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Unreliable New Year's Resolutions
DECEMBER 2014 · Jan Ketil Arnulf
Keywords: leadership, resolution, action

These days, many people want to stop smoking, begin exercising, study diligently and become a better leader. Heard it before?

It is amazing how people believe in intentions – the desire and promise to improve. Researchers are often no better; there are many old theories explaining that people do things because they have decided to. It is not that simple.

A German-American scientist named Gollwitzer has shown that the intention to do something only explains the action if the person has done it before. Deciding to do something you usually do not do is of course like any other New Year's resolution.

The reason is that most of our actions are fairly automatic. We do something because we are used to doing it, and this makes us resolute. When we think of something new, we open our minds to doubt and speculation. Such thoughts often create no real action, only more thoughts.

Who thinks the most about quitting smoking? Definitely not those who do not smoke. We have examined the thoughts of leaders who need to save money, and guess who thinks of it the most? Exactly – those with the greatest overspending. People who are naturally cost conscious just do it, just like people who do not smoke.

So, how do you get there? The trick is to get away from thoughts that are about WHETHER you should do something, and over to thoughts of HOW and WHEN you will do it. Both thoughts and actions become automatic with practice.

The key lies in making and practicing specific "implementation thoughts." An example from practical management: WHEN I come into the office,I WILL sit down with NN and ask HIM to talk about challenges in the project WITHOUT INTERRUPTING... The likelihood is that the employee will feel valued and heard afterwards.

This requires an effort, but repetition automates both actions and thoughts. It is when you just do it without thinking about it that people will see you as a born leader.

Translated by SONG Hui, Edited by PAN Qi

Jan Ketil Arnulf
Associate Professor at BI Norwegian Business School and the Associate Dean of the BI-Fudan MBA program. His education is from the University of Oslo, Norway and the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. His research on management team has been awarded a price, and he is at the editorial board of the scientific journal “The Leadership Quarterly”.
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