We are only a few days into the New Year and we are already being inundated with articles about failing resolutions. It doesn’t seem to take long does it? January is often a time for reflection about what has been and planning for what will be. Many of us resolve to use the New Year for greater personal and professional growth, only to see new goals quickly fall by the wayside. Perhaps you are determined to be more successful with this year’s resolutions. You can set yourself up for greater success, by following a few simple guidelines. Before we look at what can help with effective goal setting, let’s look at some common reasons for their abandonment and failure.
• Faulty Goals. Poorly defined or abstract goals make success difficult to identify. As a result, you are more likely to feel like you are falling short of your goals and cease pursuing them.
• Faulty Reasons. When you set goals that are not internally motivated or defined, you are less likely to stay with them when challenged. For example, losing weight so a spouse will be more attentive. This is problematic because it depends upon elements out of your control to define success. This can not only be discouraging, but can lead to other problems such as resentment towards the spouse.
• Conflict with other goals. You can set goals for the right reasons, but they may conflict with other values or objectives. You can strive to work harder, but what if that comes at the expense of family time? It is important to understand how your goals can impact other areas of your life and plan accordingly.
Once you have identified a few common roadblocks, implement just a few steps to strengthen this year’s resolutions. In my experience, these 5 elements of goal-setting can effectively help you to stay with and achieve your desired goals for the coming year.
1. Make your goals clear and manageable. Clearly defined goals helps you easily identify success. “I want to be more patient” is a great goal, but how do you measure that? Use smaller, measureable objectives to add clarity. The SMART method of goal setting provides a model for creating specificity. When identifying goals, make them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
When goals are too lofty, we can quickly feel overwhelmed. Completing smaller steps, one at a time, helps us experience achievement throughout the journey and creates confidence towards accomplishing the larger goal. Rather than focusing on the entire garage you need to clean and organize, focus on one area at a time.
2. Personalize your goals and share them with others. Avoid making goals that seek to change others. You are more likely to abandon goals that are not relevant to you. Sometimes your goals may also benefit others, but the motivation needs to be internal. You can set goals to spend more time with your spouse. They may benefit, but the reason for the goal is because you value its importance, not because you are hoping to benefit in return or because you feel pressured to do so. If you don’t personally identify with your goals, they are not likely to be achieved.
Your goals are personal, but you can share your plans with others. In fact, studies suggest this is an effective strategy. Tell others you trust and ask them to keep in touch with how you are doing. Many goals are more likely to be achieved when we are working towards them with others. For example, exercise goals tend to be more successful when carried out in groups or with a partner. When others expect us to be there, we are more likely to show up even on days when we aren’t as motivated.
3. Visualize and rehearse what you want to do instead of what you want to stop. Approach goals are goals that focus on behaviors you want to implement. Avoidance goals address behaviors you want to stop. Avoidance goals are harder to achieve because it is more difficult to measure when you don’t do something. In addition, they don’t identify replacement behaviors. Approach goals, on the other hand, identify positive behaviors you can measure. Saying you want to eat two servings of fruit per day is more effective and measurable than saying you want to stop snacking on chips.
Approach goals can be visualized and rehearsed. Visualize the behaviors you will participate in to help you get there, instead of focusing on what success will look like. Educational research seems to support this notion. Studies show that students are more successful when they visualize their preparation for a test instead of getting a good grade.
4. Be flexible and plan ahead. There is a proverb that says “perfect is the enemy of good”. Work hard to achieve your goals, but be patient when you stumble – you are going to make some mistakes along the way. These challenges are opportunities to gain strength, confidence, and help you to appreciate your success even more when you understand the work it took to get there.
Identifying potential challenges before they occur helps avoid missteps. Try to identify potential challenges before they occur. If you want to stop smoking, change your route home to avoid the convenience store where you always buy cigarettes. Don’t go to your regular spot during breaks at work where you would normally smoke. Have several options for overcoming temptation – call a friend, visualize successfully avoiding the temptation, replace with a healthier alternative, etc.
5. Stay the course and celebrate your successes. New goals often require uncomfortable change while developing new habits. You can become discouraged by the effort that change requires, making abandonment of your goals more likely. When you are at the office rationalizing all the reasons you need to stay late again, visualize the long-term benefits of spending more quality time with the family. How will your home relationships be flourishing in a few months? How will the relationship with your children be stronger because you developed stronger boundaries between work and home?
Instead, frequently take credit for completing your smaller identified objectives. Those victories are yours to own! The advantage of breaking goals down into smaller, attainable objectives is that we can identify and celebrate those successes more often. In fact, planning those celebrations when defining your goals add great incentives for you along the way. It helps you enjoy the journey towards ultimate goal achievement instead of feeling like it is a grind until you get to the end.
It is common to end the year thinking about the goals you didn’t reach and focusing on perceived failures. This time of reflection presents an opportunity! Henry Ford said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” How will you learn from the past year to help you wisely begin again in the New Year? How will you create more realistic and manageable goals? Use these guidelines to add clarity and enthusiasm and avoid the growing number of those who have already started to abandon their goals for the coming year.