A sizable swath of the population is thinking about the same thing today: New Year’s resolutions. Thursday morning, gyms across the nation will be bursting at the seams, and Facebook walls will be plastered with lists and encouraging mantras. Despite our fascination with them, New Year’s resolutions are a bit of a cultural joke, really. A quick google search for “New Year’s resolutions comics” will make you cynically want to give up before you ever get started. In fact, many people do. But if you want to defy all odds and set some goals that you will actually achieve, consider the following advice:
Don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions. Highly successful people engage in regular goal setting throughout the year, not just on January 1st. Setting and reviewing goals at least quarterly allows you to recalibrate and course-correct as necessary. Setting one big monster goal at the beginning of the year that you will be accountable for achieving in twelve months sets you up for procrastination and inertia. This leads to the second recommendation, which is to:
Set SMART goals. While “Be more awesome than last year” sounds like a super positive and totally fun goal, Joe Average is likely to maintain his current awesomeness levels, at best, with this as a goal statement. Effective goals should help you define your desired end state and build a bridge to get there. Effective goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
Link resolutions to bigger-picture goals and values. This gets back to one of my favorite old saws: self-insight. You are more likely to persevere on goals that are personally meaningful and serve some greater purpose. So, what really matters to you? Consider taking an assessment (e.g., this one or this one) that helps you clarify your personal values. You should also think about arranging your goals hierarchically. If your long-term goal is to be president one day, what are some sub-goals that will help get you there?
Look for ways to kill two birds with one stone. Maybe you want to get greater visibility with top-level leaders and to improve your presentation skills. Heading up a project task force that reports to the executive team would be a great way to achieve both. Or maybe you have a personal goal of doing more good works in the community and a professional goal of building your external network. Certain volunteer work opportunities may provide the chance to do both simultaneously.
Don’t go it alone. Make your goals public property. Thinking about or writing down your goals is an important first step, but filing them away in your mind or a desk drawer is like closing the coffin on them. Sharing your aims and plans with others doesn’t just make you more accountable for achieving them, it helps you line up resources necessary for enacting them.
Above all, don’t let an arbitrary date lead you to rush into a goal that isn’t going to serve as an adequate carrot. Take the time to be insightful about what you want to achieve in the coming year, both personally and professionally, so that you can be appropriately strategic about how you execute your plans to fulfill them.
“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” –Seneca