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Resolutions Don’t Work, But Habits Do

“I want to attend fewer meetings.” “I want to spend less time in unproductive meetings.” “I want people to feel comfortable speaking their mind when I lead a meeting.”

You may have set New Year’s resolutions just last month. Perhaps (we hope!) one of them included improving your meetings. Regardless of whether you had intentions of changing your meetings, it’s likely you found yourself in yet another unproductive meeting, feeling powerless to do anything about it. Even those of us most vehement about our resolutions typically fail. So what hope is there?

Achieving a New Year’s resolution is a marathon, not a sprint.

Numerous studies and reports show that people struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions beyond one month. One third of the resolutions are abandoned by the end of January and 80% of people just give up. One place this is most obvious is the gym. Compare the number of people in your local gym in February with previous weeks.

At the beginning of the year, we tend to be really ambitious about goal-setting, but soon feel overwhelmed about all the promises and changes we committed to. It starts to feel impossible to keep up so we waver and soon lose the momentum, feel frustrated about ourselves and eventually give up.

Achieving your resolutions requires long term thinking. Yes, you need strong motivation, but you also need to pace yourself. Cultivating habits one at a time is a great way to make new behaviors more sustainable.

Start small and design your meeting habits

In 3 Meeting Habits That Make You More Effective, we talked about the science behind habit-forming and 3 meeting habits that you can implement. As a quick refresher, there are 3 components of the habit loop: cue, routine and reward. A cue triggers a pattern of routine behavior. The routine is reinforced by the reward so the next time the same cue occurs, the cycle repeats. The key to designing new habits or breaking bad habits is to make it simple and easy to start.

For example, if you feel like the conversation is circling around and not coming to a conclusion, one common reaction is to let it go on and waste the meeting time. When this happens, you find your frustration level increases and at the end of the meeting, there’s still no resolution. Every time the circling happens, you withdraw yourself even more, creating a vicious cycle of negative emotion and wasteful meetings. Instead of falling into this downward spiral, you can rewire your response habit, regardless of whether you’re a meeting leader or participant.

  • Cue: You notice or feel frustrated that a conversation has been going on for a while and it doesn’t seem to be progressing.

  • Routine: Ask these questions: “It seems likes we’re circling a bit. What do we need in order to move this conversation to a conclusion? Additional information? Input from specific people? Or are we ready to make a decision/assign next steps?”

  • Reward: Less wasted time in meetings and more clear outcomes.

Keep repeating this cycle for all your meetings until you can go autopilot on this habit. Then move on to the next habit you want to build.

Set up an accountability system

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”-- proverb

It’s easy to revert to your old ways when you’re the only who's paying attention. To counteract this tendency, try establishing external accountability.

Find an accountability partner

An accountability partner is someone who shares similar goals or who can support your change journey. According to Leigh Stringer, the author of The Healthy Workplace, setting up an accountability partnership can be simple. Find a colleague you trust and respect, share your goals with him or her, lay out the specific actions you’ll take and what you need from them, and finally build in regular check-ins to reflect on your progress. You can also reciprocate and do the same for them. It’s like finding someone to go to the gym with. You may have different fitness goals, but you’re still able to support each other.

Join an existing system

You can also join a book club, an online challenge or online course with specific milestones and check-in points. These structures help by encouraging you to follow the flow of an existing system. Using the gym analogy, it’s like joining a class or working with a trainer.

The best time to start is NOW

New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink says there are 86 days in a year that are especially effective for a fresh start. These days stand out from the rest of the year because they serve as “temporal landmarks”; for example, the first day of a month, Mondays, your own birthday, important anniversaries, etc. They help us slow down and pay attention. In addition, “the fresh start effect” also indicates that our brains view those days as an opportunity to reset. We can put the less awesome version of ourselves in the past and start anew. Could today be the day you start improving your meetings?

Interested in joining a group of like-minded professionals to cultivate healthy meeting habits together? Sign up to get notified when our online course is available.

Photo Credit: Dawid Zawiła


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