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Making Resolute Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions don’t work for me, or for most people. The long-term success rate for resolutions is low; a recent study conducted at the University of Scranton found that only eight percent of those studied achieved their resolutions. Given the low success rate, maybe it’s time for a different view of annual self-improvement. My advice for improving yourself is twofold – shift your mindsets, and remember Aristotle. (I know, “remember Aristotle” is puzzling. Stay with me.)

My first bit of advice is to shift your mindset. Rather than making discrete resolutions, change the way you think about certain things.

A mindset is a group of beliefs and attitudes that shape how we view certain situations. The mindset concept is very hot in education. Carol Dweck of Stanford University popularized the mindset concept through her work on how growth mindsets impact success. The idea is that those with a growth mindset believe that they can improve, so they tend to work toward improvement, which often leads to long-term success. Below, I offer a few suggestions on potentially productive mindsets to consider.

A great benefit of shifting toward a more positive mindset may impact multiple parts of your life. Consider a control mindset. (Yes, it’s time to slip in a little Stoicism.) A control mindset acknowledges that you can control some things, but not everything. This mindset helps you in numerous ways. As I’ve written before, simply understanding what you can and cannot control reduces stress, anxiety and guilt, and increases overall life satisfaction. A control mindset benefits your personal and professional lives.

A humility mindset can bring similar benefits. You’ve probably heard the saying that pride comes before a fall. The verse in Proverbs actually says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It seems to me that this proverb is actually pointing out the dangers of arrogance, which is a lack of humility. Developing a mindset of humility doesn’t mean that you don’t seek achievement. Rather, it means that you recognize that you’re not perfect. I see this as particularly important to leadership. In a previous column, I wrote about the importance of listening to contrary voices. This idea is a direct result of a humility mindset. The humility mindset acknowledges that we’re not omniscient, so we listen to others. In a future column, I plan to write about the importance of perspective shifting (the ability to see events and decisions through others’ eyes). A humility mindset helps with perspective shifting through an associated belief that others’ views hold value.

“Habit rules the unreflecting herd” is a popular quote from Wordsworth. While this pithy quote takes on more meaning when we consider the entire sentence, “And yet not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd.” Wordsworth is criticizing a lack of mindfulness. As I’ve written before, too many of us go through much of our lives on autopilot, acting on habit and taking the easiest path without much thought. Adopting an awareness mindset can help you overcome the hazards of autopilot. An awareness mindset recognizes the importance of paying attention to the world around you.

Before I run out of space, let me clarify my Aristotle reference. Aristotle believed that we achieve virtue through habit. Although he was specifically talking about virtues, we can apply his basic ideas to mindsets. You can develop a certain mindset by first understanding the mindset, then consciously practicing the mindset. This is followed by habitual application of the mindset. Over time, the mindset becomes part of who you are, the mindset becomes part of your being.

This year, rather than making (and probably failing at) resolutions, consider what mindsets you might develop that will help you become the person you want to be. Understand the beliefs and attitudes that influence your perspectives, then work to shift those beliefs and attitudes in a positive direction. Do this and lasting, positive change will result. FBN

By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.

I am grateful to serve as dean at Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business, home to over 3,500 students, and faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of those students and the economic development of Northern Arizona. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to:, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.


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