Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 24, January 2003

Issue 24, January 2003

  •  Resolutions or Real Change?

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More ™

Issue # 24
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ARTICLE SUMMARY:   The New Year is often a time for making resolutions - but it takes a lot more for real changes to occur - and to last.  A manual for moving beyond New Year's resolutions to lasting change is presented.


Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor
Ellen is the founder of™ Personal and Career Coaching for lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life 


               OUR PERSPECTIVE


Most attorneys -- especially women -- live impossibly busy lives.  Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.
Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals. You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally. You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.


This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.


                      RESOLUTIONS OR REAL CHANGE?
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
                                             William Blake
The ultimate commitment is the one you make with yourself: to take responsibility for your life and to make the most of it.  This lifelong commitment is born from a sense of urgency, a recognition that time waits for no one and that the choices we make and the actions we take today determine our tomorrows.
                                             Laurence G. Boldt


I recently attended a multi-denominational service. The priest, the minister and the rabbi had all implored the congregation to restore courtesy and civility to our relationships with others.  Heads nodded throughout the large crowd.  As people left, I caught snatches of conversations about intentions to be kinder and more patient.
But from my car I witnessed the usual post-service scene: people cutting one another off in an effort to exit the parking lot; cars driving through crosswalks in spite of the presence of pedestrians; congregants shouting at family members to "hurry up."


Of course, not everyone behaved in ways so contrary to the sentiments with which they'd agreed just 20 minutes earlier.  But the gap between intentions spoken inside the chapel and actions taken moments later was startling.


Our New Year's resolutions are often like this.  How many times have you found yourself making the same resolutions you'd made the year before?  We make those resolutions with the best of intentions. Sometimes we even follow through with these commitments for a few weeks.  But all too often after a few months we notice ourselves doing what we'd promised not to - or failing to do something we'd resolved to do.


Did you resolve not to work so hard this year? Perhaps your resolutions involved spending more time with your family, or losing your temper less often, or taking better care of your health by exercising more regularly.


If you want to see yourself nine months from now actually doing what you've resolved to do, you'll need to do much more than just promising yourself you're going to do it.


Here is a "manual" for making real changes in your behavior - and sticking with them over the long haul:


Research indicates that people tend to make the same New Year's resolutions year after year -- in fact, the average is 10 years.


25% of resolutions are abandoned after a week; 40% are continued for six months and then discarded.


90% of efforts to change actually involve making a commitment to change, failing to do so and recommitting to that course of action.


We make New Year's resolutions for all sorts of reasons: someone else is pressuring us to change; we think we "should" do something differently; or it is personally important to us to make a change.
When we make resolutions under external or internal pressure, the "reward" for saying "I'll change" provides relief from the pressure: we stop feeling guilty or the other person backs off.
Only a genuine interest in accomplishing a particular outcome is likely to lead to change-related action. Try asking yourself, "Do I really want to pursue this goal?"
Your goals must be based on your own personal interests and values if you have any hope of accomplishing them. But even then, an intention is just a prerequisite for change.  It's necessary - but it's not sufficient.
It's important to be realistic about how much you can change at any given time. 
Change takes time - don't expect it to happen too quickly.  You'll just get discouraged and give up.
Recognize that accomplishing your goal will take considerable effort.  Many resolutions never lead to change because we underestimate how difficult it will be.
Don't make your goal too large or too difficult.  Consider the possibility that you may need to break it down into small steps.
Make sure you're not setting a goal that's too far in the future.  You'll need to feel a sense of accomplishment in order to sustain your motivation.  So, if you're trying to do something that can't possibly succeed in the short term, break it down into a series of short-term goals.  For example, don't make a resolution to change jobs - it may take a long time to actually find yourself going to work somewhere else.  Instead, set a goal to assess what kind of work situation would be satisfying for you.  Then resolve to learn about all the possible options for a good fit, etc.
Don't set goals that are in conflict with one another. For example, don't resolve to spend more time with your family and also to exceed the firm's 2000 billable hours expectations.  You'll need to decide which is more important to you right now.
Ask yourself, "How important is this to me?  Am I really committed to making this change?"
If you're ambivalent, you're unlikely to succeed. It may help you to take stock and examine the conflict between your values and your behavior.  Do you value time with your family but find yourself only seeing your children on weekends?  Did you become an attorney in order to positively affect the lives of people but find yourself spending endless hours sorting through minutiae in documents and rarely interacting with clients?
If you want to increase your commitment, make a list of the pros and cons of changing your behavior.  When the pros of change significantly outweigh the cons, you're probably ready to make a genuine commitment.
Ambiguous goals are rarely accomplished. Describe your goal so that there will be no question as to whether or not you've accomplished it.  For example, instead of resolving to lead a more balanced life, you might make a commitment to: 1) using the treadmill for 20 minutes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning; 2) leaving the office by 6:30 PM every day of the work week; and 3) taking your children on a family outing every Sunday afternoon.
Take a tip from Olympic athletes: they envision themselves successfully jumping the hurdles and crossing the finish line in first place.
Having a clear picture in your mind of your life having successfully fulfilled your resolution will motivate you to take relevant actions and bolster your hopes when you feel discouraged.
Research indicates that people who believe they have the capacity to take the necessary action are far more likely to accomplish their goals.  Psychologists call this belief "self-efficacy."
Try bolstering your belief by recalling all the times you've successfully accomplished goals (like graduating from law school) and overcome obstacles - if you're a woman lawyer you've already mastered many of these.
One of many reasons that executives hire coaches is to help them sustain belief in their ability to cope with difficulties at moments when it's easy to lose heart and give up.
It's not uncommon for people to resolve to change and then to procrastinate acting on their intention.  Decide when you will initiate your goal-directed behavior and put it on your calendar and/or PDA.
Accomplishing any goal usually requires a number of different actions.  For example, if you've re join you or set up the treadmill you bought six months ago.
The more complex your goal, the more important it is to break it down into small steps.  You need to set satisfaction benchmarks to sustain your motivation and guide your activities.
It's really no different from any legal project you've accomplished.  You thought through the strategies you'd need to employ and the steps you'd need to carry out and these guided your actions.
You probably know how to choose strategies for completing a legal project, but you may not be certain about the strategies you'll need to turn your resolution into successful goal achievement.
Unfortunately, many lawyers feel that they should be able to do everything themselves.  In the corporate world, it's the norm for executives to receive professional coaching when attempting to accomplish significant change.  The documented return on this investment is substantial.   It's likely that many of your own clients are reaping the benefits of coaching - why shouldn't you?
Psychological research has consistently demonstrated that this is crucial for the successful accomplishment of your change efforts. Most goal-directed actions are not part of our everyday routines. We all have habitual ways of behaving under particular circumstances.  For example, it's probably automatic for you to work when you're in your office.  So it's unlikely that, once there, you'll be thinking about your resolution to spend more time with your family.
In order to change, you'll need to find a way to make your goal-related actions nearly automatic - to establish new routines that compete against the old habits you're trying to modify.   If you decide in advance how you want to respond when you encounter a certain situation, you won't have to rely on the unlikely possibility that you'll happen to remember what you resolved to do.
Therefore you need to specify the when, where and how of the various steps to attaining your goal. For example, you might make an implementation plan that says, "The moment I walk into my office I'll set an alarm on my computer to go off at 6:30 PM and I will leave for home immediately when I hear the alarm."
Writing out your plan will help you ensure that you've clearly specified the when, where and how of each step. It's also a way to increase your commitment. As an attorney. writing it in the form of a contract with yourself helps you to think of it as binding in the ways you would any other legal contract.
In addition, at those inevitable times when your motivation wavers, your plan can remind you what you resolved to do.
If you find yourself unwilling to write out your plan, you might reconsider just how committed you are right now.
Telling others about your goals also increases the probability that you'll follow through.  People are likely to ask you about your progress and you'll want to be able to report some success.
One reason that many people hire coaches is to have someone to whom they are accountable. They know from experience that without this, it's all too easy to "blow off" what they resolved to do when the going gets tough.
Sooner or later you're bound to encounter some kind of barrier to the successful accomplishment of your goal.  If you've resolved to go home at 6:30 PM, you can count on someone asking you at 6:00 PM to do some kind of project that will take more than 30 minutes to complete.
Have a plan for how you'll assertively respond to external pressures that threaten to sidetrack you.
Try to anticipate all possible "risky" situations and what you'll need to tell yourself or someone else so you can stay on course.
It helps to write down what you'll want to say to yourself if you start to have thoughts that undermine your commitment.
You may also want to practice responding assertively to people you expect to pressure you to follow their agenda instead of the one you've set for yourself.
Make a list of the benefits you expect to accrue from successful goal accomplishment.  Keep it visible in every situation where you anticipate some risk to your success.
The more concurrent activities in which you're involved, the higher the risk of being distracted.
How many times have you planned to work on an important goal -- like changing jobs or working a balanced-hours schedule -- only to find yourself with so much work to do that it seems impossible to continue your goal-related activities?
Projects that compete for time with your goals can temporarily gain priority and you can fail to return to those actions necessary to fulfill your resolution.
In order to keep distractions from permanently sidetracking you, create multiple reminders of your resolution.  Lists of the pros and cons of change, a description of the success you envisioned, and people you've asked to remind you can all help you to refocus on your goal after being temporarily distracted.
If you needed to move a piano, you probably wouldn't consider undertaking this task alone.  In fact, you probably wouldn't just ask friends to help, either. Because the piano is so valuable, you'd want to hire movers who specialize in moving pianos.
You can use the same strategy when it comes to turning your resolutions into real change.  Professional coaches are trained specialists who provide the structure, support and accountability needed to accomplish your most difficult and important goals.
BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach™. is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.
Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.
Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.
She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the Mentor Coach Program™.
NOTE:  BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.
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