January 1 is my favorite day of the year. I love the holiday season but I’m always glad when the travel, the parties, the shopping and decorating are over and all the fattening goodies are gone. (Some of those pounds I thought I’d lost in October found me in December. Tenacious little demons.) January 1 represents a fresh start with the ancient tradition of New Year’s resolutions.
But why are the resolutions we make on January 1 often history by February 1? Because we didn’t set goals—we made wishes.
A goal without an action plan attached is just a wish.
Setting goals and objectives should be a simple process but clients often tell me they find the concept confusing. Let’s simplify it with an analogy. Suppose you want to take a trip. You wouldn’t just hop in your car and start driving in a random direction. First you’d decide where you wanted to go. Your destination is your goal.
Knowing where you want to go you enables you to plan how you are going to get there. Mapping out your trip in advance answers questions like these:
- How far away is your destination?
- How long will it take to get there?
- How far do you intend to travel each day?
- Where are the points you will stop along the way?
- How much will the trip cost?
These steps are your objectives or interim goals. At the end of each day, you’ll know if you met your objective for that day. It’s black and white—you’ve either reached your stopping place or you haven’t. Simple, right?
Of course, it’s your destination and you might decide to take a detour along the way. Or change your destination entirely. The important point is that you are in the driver’s seat and in complete control.
Rules of the Resolutions Road: How to Set Goals that Work
- Make them meaningful. Don’t make so many resolutions you become overwhelmed. Spend some time thinking about what’s important to you and what you’d most like to achieve or change. I suggest working toward no more than 2 major goals at a time to help you maintain a laser sharp focus.
- Make them concrete and specific. Exactly what do you want to achieve? “Lose weight” is a vague and squishy goal because there’s no way to know when you’ve arrived at your destination. How much weight? 10 pounds? 20? 100? “Weigh 150 pounds or less” is a specific goal. Be sure to attach an anticipated completion date to each goal, too.
- Make them measurable. Using the example above, there will be no doubt whether you’re progressing toward your goal and when you’ve reached your final destination. The scale will tell you.
- Make them realistic. If you’re a couch potato on January 1 and your goal is to run a marathon, don’t expect to be able to do that by March. Set small, achievable objectives so you won’t get discouraged and gradually increase them. For example, “Walk ½ mile every day the first week, ¾ mile every day the second week, etc.” Start small and build from there.
- Review them often. Keep your goal and its objectives at the center of your attention. Establishing new habits and routines takes discipline and time. Review your goals weekly and celebrate each objective accomplished no matter how small. Every tiny step toward your goal is a step in the right direction.
- Make them positive. “Lose the lard” or “Stop being lazy” is negative. “Weigh ___ (fill in the blank) pounds or less” or “Complete a 5K run” is much more positive.
- Make sure your goals are yours. Own them. Making changes is difficult and requires a great deal of commitment. If you set a goal that someone else wants you to meet you are almost certainly doomed to failure.
- Make sure your goal is within your control. Short of resorting to blackmail, “Make my boss give me a raise” is not in your direct control. If earning more money is what you want, a better goal would be: “Earn $____ (fill in the blank) this year.” One of your objectives could be “Ask my boss for a raise” but that should be followed by some exit strategies in case you reach a dead end.
- Find an accountability partner. Having someone to celebrate successes with you doubles the pleasure and halves the disappointment when you have an occasional miss.
- Ditch the negative self-talk. Self-improvement is not a super highway. There are potholes, detours and occasional dead ends along the way so expect them, learn from them and use them as reminders to recommit to your goal. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t meet an objective in your time frame. Shame and guilt are not effective motivators.
The tradition of setting resolutions at the start of a new year not only gives us a chance to get organized and set goals for the year, it also gives us the opportunity to take a look back and assess where we are as a work in progress. It can be a time of immense satisfaction or renewed determination. So go ahead. Make some resolutions. But this year make your first resolution to attach an action plan to each and every one of them.
My resolution for this year is to post to this blog every Monday. Hold me accountable and as always, I’d love to hear your comments.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and successful 2016. Happy new year!
Food for thought:
What are your goals for this year?
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