We’re almost at that time of year to make resolutions for 2019.   In a few short months, we’ll be at the time of year, most of us will have abandoned our resolutions…again.

The majority of my audience is focused on this:

Doing what it takes to achieve the work-life synergy they want in 2019.

Because despite good intentions, we don’t always act on our goals.

The Brutal Truth 

Next year, about 60% of us who failed this year, will make the same resolutions all over again!  Some of us will live on repeat with these resolutions 5 times before succeeding.

Why?  Because we’re biased when it comes to ourselves! 

  1. We think we can achieve more than is feasible
  2. We think it will be quicker and easier than is realistic
  3. We remember feeling good as we made progress before, and bring false hope to why it will be different this year
  4. We all think we’re better than average (statistically impossible) and overestimate our positive traits (so don’t take in negative feedback that could improve our approach…or our goal-setting)

How can you crack this circuit and act on your intentions long enough to actually succeed this year?

The first step is simple.  We tend to be more accurate predicting someone else’s behaviour than our own.  Accept your bias and know it predicts your failure.  Ask a friend to help you achieve your goals this year.

The Science of Self-Regulation

The science bit

The science of achieving goals is about the processes we use to direct our thoughts, feelings and behaviours to achieve them.    

Or not! And unpacking the disconnect (often called the intention-action gap) gets in the way of perfectly good intentions. 

Here’s the good news.  Science isn’t always overly complex.  It can be clear and instructional too.  Learning how the different parts of the process work will help set you up for success in your chosen career-life goals.  So, let’s do the science bit together.

The Best of Intentions Won’t Close the Intention-Action Gap

Mind The Gap

Want to know the single biggest predictor of whether you’ll actually achieve your goals? Intending to.

Yet research shows intentions only translate into action about 50% of the time.  

The other 50% – called the intention-action gap – is the subject of much research. And that gap is where most of our New Year Resolutions fall down.

Intuitively it feels like some people are better at doing what it takes to achieve their goals than others. You know them when you meet them. They’re self-disciplined, forward-thinking, motivated and resilient sorts.   And achieving goals comes down to this mix of traits, skills and abilities, all working to drive what we do – how we act.

Question.  Do you think you are good self-regulation? Do you stick to your goals with determination?  Test it out for yourself below.  Objectively.

Because those who overestimate their self-control skills are setting themselves up for failure as they set their career-life goals.

Here are 2 questionnaires that will give you insight into different areas of self-regulation.

  1. How gritty are you? Try Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale.  This is about sticking to a longer-term goal and not abandoning it. Good news for my audience with their work-life synergy goals – the world of work is where self-control has its strongest impact.
  2. Self-control. Find out how much you have here. This is about whether you can control your impulses in the face of in-the-moment temptations that conflict with your overall goal!  It may not surprise you that our eating and weight is where we’re weakest, despite strong intentions. 

So, what’s going wrong here?  The scientific studies point at a couple of key things:

  1. Missing the Moment! Even delays of 5 seconds can see people forget to act as intended, during a really demanding task.  Relate that to work.  You’re absorbed. Deeply.  Focused on what needs to be done/said.  So, you forget that thing you decided you want but don’t normally do … ‘til the moment has passed.  With its’ window of opportunity to do something different, something you fully intended to act on.
  2. Giving up too soon. Grit is great when it’s pointed at the right goal.  I have written before about how grit has a dark power when employed for the wrong reasons.  But to be clear, for resolutions, we need grit.  Without it, we give up too early.  And there’s so many points that may seem ok…unless we’re gritty.  When different desires compete. When barriers turn up that we didn’t see coming. When our emotions de-rail us.  When we’re spreading ourselves too thin.  When we run out of willpower. 

What About If-Then?

So, we give up because we feel we must.  In that moment.  But we mustn’t.  Not when it matters.

These are the things that will help.  Awareness of our bias.  Looking objectively about what levels of self-control and grit we have built in.  Understanding why good goals still fall down the intention-action gap.  

But there’s more to the science of self-regulation.  There is a way to navigate those threats and stay on track.  A way that closes the intention-action gap.

If-Then Plans 

Think of these as very specific self-instructions linking a situation relevant to your goal to a goal-directed response.   So you have a short-cut all thought out and don’t miss the moment to act.  The when, where, how and what you will do to implement your specific goal. 

It’s time to think about your own work-life goal using this template. Getting as specific as humanly possible, come up with some if-then plans to help you succeed.

IF:              a good opportunity to act shows up – or an obstacle or threat triggers action….

THEN:    ….your goal-response is initiated.  A specific behavior, doing something in a certain way, stating a boundary or ignoring something / feelings without de-railing.

Don’t skimp on this task.  Remember these If-Then Plans significantly increase your chances of achieving your goal.

Mirror, Mirror on The Wall, Show The Truth About My Goal

There is one big problem with If-Then Plans. 

If-Then Plans won’t work for people who aren’t committed to the goal! 

And ‘thinking positive’ can backfire.  There’s study after study, showing that those with the most positive thoughts, images – fantasies about their goals, were the least successful. 

Why?  Because while positive expectations boost our motivation, fantasies take it too far. They trick the brain to thinking the work is done. 

And so kill motivation to achieve the goal in real life!

WOOP and all your wishes will be fulfilled

WOOP is an evidence-based mental strategy that people can use to boost their commitment and change their habits.  With over 20 years of research, we know WOOP works.

WOOP stands for:

  1. Wish
  2. Outcome
  3. Obstacle
  4. Plan

Known scientifically as Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions, WOOP balances positive thinking about our goals, by thinking through the obstacles that might stand in our way of achieving them. 

We need these negatives. 

Then commitment dials up. 

As do rates of success.

So now you know, the 4 letters that spell success are WOOP.  I’ve created a (free) PDF to show you precisely how to stop thinking positively and make it as easy as saying WOOP, to fulfil your career-life wishes this year instead!

Just click here and I’ll send you the way to WOOP.


  • Helen Hanison

    I'm a leadership coach helping seasoned professionals who are at a crossroads, with a growing need to redesign their career but feeling blocked. And worried about that. Together we make a plan realigning work they love with what matters most so they can finally make aligned, confident transformation instead.

    If you'd like to receive actionable advice about redesigning your career, I'd love you to sign up:http://bit.ly/ambitionstothrive

    My story could be called 'from career to motherhood and back again'! With a 20 year 'tour of duty' in the worlds' largest PR firms, I came to a career crossroads after I transitioned from woman to mother. I got lost for some years and having moved country (and back again), and tried a bunch of different ideas both sides of The Pond, I went back to University for a second time - to do psychology. My efforts were well rewarded with first-class honours, an energy ‘reset’ and clarity about the fresh career ladder I wanted so badly. I had found Leadership Coaching and subsequently completed a (rigorous!) programme of training with the world’s largest coach training institute – CTi and have since become a narrative therapist too. Now I love that my commercial edges and marketing savvy work alongside my brand of positive psychology coaching, and know the integration is a powerful one for my clients. I passionately believe we only get to feel as alive and aligned as I do today, if we shape work we love around what matters most and that has synergy with the life we want to be living. In some ways my story represents the hard way to figure what work-life synergy looks like. And that's what I help others with now. If you feel stuck and wish you knew how to make a plan to change that, I'm happy to offer a complimentary clarity conversation. Just email me - [email protected] - and we'll organise that.