Bywater Consulting Group, LLC
Liz Bywater, PhD

January 2008

The Problem with New Year’s Resolutions

Let's be honest. Despite the best of intentions, our New Year's resolutions almost always fail — often in record-breaking time. Why, we ask ourselves? We are so motivated. We want to change. Really, we do. So what goes wrong? Why can't we 'just do it'?

The little-recognized problem here is that our resolutions are typically designed around fixing our flaws and correcting for our weaknesses, rather than developing our strengths. As Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton assert in Now, Discover Your Strengths, we all have unique strengths, or talents, that are firmly in place well before we reach adulthood. Trying to turn our non-talents into talents is an exercise in futility. Sure, we can modify specific actions and cut back on self-defeating behaviors. True opportunities for growth, however, lie in developing the strengths we already possess.

Here are some typical New Year's resolutions. See if you can spot how each is a set up for failure and disappointment.

1. I'm going to start Atkins and lose all those extra pounds once and for all. True, I love pasta. And bread. And cereal. Still, I'm determined to lose the weight. Steak and bacon, here I come!

2. I'm going to update my website to better represent my brand and offer more value to my clients and customers. Although I'm not much of a techie and design's not really my thing, I've got to get it done. It's going to the top of my 'to do' list.

3. I'm going to pay closer attention to the numbers at work. I hate this part of my job, but it's important. I’m going to prioritize this and then get back to the creative stuff that I really love.

Okay, so perhaps I made these a bit obvious. The point is, this is the kind of thing we do to ourselves all the time. We disregard our natural inclinations — and disinclinations — in an effort to remake ourselves into better, more effective and efficient people. It's just a matter of willpower, we tell ourselves. All we've got to do is focus and commit ourselves. This time it will happen.

Or maybe it won't. Now don't get me wrong, I am all for setting goals. I believe that well-crafted resolutions can indeed provide focus and motivation for improved performance. The catch is that your goals must be centered on strengths rather than weaknesses. So what if you’re not a carnivore? Skip Atkins! There are plenty of other tried-and-true techniques for getting in shape. Not much of a web designer? Hire someone who is. Free up your time and energy for doing what you do best. Not a numbers cruncher? Delegate the numbers work to someone on the team who excels at this sort of thing. Then use your creative talent to produce truly outstanding results.

So go ahead and set goals for yourself — at the beginning of the year and periodically throughout. Just make sure you're following a natural, strengths-based path. Let this be the year you achieve your goals – and sustain the momentum beyond the first two weeks of January.

In the Press

We are pleased to provide you with links to our most recent articles and citations. As always, we welcome your comments and inquiries.

Secrets to staying motivated when you work from home
Microsoft Office Live


Guest Columnist

Liz Bywater has been selected as January's guest advice columnist for You can submit questions to womenworking's message board:

Ask the Expert Column

In Liz's new Ask the Expert column, you will find real-world strategies for improving on-the-job effectiveness, advancing your career, and successfully navigating workplace relationships. Go to To submit a question, send an email to and include Ask the Expert in the subject line.

Speaking Engagements

It's almost here! Liz Bywater will be speaking at the January 16, 2008, meeting of the Women's Business Forum ( The topic of her presentation will be: Following Through on New Year’s Resolutions: Moving Beyond Mere Good Intentions. The meeting runs from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. and is open to the public. Come join us for this fun and interactive presentation!

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Wishing you a prosperous 2008,

Liz Bywater, PhD

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