What Am I Willing to Sacrifice?

BusinessWeek

January 22, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

It’s several weeks into the new year, and how are you doing with your resolutions? According to the federal government, the most New Year’s Resolutions are:

– Lose weight

– Pay off debt

– Save money

– Get a better job

– Get fit

– Eat right

– Get a better education

If so many of us say we want to do these things, why do so few of us do them?

We delude ourselves into believing that our shortcomings are largely due to a lack of something external, and thus we continually search for books, gurus, coaches, or experts who can help us “get better.” As a coach I can tell you there is no one out there who is going to take responsibility for your achieving your goals. It’s all up to you.

What we need to do to achieve our goals is amazingly simple. We have to pay the price.
The Fattest Folks in the World

In fact, what we need to do is so simple that I will save you substantial amounts of time and money. I will give you foolproof suggestions for almost everything that you need to do to succeed with all of the top seven resolutions. Let’s begin with resolution No. 1: lose weight, and its friends, No. 6: eat right, and No. 5: get fit.

In 2007, I was fortunate enough to have a book that was ranked the No. 1 best-selling business book in the U.S. During one of the weeks my book was the No. 1 business best-seller, the No. 1 diet best-seller sold 10 times as many copies! My latest Google (GOOG) search for “lose weight” yielded over 25 million hits. If you wanted to get ideas on how to lose weight, you could spend a lifetime just reading diet books and Internet suggestions.

If reading diet books or reviewing Internet sites would make people lose weight, Americans would be the thinnest people in the world. Instead we are just about the fattest people in the world!

Machines Alone Don’t Do the Trick

In terms of getting fit, we have countless resources at our disposal. Google produced 568 million references to “fitness.” Americans spend a fortune on exercise equipment, work-out books, and health club memberships that go unused and unread. It has been scientifically proved that you cannot get in shape by just buying work-out machines or fitness club memberships. You actually have to work out!

Losing weight, eating right, and getting fit are all highly correlated. My profound suggestions for resolutions No. 1, No. 5 and No. 6 will produce remarkable results: Exercise more and eat less junk food.

The next resolutions that we will discuss are No. 2: pay off debt, and its friend, No. 3: save money. Our unending appetite for diet books is only exceeded by our love for “get rich quick” schemes. My Google search for “make money” yielded over 91 million hits.
Learning to Read the Fine Print

While we say we want to pay off debt and save money, both consumer debt and consumer spending have reached unprecedented levels. We love the latest flat-screen TVs, new cars, and homes that we cannot afford. We don’t seem very concerned about borrowing money to buy this stuff until we have trouble paying the bills. This year millions of Americans had to finally read the fine print and learn that their too-good-to-be-true mortgages really were too good to be true.

Paying off debt and saving money are highly correlated. My brilliant suggestions for resolutions No. – and No. 3: Save more/spend less money.

Countless studies have shown that resolutions No. 4, get a better job, and No. 7, get a better education, are highly correlated. People with better education tend to make more money. People with less education tend to make less money. By education I don’t just mean just a college degree. Apprenticeships and other types of on-the-job training can also lead to increased earnings. And many professions that don’t require a college degree, such as machinist and electrician, can offer pay comparable to what college graduates can expect.

Turn Off the TV and Earn More

I would venture that almost all Americans know that when we have better education and training, we tend to have better jobs. Yet instead of improving their education, the average American is spending 28 hours per week watching television ! It is amazing how much learning we could do if we spent these 28 hours on education as opposed to sit-coms. My incredibly clever suggestions for No. 4 and No. 7: Learn more/watch less TV.

Exercise more/get fit/eat less junk food; save more/spend less money; learn more/watch less TV. These suggestions sound absurdly simple. On New Year’s Day, millions of Americans claim they want the benefits that these simple changes will provide. But by February it becomes obvious that few, if any, of our resolutions will be achieved.

Why not? Each of these suggestions requires sacrificing short-term pleasure for long-term gain. This type of sacrifice is easy to plan for, but it is just hard to do. We would all love to be in great shape, highly educated, and rich. We just don’t want to pay the price required to make these – or any of the other desired changes – happen.
Making the Right Sacrifices

Since making New Year’s resolutions seldom works anyway, I have an alternative suggestion. Make a list of sacrifices that you are willing to make.

Are you willing to:

– Live through the pain of exercise and diet, while everyone else is loafing and eating whatever she wants?

– Live through the deprivation of not having neat stuff while everyone else is enjoying his expensive purchases?

– Live through the rigors of more education while everyone else is having fun?

I would love to give you an “it is going to be easy” plan for achieving the changes you desire. I don’t have one. It is going to be hard. If you are unwilling to make more sacrifices than everyone else, don’t expect to end up achieving more than everyone else.