Did you set a New Year’s Resolution this year? An estimated 45% of Americans do, according to a University of Scranton study. Yet only 8% are likely to achieve their goal by December 31st. How is your progress towards your resolution this year? Are you still trucking, or did you choose to celebrate “National Drop Your New Year’s Resolution Day” on January 17th? Have you achieved your resolutions in the past? If you’re among the majority struggling to meet your NYR, fear not! I have a new strategy for you, and you can start it right now.
I’ve spent some time discerning the reasons that I’ve failed to meet my own goals in the past, and I’d bet you’ve experienced some of the same:
- I set a REALLY vague goal (ex. save money)
- I set goals because I thought they were the “right” ones to set (ex. lose weight)
- I didn’t know where to start or how to accomplish it
- I procrastinated because I had a whole year to work at it
- I caved to immediate gratification (ex. “I’ll just work off the pizza later…”)
- I got discouraged because I saw no progress
As to the first three issues, take a look at the top five most popular resolutions (do any look familiar?):
- Lose weight
- Get organized
- Spend less/save more
- Enjoy life to the fullest
- Stay fit and healthy
None of these can be considered “SMART” goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. These qualities add the necessary definition to your goal. Without it, you’ll never know if you’re truly successful or how to go about it. For example, instead of “lose weight” state “Run for 30 minutes 3x/week to improve my health and lose 20lbs by Dec 31st”. On top of that, if your only reason for setting the goal is because you think you should set it, you’ll have no motivation when you reach an obstacle. You need to know WHY you want to reach your goal; purpose is what will keep pushing you forward. Don’t set someone else’s goal – set one that will improve your life and make you happier.
While it’s easy to find resources on SMART goals and purpose, we’re still faced with a bigger issue: a year is too long. A year is full of distractions and procrastination. We need to change our perspective on resolutions: instead of setting one large goal, break it up into 12 smaller ones. If we alter our perspective to include 12 “milestones” (one per month), then the deadline is always within our sights instead of being 365 days away. The best part? You get a new start each and every month.
Here’s how to do it (and stick to it):
- Decide your SMART goal and why you want to achieve it
Think: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Ex. “I want to save $5,000 for a down payment on a car by December 31st”
- Choose your strategy
How you are going to do it: before you jump into your goal, do some research and create an action plan containing all of your resources/tools and steps you can take to make progress. Ex. weight loss: nutrition plan, gym/home workouts, health/fitness blogs.
- Break up your goal into 12 action steps
Set yourself an achievable goal for each month that will bring your closer to your overall goal. Your goals can be as small or large as you want, so long as they are achievable and will add up to your total objective. Choices: Divide your overall goal by 12 or determine 12 actions you can take to reach it. Ex. Health: lose 8lb/month by swapping fast food for home-cooked meals and lifting weights 3x/week. Ex. Career: Jan – Research openings at 5 companies, Feb – Write 5 cover letters, Mar – Attend 2 networking events, etc.
- Decide how you’ll track your progress
It’s crucial to map your progress, even on the “bad” months. When and how you measure it is up to you. Just set reminders and don’t forget to write it down. Ex. start of the month, end of the month, weekly; via journal, app, chart.
- Assign rewards for progress at each milestone (optional)
If you think it’ll help motivate you, setup a reward for each month you reach your milestone goal. However, be sure not to choose a reward that detracts from your progress (i.e. no chocolate cake for losing your 8lbs). Even better, assign rewards that motivate you towards your goal. Ex. new workout gear, a new book, a massage.
- Decide how you’ll get back on track if you slip
Have a plan to deal with cravings, procrastination, or distractions. This way, when the going gets tough you’ll be better prepared to handle it and get back on course. Ex. If I don’t have time to get to the gym, I’ll do a workout video at home or go for a walk around the neighborhood. If I splurge on a donut at work, I’ll add an extra workout over the weekend.
- Assess your support system
While vague resolutions are at the top of reasons why we fail, having a good support system is the #1 reason people can succeed. Sharing your trials and successes with others not only holds you accountable, but it reminds you that others are rooting for you to succeed too. Ex. family, friends, social media, blogs.
- Get started!
Here are a few last important tips for you:
- This is an iterative process – each month, evaluate your progress and decide what worked and what didn’t. Change it or improve it for the next month.
- Don’t be discouraged – if you don’t meet your goal one month, don’t try to overcompensate and don’t lose hope. For example, my friend bases her next goal on the progress from the month before (if she only loses 6lbs in one month, her goal is 8lb less than that the next month). It’s better to keep making some progress than to give up after pushing yourself too hard.
- Don’t set too many goals at once – we have limited will power and are easily distracted. Set one main goal and divide it up into your milestones.
- Set your own milestones – if a month-long milestone is still too much, try bi-weekly.
- Don’t let yourself get bored – change up your strategy to keep you on your toes (ex. new workouts).
- Don’t give up! – you get a new start every month, and every day.
Remember: we never would have reached the Moon if no one had put action steps and milestones to Kennedy’s words.
It’s not too late to restart or set your resolution for the year. If you’ve got one to share, please post below and tell me about any strategies that have worked for you. I’d love to hear them!