It’s nearing the end of January, and I have one question for you: how are those New Year’s resolutions going? You know – the ones that sounded like this: I’m going to lose weight. Eat healthy. Quit smoking. Save money. Be better.

Blah blah blah. Though (obviously) I’m a big proponent of self care and improvement, I have some strong words for you about New Year’s resolutions, and for good reason.

Those sincere, albeit vague, improvements that I’ve listed above are the top resolutions that about 50% of Americans make each year, according to The Journal of American Psychology. Unfortunately, statistics show that 85% of resolutions go caput six months later. There’s a reason that the gym is full in early January and empty by March!

People make resolutions because it feels like the right thing to do at the time, not necessarily because they’re ready to commit to putting in the time and the consistency that lasting change requires. @LaurenZander (Click to Tweet!)

Yes. Change is Hard.

Yes. Because lasting change is hard. Thankfully, I have a proven system that beats a resolution every time.

So often, resolutions lack a foundation of meaning and personal relevance, which is why they run out of steam. If the date on the calendar is the only thing motivating you to do something you’re reluctant to do – like give up a bad habit or make a big change you’ve been avoiding – even the most heartfelt resolutions will fall through.

But wait, you say! I really DID want to change, and I wanted to do it on Jan 1st!

Okay. I applaud your tenacity, and I offer you an option with a much higher success rate than a New Year’s resolution. It’s an integral part of The Handel Method, which is taught at MIT, NYU, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Rutgers, New York public schools and private companies around the world. I’m suggesting you set up a system of promises and consequences.

Resolutions Vs. Promises

Ready to compare apples to oranges?

Resolution: Vague and open-ended.

Promise: Concrete and goal-oriented.

Resolution: Hard to pin down.

Promise: Very clear and specific, outlining exactly what you will or won’t do.

Resolution: If you break it, nothing happens (minus the wave of guilt washing over you).

Promise: If you break it, pay a consequence (that you’ve designed!), get over yourself, put integrity back in, trump the need for excuses, and start over.

Lastly, a promise should be public, so people who care about you can hold you accountable to them.

That was indeed a mouthful. So, Let’s break it down:

Why clear and specific?

Listen in on your inner dialogue and you’ll hear one particular voice I like to call “the brat.” It hates specificity! It likes wiggle room and loves to negotiate. It’s very sneaky too: my boss gave me this last minute project, so I guess I can’t go to the gym this week. Do you hear the subtle brat at work here, trying to get out of a commitment? Making a promise that is clear and specific shuts up the brat. You have a lot of brainpower, and so much of it can be wasted on negotiating your way out of, rather than keeping, your most heartfelt commitments (e.g., excellence at work, intimacy with a partner, deep self love). My promises streamline my mental focus and they will for you, too.

Why public?

Going public with your promises is brilliant and courageous. The brat hates accountability as does another contender within your inner dialogue: “the chicken.” It’s very brave to speak up in the name of your promises and commitments! Once you go public, not only will you be more likely to keep your promise, but you will inspire those around you to fight for their dreams, too.

Consequences, huh?

Consequences are the final stand against the brat and the chicken. They up the ante and help you restore integrity when you make a “bad” (non-dream) choice or let the chicken or brat win. The natural consequences of breaking your promises usually come too slowly (think smoking and cancer). We don’t pay attention to the effects of breaking our promises unless they are right in front of us – and there are statistics that prove this!

Designing perfect consequences for you that are immediate gives you the deterrent you wish you had to keep yourself in line. For example: if you pick at your skin, you must do 100 pushups that day; if you are snappy with a co-worker, you owe them a latte and an apology note before the week’s end. Good consequences organize your brain around solving your problems and making your dreams come true. Without them, your thinking is organized around excusing yourself, feeling guilty, and staying stuck in the behavior you don’t want.

Make this YOUR year.

Don’t get away with mere resolutions again this year! Don’t make non-specific promises. To be a “closer” and get your results, make really specific promises and tell everyone. You have no idea how powerful this will be. I do.

Care to toast that?


P.S. Get moving with your promises now and download our How to Make a Promise coaching tool!

Lauren Handel Zander is the Co-Founder and Chairwoman of Handel Group®, an international corporate consulting and life coaching company. Her coaching methodology, The Handel Method®, is taught in over 35 universities and institutes of learning around the world, including MIT, Stanford Graduate School of Business, NYU, and the New York City Public School System. Lauren is also the author of Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap, Face Your Fears, Love Your Life (Published by Hachette Book Group, April 2017), a no-nonsense, practical manual that helps readers figure out not just what they want out of life, but how to actually get there. She has spent over 20 years coaching thousands of private and corporate clients, including executives at Vogue, BASF, and AOL. Lauren has been a featured expert in The New York Times, BBC, Forbes, Women’s Health, Dr. Oz, and Marie Claire and she is a regular contributor to Businessweek and the Huffington Post. Click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation with Handel Group.

Image courtesy of Matthew Henry