ChangeGoal SettingMotivationNew Year ResolutionsPayoffPayoffs

Happy New Year Resolutions, or should you break free?

New Year Resolutions cartoon by Mark Anderson
Credit: Mark Anderson

New Year Resolutions – A lift or a weight?

Millions of people will set resolutions for 2021 that, this year, most definitely will be achieved! Or will they? Should you free yourself of this annual ritual once and for all? If you decide to stick with them, how do you tip the scales in your favour?

Let’s consider why people set resolutions to consider whether or not we should rid ourselves of this ritual. Psychologist Richard Wiseman determined that just over half (52%) of people engaging in this annual tradition were confident they’d see them through, yet a mere 12% actually do. If this is true, then why should any of us bother? If there is one thing we know about the human spirit, it is that we need hope and a chance for something better! Resolutions then are a way to formalize what we hope for ourselves. The process of setting resolutions is also a way for us to acknowledge, even if just to ourselves, our personal dissatisfactions and a way to erase our past mistakes. The Babylonians originated New Year’s resolutions with promises to the gods in hopes they’d earn good favour in the coming year. So New Year’s resolutions are about hopefulness – something dating back more than four millennia. 

So, the first question addressed and knowing it is worth it, let’s explore how to be part of the 12% this year!

There are two basic concepts at play. Both of which will either help you meet resolutions or lead to you dropping them before seeing them through. Let’s explore mindset and then look at a tried-and-true goal setting model, with a twist. It is not enough to merely want something; concrete steps must be taken so change sticks.

Mindset to support your resolutions

Let’s start by exploring motivation

How are you motivated?

  • Are you a person motivated by the need to move towards something or away from something? Knowing this about yourself helps you set outcomes more likely to succeed.
  • How do you identify your motivational style? You can do so by listening to the words you use when you express yourself, they indicate the direction.
    • Towards motivation: Expressions like: “I want, I can….” An example could be “I want to achieve a healthy weight this year.” Towards motivation benefits from a realism check. For example, is it realistic to think I can healthily lose 45kg/100lbs in 3 months? Clearly not!
    • Away from motivation: Expressions like: “I can’t, I don’t want…” An example may sound like “I don’t want to remain at an unhealthy weight this year”. Away from motivations tend to be stress driven, in other words some underlying stress factor is prompting the need for change. Here, it is important to identify any underlying baggage (in the motivator) that needs to be addressed first.

So, understanding motivation also helps us self-check for possible weaknesses and enables us to address them right up front to maximize the possibility of success. Let’s continue the journey by looking at benefits.

Exploring the concept of payoff

What is a payoff?

  • It’s a simple technique used to evaluate the payoff, aka benefits, with any new or changing behaviour. After all a resolution is really “a commitment” to different behaviour.
  • How do you identify the payoffs or benefits? You can do so by considering which positive benefits are lost (“lost benefits”), if any, by giving up the old behaviour. It’s important to go deep to make sure all benefits are identified. Then we must consider how those “lost benefits” will be replaced with new behaviours providing the same payoff, albeit in a new way. We do this because if there is a perceived loss in benefit to us without a satisfying replacement, old behaviours will return!
    • Evaluating the tried and true “lose a few kilos/pounds” resolution: If one of the benefits of the old behaviour is eating at an upscale restaurant each week with friends, we delve to see what the payoff actually is. Is the social aspect? The food itself? The frequency of dining out? The feeling from a chef’s signature dish?
    • Benefits are unique to each of us: Let’s say the social aspect is the motivating driver for the old behaviour. The question becomes how will I retain the social interaction using other venues? Perhaps a movie once a week would achieve that social feeling, or a night out clubbing or joining a hiking club? This step is a personalized one.
    • New and old payoffs are compared: Each new behaviour payoff is thoroughly checked against the old one to ensure a like for like replacement; this will help protect the resolution success because the benefits desired will follow the new behaviour.

With motivational insights gleaned, we explore a powerful approach to tip the probability of success well and truly on your side!

Seeing the resolutions through

Resolution reality hits, we’re a couple of days into 2021 and you’re eager to succeed but want a sure-fire way to do so!

In my coaching experiences, the most common reason for not achieving a goal is because it is too “vague and fluffy” and it “lacks accountability”. You might say: “Yes, but it is a worthy goal!” (for instance, getting healthy) and I wouldn’t argue that point. As a coach, I would say the goal lacks specificity, in other words what specific actions are needed to “be healthy”?

Here’s where a goal setting tool with a twist comes in, Pegasus’ PECSAW model. It is similar in nature to the SMART approach we’ve all seen in business, but this goes further making it more powerful. Let me explain. PECSAW embeds a twist by considering four aspects that tap directly into motivation and mindset.

The PECSAW Twist

  1. Identifying what you really want, meaning the positive outcome you desire. Spending time clarifying very specifically what you really want; the desired end result is vivid and clear to you (no one but you need convincing; this is entirely for your benefit).
  • Considering help to achieve your goal and identifying what success will look like once achieved. Look at what you can do for yourself, in particular the attitude necessary to support your objective. Look at the role humour plays, if any, and how knowledge may reduce the stress typically associated with change. A key element here is ensuring your success isn’t dependent on the actions of another person. If it is, explore tweaks to regain control over your success.
  • Evaluating both the benefits and downsides of your chosen goal. Benefits are often easy to describe. Using our example: health, quality of life, or length of life, whereas drawbacks are sometimes more challenging because they often tap into values. For instance, if weight loss is the resolution goal, some drawbacks might be losing the ability to eat favourite foods, losing social experiences, or forgoing a glass of wine. Delve deeply into the benefits and drawbacks on your entire environment establishing connections to what really matters for you. If the steps to achieve the goal are misaligned to your values, then success is unlikely to occur.
  • Recapping things to allow you to integrate what you truly desire with what matters to you. Bring it all together so that you see the plan in vivid detail, this visualization will maximize the likelihood for success. Share the objectives and your plan with your social network. Doing so achieves two objectives. First it increases accountability (for yourself) and secondly it offers you a support network if the going gets tough.

Bringing it together

With these simple steps, goal setting becomes a more positive what’s in it for me approach. Gone are the days of detachment and thoughts of “because I should do it” and hello are “I am doing it for me” days. 

Whatever your New Year goals, give yourself some time to make them a reality. More time than you may have planned on, actually. Many people hang on to the widely held belief that new habits are formed in 21 days, however Lally et al. (2009) found that it takes an average of 66 days for the new habit to form and stick (meaning plateau is reached).

The good news? If you follow this approach, your new fitness membership won’t become obsolete until at least March!

Happy New Year quote by Edith Lovejoy Pierce - new year, new opportunities.

Your turn

Sign into the Member Section or comment below to share your views, tips and tricks on making your personal dreams in 2021 a reality.

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Have any Question or Comment?

3 comments on “Happy New Year Resolutions, or should you break free?

David, thanks for the insights and the information on the Pegasus PECSAW model. That was new to me, and I am quite a strategy/planning junkie. I find that many times, groups or individuals try to rush through the planning and setting goals. We want to leave out the thinking parts because they take time. But, it’s the questioning and thinking that move you to more realistic goals with doable actions and milestones to check progress.

Happy New Year – I’m off to try some of your suggestions.


Thanks so much for your feedback Kathryn! The PECSAW model for setting goals/outcomes is incredibly powerful so I think you’ll enjoy it when you get more into it based on what you’ve said. Let me know if you want to chat about any aspect of PECSAW or planning, I’m happy to do so.


[…] is something that must come from within an individual, as covered in the BLOG “Happy New Year Resolutions, or Should You Break Free?”. It can be incentivized though, which we will get into a little […]

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