Illinois Bar Journal

December 2015Volume 103Number 12Page 46

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Loss Prevention

You Say You Want a Resolution?

artwork for article

How about using your 2016 New Year's resolutions to become a better lawyer - and human being (goals that are not mutually exclusive)?

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
- John Lennon1

Forty-four percent of Americans surveyed last December said that they intended to make changes in their lives - if not the world - by making New Year's resolutions.2 The most common resolutions involved some formidable self-improvement projects:

Lose weight (13 percent)

Exercise more (10 percent)

Be a better person (9 percent)

Improve health (8 percent)

Stop smoking (7 percent)

Spend less, save more (7 percent)

Eat healthier (7 percent)3

Unsurprisingly, plenty of New Year's resolutions fail, and fail quickly. A study by John C. Norcross of the University of Scranton found that only 77 percent of resolution-makers were able to keep their promises "continuously for one week" - which means that 23 percent failed in the very first week.4 At the six-month mark, only 46 percent reported continuous success.5 After two years, only 19 percent were still sticking with their resolutions.6

But when we consider the high-flying nature of most New Year's resolutions, maybe those success rates aren't so bad. And there is, apparently, a bit of magic to making a New Year's resolution, as opposed to some other plan for change - only four percent of "non-resolvers" reported being able to make a change for six months.7

Let's consider how you might go about harnessing the (somewhat, if not totally) awesome power of New Year's resolutions as a tool for achieving your professional goals.

You can't get it if you don't really want

You can get it if you really want
But you must try, try and try, try and try -
you'll succeed at last.

- Jimmy Cliff

The dark-side corollary to Jimmy Cliff's inspiring reggae anthem is this: If you don't really want it, you're highly unlikely to get it. (You can see why he didn't write the lyrics this way - it's not very catchy and it's a bummer to boot.) Change is uncomfortable and typically involves some sacrifice. Pick a resolution that really matters to you - not one that you think you "should" do.

Let's consider a lawyer - we'll call him the Master Procrastinator - who knows that his "just-in-time" schedule creates chaos and stress for his team and might even result in errors and professional liability claims. Those are all reasons that he "should" change, but unless he really wants to change his tardy ways, he won't. He should pick another goal - one that he is highly motivated to achieve.

Big results come from small resolutions

From small things, mama, big things
one day come

- Bruce Springsteen

Successful resolution-makers "think small" - both about the number of resolutions and the time necessary to accomplish them.8 Joseph Weintraub, founder and faculty director of the Babson Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program, recommends setting no more than three goals with a deadline of a year or less.9

Goals should be attainable, but challenging enough to make them worth doing. For the Master Procrastinator, a goal of "don't procrastinate" isn't realistic. But he's pretty sure he can commit to a goal of having all briefs drafted one week before their due date, so he can review them with clients and colleagues and give his staff a reasonable amount of time to get them prepared and filed.

Resolutions don't need to be about self-improvement

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative

Don't mess with Mr. In-Between
- "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive"10

Although New Year's resolutions are often used to strengthen a weakness, they can also be "goals that leverage an area of strength," according to Weintraub.11 For example, it may be the case that the Master Procrastinator has great public speaking skills. In addition to his goal of on-time brief preparation, our last-minute lawyer might set a goal of promoting his practice by presenting a program at a conference that his clients and potential clients are likely to attend.12

Make a plan

You say you got a real solution.
Well, you know.
We'd all love to see the plan.
- John Lennon, "Revolution"

Once you know your destination, you'll need to plan how you're going to get there. What strategies will you use, and what actions will you take so you can achieve the goal?

The Master Procrastinator, for example, might decide to use his calendar to help achieve his goal of having a first draft prepared one week before a brief's due date. When he calendars the due date, he will also put the "first draft due date" on the calendar, and schedule some time for brief preparation prior to that date.

Talk about your plan and enlist helpers

Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it
- Lipps, Inc., "Funkytown"13

Many experts recommend that you "tell other people about your goal or involve others in the effort, so that it's more difficult to quit because you'll let people down."14 Whether or not that works for you, recruit the support of friends, family, and other people who are motivated to help you achieve your goal.

The Master Procrastinator's chief ally in the war on last-minute efforts will be his long-suffering secretary, who is forever working late under frantic conditions to help him meet his deadlines. Sure enough, when he tells her about his goal she smiles at him for the first time in years, crumples up the resume that she's been secretly updating, and offers to send him reminders of approaching "first draft due dates" and hold his calls while he's working on the draft so he can have some uninterrupted time to work on it.

Don't forget to dream

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood.
- Daniel Burnham

Setting attainable short-term goals is important. But don't forget to leave some room for aspirational ambitions, too. As the old year passes away, spend a little time looking past the insistent, clamoring now and see if you can glimpse the outline of who, ultimately, you want to be and how you want to spend the rest of your time here.

Done right, aspirational goals can serve as your mission statement - not the kind that companies generate, peppered with pompous platitudes about optimizing stuff and achieving world domination - but a meaningful statement of your life's purpose and a lodestar for mapping future goals and actions.

Here's one of my favorite examples: Duane Allman, master of the slide guitar and co-founder and leader of the Allman Brothers Band before his untimely death in a 1971 motorcycle accident, wrote and signed this lovely, aspirational resolution in his diary on New Year's Day, 1969.

This year I will be more thoughtful of my fellow man, exert more effort in each of my endeavors professionally as well as personally, take love wherever I find it, and offer it to everyone who will take it. In this coming year I will seek knowledge from those wiser than me and try to teach those who wish to learn from me. I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can.

Here's hoping that you will begin 2016 with a renewed conception of your life's purpose and a few short-term resolutions that will move you ever closer to it. Have a happy - and inspired - New Year!

Karen Erger
Karen Erger is vice president and director of practice risk management at Lockton Companies.


  1. I know the credit officially goes to Lennon/McCartney, but it's pretty clear that "Revolution" is something John cooked up. The tune merits a special place in Beatles history because it was released as the B-side to "Hey Jude," the very first single released by Apple. (No, kids, not that Apple. Go ask the Google.)
  2. Mona Chalabi, "How Fast You'll Abandon Your New Year's Resolutions," January 1, 2015,
  3. Id.
  4. Lenny Bernstein, "It's a week into January and a quarter of us have already abandoned our New Year's resolutions," January 7, 2015,
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Id.
  8. Rebecca Knight, "Make Your Work Resolutions Stick," December 29, 2014,
  9. Id.
  10. Johnny Mercer provided the lyrics and Harold Arlen the music for this goofily upbeat tune. Do you think the offbeat spelling of "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate" inspired Sly and the Family Stone to come up with the title "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)"?
  11. Knight, supra note 8, quoting Joseph Weintraub, founder and faculty director of the Babson Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program.
  12. See Karen Erger, "What Do You Know? Give a Talk about It," 101 Ill. B.J. 100, February 2013, I think one of my New Year's resolutions will be giving up self-citing in this column.
  13. This mainstay of 80s dance parties was written and produced by Stephen Greenberg and released in March 1980. The single reached Number One on the charts in 28 countries, more than any other single release until Madonna's "Hung Up" reached Number One in 41 countries in 2005.
  14. Lenny Bernstein, supra note 4.

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