How long do you typically keep your New Year’s resolution? I could measure some of mine in days, rather than weeks or months. Some people feel resolutions are downers, burdens. They avoid them altogether.

Yet, we know we would be better off, in one way or another, if we could make, and keep, resolutions. How can we persuade ourselves to do so? How can we make them feel upbeat, rather than burdensome? The answer may lie in the way we frame those resolutions. Here are a few tips.

First, phrase the resolution in terms of something you want, rather than something you want to avoid. Instead of, “I will not eat cookies and ice cream late at night,” say “If I feel hungry at night, I’ll try a few whole grain crackers or nuts first, then wait fifteen minutes and see if I feel satisfied.” Rather than “I will not blow up at my administrative assistant (or child, spouse, or whomever),” substitute “I will make my life easier by asking my admin open questions and paraphrasing his answers.”

The words you choose determine what your brain focuses on. When you state what you do not want, whether aloud, in writing, or in your head, your brain doesn’t feel the “not.” Rather, it focuses on cookies and ice cream or on a vision of you blowing up at your admin. Then, that negative focus tends to drive your behavior.

By using positively worded resolutions you switch your mental focus.            Try this experiment. Say to yourself, “I won’t eat cookies.” Now answer these word associations with the first word or phrase that comes to mind:

  • House                        ________________
  • Coffee                        ________________
  • Snack                        ________________

For “Snack,” did you answer “cookies”? Many people would. That’s how the negative resolution focused their brains. And of course, the more their brains are focused on cookies, the more they crave them. The more they crave them, the harder they are to resist.

Now say to yourself, “When my son delays his homework, I will ask him an open question.” Now answer these word associations with the first word that comes to  mind:

  • Wedding               _________________
  • Shopping              _________________
  • Homework           _________________

For “homework,” what came to mind first, something like “yelling,” “nagging,” or exasperation”; or something more like “question” or “calm”?

You already know that the key to persuasion is to focus on the interests of the person you’re trying to persuade. So when crafting resolutions that persuade you to keep them, it helps to include reminders of the interests those resolutions will serve. That’s why I included “I will make my life easier by” along with “asking my admin open questions and paraphrasing his answers”

Specific resolutions are easier to remember, act upon, and feel confident about. In the above examples, a resolution to practice persuasion skills would be good, but a more specific resolution to ask open questions is better.

A specific skill is easier to schedule. For example, you can enter “paraphrase three statements” or “ask three open questions” along with your lunch appointment.

I hope you will resolve to make your life easier by practicing paraphrasing, open questions, or other persuasion skills in 2014. May you enjoy a persuasive New Year filled with win-win consensus.