I love this time of year, this week of lag time between Christmas and the New Year. I love the promise of a fresh, new calendar and reflecting on the past year, the good, the bad and the ugly. I am grateful for years when the good outweighs the bad and the ugly. And, I love the chance to revisit goals and aspirations.
I used to make “resolutions,” like so many of us. Unsurprisingly, for many years I was also part of the 92 percent whose resolutions have gone by the wayside by the time February rolls around.
We stink at “resolutions” because they are often too vague, too big or too many. We want to go from being a sedentary Netflix junkie to running the Boston Marathon in a few months, and, we also want to learn a new language, get an advanced degree and learn to play the piano, all at the same time. Pass the potato chips and the remote.
We also stink at keeping resolutions (and goals) because we have a tendency to be perfectionists. If we miss a day at the gym, pretty soon it’s three days, then a week, then a month and then we don’t even pretend.
I’ve learned a thing or two about goal-setting and while I frequently miss the end goal, I almost always learn something from the process. Sometimes the lesson is “Once was enough and I’m never doing that again.”
So how do you increase your chances of being successful in setting and achieving goals?
First, pick the method that works best for you. For some, that may be affirmations posted on your mirror. For others, that may be writing in a leather-bound paper planner that you revisit every day. For others still, it may be programming your smart watch and smart phone to send you reminders to drink water, stand, move and breathe. The key is that it works for you.
You can try the SMART goal method. Smart goals are:
Specific (Goals are clear and unambiguous. Lose 30 pounds, for example.)
Measurable (Results can be quantified. Not just “lose weight,” but how much.)
Attainable (Goals are realistic. Couch potato to Boston marathon in four months is probably not realistic.)
Relevant (The goal must be relevant to you and your life, not someone else’s idea of what might be important.)
Time-bound (Specific start and end dates - and Dec. 31 is not a great date when you are starting on Jan. 1. Chunk it down into smaller, doable pieces and increase your odds of success.)
My friend and business coach Michelle McCullough has SMART-Y goals - knowing your “Y” helps you stay on track.
CLEAR goals is another helpful acronym, especially in environments where you work and/or live with other people.
Collaborative (Goals should encourage people to work together)
Limited (limited in scope and duration - see Attainable and Time-bound above)
Emotional (You are more likely to reach a goal that you have an emotional connection to and that taps into your energy, passion and purpose than one that does not.)
Appreciable (Break down goals into small chunks so they can be accomplished quickly and successfully)
Refinable (Goals should not be rigid but adaptable to life’s shifting circumstances.)
There are also Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, a term coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras. BHAGs are long-term, shoot-for-the-moon goals that may take a decade or more to achieve. Your “stretch goals,” if you will. If you’re a current couch potato, your BHAG may very well be running the Boston Marathon or competing in a triathlon. Maybe your BHAG is finding a cure for cancer, or becoming fluent in multiple languages. Maybe it’s building your own home from the ground up, or traveling to 50 countries. Whatever you choose as your BHAG, it should be exciting (scary), action-oriented, compelling and stretch you outside of your comfort zone. After all, you could spend years pursuing it.
Here are some ways to set yourself up for success:
- Write your goals down.
- Chunk them down into small, easy-to-accomplish steps.
- Tie your new goals to old habits.
- Create helpful aids along the way — set reminders on your phone, put your alarm clock across the room, get rid of junk food in your pantry to eliminate temptation and so on.
- Have accountability partners.
- Celebrate small successes along the way.
- Dump perfectionism.
- Narrow your focus.
- Enjoy the journey! You’ve got this.
Holly Richardson is a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, something she never set as a goal but an opportunity she loves and appreciates.