At the start of every New Year, everyone makes huge New Years Resolutions to change their life. Most of these goals have on thing in common; they fail.
There are many reasons why a New Years Resolution doesn’t pan out. Too much ambition, not enough planning, and too many goals, so that when it’s time to take action only a small amount of effort can actually be put forth.
Personally, I don’t like the traditional idea of New Years Resolutions, so I take a different approach to the changes I want to make in my life. I make sure all my goals or resolutions match the S.M.A.R.T. criteria (I’ll explain more below). Second, I plan for my resolutions to be yearlong resolutions. Third, I limit myself to one or two resolutions each year. Lastly, when I review, I focus on what worked, instead of what didn’t.
Now, the S.M.A.R.T. criteria are a simple set of rules to make sure that your goals/objectives makes sense. Every goal that you set for yourself needs to be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time Bound. Without going into too much detail, each of the above criteria puts a test on your goals, and if they don’t meet the criteria, they aren’t S.M.A.R.T. goals.
If your goal is not Specific, you won’t know what you’re reaching for.
If your goal is not Measurable, you won’t be able to track your progress.
If your goal is not Actionable, you won’t be able to start working towards it.
If your goal is not Realistic, you won’t be able to achieve it.
If your goal is not Time Bound, you won’t be able to plan it.
A classic New Years Resolution is I want to lose weight! Or, I’m going to start going to the gym! Great sentiment, but it’s not going to stick. A better resolution would be, “By the end of 2014, I’m going to lose 40 pounds, by going to the gym 3 times a week, and doing 30 minutes of cardio, and 30 minutes of weight lifting.”
The above goal is a much stronger goal, but it’s only Realistic if the person making the goal enjoys going to the gym, or has a person to go with that will get them to keep going. It’s hard to go from never exercising to suddenly being a regular at the gym. And if you aren’t the kind of person that enjoys being in the gym, try something else.
My next set of rules for New Years Resolutions is to make sure they will take me through the whole year. I’ve found that when I take a large ambitious goal (like starting my own company), and break them up into small segments will milestones that I can celebrate, I do a lot better than have one massive goal to just jump into. This way I stay motivated and work hard throughout the year.
I also limit myself to one or two resolutions per year. I do this because New Years Resolutions are really lifestyle changes, not simple goals that you just need to put a little bit of effort into. Getting into shape, reading more, watching less TV, eating less junk food, traveling, meeting new people, and saving more money are all MASSIVE lifestyle changes. They are really great things to work towards, but no one can make all of those changes in one fail swoop.
Limit yourself to one or two resolutions per year will really help you achieve your goals. Then, when the next year comes around, you previous resolutions will already be apart of whom you are, and you can simply keep building upon your achievements.
Finally, when you look back over the past year, focus on what worked for you, not what didn’t. Focusing on the negative side of your goals doesn’t actually get you anywhere. When you take a close look at what worked well for you, you can learn what strategies and tactics work well for you so you can incorporate them into your future goals, and distill what your personal success factors are.
To break this down even further, if we go back to our resolution to lost weight above, let’s say you decide to go to the gym after work. So you manage to go for a week, before you realize that you’re just too tired after work to make it. Plus, you have business meetings, or networking events and happy hours that you don’t want to miss.
So you try the morning. You give that a try for a month, and you just find that it’s WAY too hard to get out of bed an hour or two early to make the gym three times a week. Especially in winter, cause it’s COLD! Then you try going to the gym over your lunch break. That doesn’t work. Well, maybe you shouldn’t be trying to lose weight in the gym. Try going for a 30-45 minute walk first thing in the morning, playing a sport, or trying something new that might keep you motivated, then when you find what works, focus on that.
At the start of 2013, I wrote myself a letter congratulating myself on achieving all my resolutions and goals for 2013. I laid out the plans for my two major resolutions, and set benchmarks for the long-term goals I had that would take me beyond the year of 2013. And what happened? I only missed one goal. My goals were ambitious, and I had to pivot on a couple elements of my resolution because it turns out they weren’t realistic. But instead of giving up, and just letting them go by mid-March, I just pivoted, and saw a lot of success instead. You can accomplish a lot in your life, as long as you keep at it.
What did that teach me? I was listening too much to what worked for other people, and when I tried something that didn’t match with what I knew, I had a lot of trouble making things stick. When I pivoted and found something worked for me, and FOCUSED on that, I found myself making a lot of progress. And the more I focused on what worked for me, the better I got.
You can do a lot of really great things in 2014, and don’t let setbacks stop you from achieving what you want. The main reason I don’t really care for New Years Resolutions is that New Years Day doesn’t really mean anything. There’s no special power in New Years Day that will enable you to get what you want. Every morning you wake up, you have an opportunity to make a positive change, no matter what happened the day before. You don’t have to wait for New Years to make positive changes, and even if the positive changes you committed to don’t pan out, you don’t have to stop. Keep pushing forward.
Best of luck to you in 2014, even though luck is just opportunity coming to one who is prepared.