As 2018 winds down, a lot of people will find themselves setting resolutions that they probably won’t keep. Don’t believe me? Take it from U.S. News, which found that most New Year’s resolutions fail. But that’s not even the worst part — apparently 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February, just two months into the New Year. Talk about good odds, huh? But since it wouldn’t be helpful to leave you with the bad news, I come bearing good news. Even if the odds aren’t in your favor, you don’t have to be a part of that 80% and there are a few things you can do to make sure that you aren’t.
If you want to know the reasons you should be in that 80%, read my latest article here.
1. Stack the Deck by Thinking Small
If I could magically improve myself by the end of 2019, I’d be fluent in Spanish, French, and German, will have traveled to 30 countries, finished my first self-help book, achieved those perfect abs, and be BFFs with Bruno Mars. The problem with these goals is that New Year’s isn’t some magic holiday that makes all your dreams come true, transforming you to some idealized version of yourself. Yet somehow, we’ve all heard it those four words, “New Year, New Me.” We’ve also probably heard people loudly voicing their opposition to this cliché, but that’s beside the point. What matters is that you acknowledge one essential truth: you won’t wake up in 2019 a brand new person.
Let’s face it: you’re not going to magically stop indulging yourself with “just one cookie” or find a new passion for going to the gym ten times a week if you haven’t been in months. But that doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t change. It means you need to be realistic. Ask yourself what is one small thing that I can do that will make a meaningful difference for me. By nature, many of us are aspirational. Therefore with each goal that you set, ask yourself four questions: 1) Why this goal? 2) Is success possible and/or likely? 3) Why would it work? 4) How might I fail? Save yourself the trouble now so that you’re not looking in the mirror staring at an ice-cream mustache and a beer-belly and wondering “where did I go wrong?” I don’t want that for you and you definitely don’t want that for yourself. If you find yourself with goals that are too ambitious, try forming smaller, more digestible goals that point to the same end.
2. Set Purposeful Goals and Accountability Systems
Every year people make resolutions without taking time to consider why they’ve set them. For each of your resolutions, take an honest look at yourself and develop a meaningful connection with them. Define what it would it mean to you if you achieved it. Imagine how your life would be improved. Forgive me for the business jargon, but make the business case. It might help to do a value proposition for each goal. Here’s an example: If I go to the gym more, I will take a big step toward living a healthier lifestyle which matters because I will experience increased energy level and decreased risk for health issues. By knowing what you stand to lose by failing, you can hold yourself accountable. Another way of doing this is setting milestones and reserving time to check in on your progress. In other words, project manage the heck out of yourself. There should be no confusion on the status of your progress. Plan to do it, do it, and then make sure you’re doing it.
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.”
― Greg Reid
3. Be Specific But Be Adaptable
In 2018, I set out to read one book a month. Not too shabby? I made it to June and I was on pace, but then life happened and I got side tracked. My routine was shaken up and I wasn’t commuting as much, meaning my designated reading time was disrupted. Determined not to fail on my goal, I tried to shove several books in September and October to make up for it. As I was rush-reading, a thought crossed my mind. There is no prize for reading a book a month. The point of the goal was to read more. The number was just a guide and even if I don’t get to 12 book this year, I didn’t fail. I read more than last year and that was my real goal. I say to this to say, while metrics matter, what matters more is your ability to see the big picture. These personal goals are arbitrary and should be fluid. There is no shame in stepping back to see the forest instead of the trees. Setting realistic goals is a solid foundation, but don’t be discouraged if what you thought was realistic requires adjustment. It’s life.
Now, here’s the bottom line. If you’re setting unrealistic goals for the New Year without considering the end-goal, you’re probably also setting yourself up for failure. In which case, my unsolicited advice is simple — don’t waste your time.