Tipsheet: Carrot and Stick Resolutions

Carrot and Stick Resolutions

If you’re like many people, you will make a New Year’s
Resolution: start this project, finish that project, exercise more, eat less,
etc. Yet despite our best intentions, too often there is little follow-through,
and the resolution is quietly abandoned. This year, can it be different? (Yes!)

Translating resolution to action is far easier when you add four
extra ingredients: Intention, Carrots, Sticks, and Commitment.

Reasonable Intention: It makes no sense to
intend to do something that is impossible or unreasonable. If you have
mandatory early morning meetings each day, then you can’t go to the gym at
precisely that time. Your intentions should be something that is physically
possible for you to do (or stop doing).

Carrot: If you intend to go jogging two times
weekly, then rewarding yourself with (say) a new jacket in three months might
be just enough incentive to keep you going if your resolve starts to falter.
And when you do get that jacket, the jacket itself will mean much more: it
becomes a symbol of your ability to follow through on your commitment.

Stick: In the same way that a Carrot provides incentive to act, the Stick imposes a cost for inaction. Choose a penalty that is meaningful and would "hurt" each time it is incurred. This might mean foregoing two days of Starbucks coffee, doing household chores for others,etc.

Public Commitment: Often we keep our resolutions to ourselves: then when we don’t follow through, no one ever finds out. This year, make a public commitment to your friends, family, co-workers, etc; not only will these people keep you honest, but they can be your biggest supporters. Side benefit: when you follow through, you strengthen your reputation as a promise-keeper.

This week’s action item: Many people have long given up on New Year’s resolutions. This year, try it again, but don’t just choose a resolution – also choose a carrot, stick, and make a public commitment.

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Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

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Randall Craig has founded several successful start-ups, held a long-time position at a “big-four” consulting firm, and was an executive at an American public company. He currently serves as the 108 ideaspace CEO and chief strategist. Randall has been advising on digital strategy since 1994: he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail’s GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations.

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