Over the past few days, I’ve had several conversations with friends working on their New Year’s resolutions. There’s something about the idea of a fresh start that makes people want to set goals for improvement. However, we know that hastily made resolutions just don’t last. Within weeks, if not days, the majority of resolutions will have been broken, abandoned, or forgotten.
I stopped making resolutions several years ago. I found that I was falling into the same trap that causes most of these effort to fail – the goals being set are either too lofty or poorly defined. I was tired of disappointing myself. Falling short, sometimes just days into January, wasn’t doing my self-esteem any good. So I adopted a different approach.
Now each year, I give myself one or two personal challenges. By framing my intentions as a challenge, I recognize the fact that reaching my goal isn’t going to be easy and a perfect record of success may not be achievable. Because I’m working on a challenge rather than a resolution, I give myself permission to occasionally mess up. I just can’t let myself give up. Falling short is understandable. Abandoning the effort isn’t.
To help make sure I set realistic challenges for myself, I don’t approach the task lightly. There are five steps I follow to give myself the best chance of success with my annual challenges.
- I get specific. Resolutions often fail because they are simply too vague. Eat better. Exercise more. Be a better husband/wife. These types of goals don’t provide any measure of success. To succeed at the game, you have to know what specifically is required. So I try to get as specific as possible when setting my personal challenges.
- I target behaviors. The best way to get specific is to define the behaviors you want to engage in. Instead of “eating better,” try “eat a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar for my afternoon snack.” Nothing changes until our actions do, so by defining the actions we want to change, we set ourselves up for success.
- I start small. I believe that small victories lead to huge wins. I know that targeting a huge shift in behavior such as “join a gym and work out for an hour every day” is likely to fail. But starting small, “walk around the block three times a week,” has a higher chance of success. Furthermore, small victories provide a morale boost that alters the way you see yourself and propels you into other small changes in behavior.
- I go public. Nothing motivates like accountability, so sharing your goals is important. When others know what you are trying to accomplish, they will support you. They may even try to help you. They will almost certainly ask you about your progress from time to time. I’ve told a few trusted insiders what I plan to be working on. Knowing that people I respect are watching compels me to act when my inner drive falters.
- I track my progress. I’ve created a tracking sheet to record my progress against each of my personal goals for 2020. I get motivated when I see a track record of success starting to form. I don’t like to break the streak once I get going. This year, I’ve added space to record my thoughts as I progress through the year. I think it will be neat to look back at my journey next December and see how I’ve grown throughout the year.
I still have goals to accomplish by the end of this year. With a little over two weeks left, I’m working hard to ensure I end 2019 on a high note. But I’m also taking a little time to create my plan for the next 12 months. I want to show 2020 who’s the boss right out of the gate!