupon, says resolving to eat meals at home every night could have a profound effect. "Cooking dinner at home will help you stay healthy and improve your relationships," he writes. "You’ll be able to check off most of the top 10 goals people have each year, all with this one resolution."

Richard Moran goes even simpler: Look up. The venture capitalist and CEO points out that most of us have our heads buried in our smartphones in meetings, in the bathroom, at restaurants and even during romantic dinners. Enough! "Looking up will wake you up to the reality of what is happening in your workplace," he says.

Then there's Jennifer Dulski's approach to resolutions. The president and chief operating officer of the online petition site focuses on making small modifications to her behavior that benefit other people. So she writes short thank-you notes to people at work, and delivers meals to homebound seniors on Thanksgiving. At home, she commits to "tiny acts of kindness" that will please her family members. (She insists on shutting every cabinet or drawer because she knows that makes her husband happy, for example.) These “small service resolutions," as she calls them, are meaningful -- and also easy to keep.

If You Want a Resolution to Succeed, Learn the Science of a Habit

Of course, many resolutions fail: We get busy, our priorities shift and somehow all the goals we jotted down at the beginning of the year no longer seem doable.

It doesn't have to be that way. The key to lasting change is not only picking the right resolution, but also creating a habit in our brains, says Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, and the author of The Power of Habit.

Duhigg last week described a three-step neurological process to habit formation that can help people in the new year. "First, choose a cue, like leaving your running shoes by the door, then pick a reward — say, a piece of chocolate when you get home from the gym," he writes. "Eventually, when you see the shoes, your brain will start craving the reward, which will make it easier to work out day after day."

Another important point, Influencers stress, is that the resolution needs to be specific, and measurable. Saying you want to find more joy in your life is hard to quantify. But pledging to "'distract myself with fun music when I’m feeling gloomy,' 'watch at least one movie each week,' 'buy a plant for my desk' are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals," Rubin says.

Realize Managers Need Resolutions, Too

Resolutions can stretch beyond your personal life and into the professional world, too. Former GE CEO Jack Welch recommends that bosses resolve to be better managers in 2014.

His advice: Pledge to over-communicate, follow-up relentlessly, embrace generosity (raises for worthy employees are a good thing!), fight bureaucracy and own hiring mistakes.

Doing so will "make it a very good year -- for you, and for the team you lead," Welch says.

Want to learn more about New Year's resolutions? Read the full list of Influencer posts here.

Photo: Getty Images.