Here we are, already more than a week into 2019. How many times have you already been asked about your New Years’ Resolution? I’ll bet more than a few people have brought it up. Every new year presents a natural opportunity to break old habits, form new habits, and make yourself a promise or two for how you’ll become a better person over the next 12 months. That’s the dream, right?
A few years ago, I stopped making resolutions. Why? Well, research overwhelmingly shows that when it comes to following through on resolutions, the vast majority of people don’t last very long. I’ve always been squarely in that group.
Instead, I started setting goals for the year. You might be thinking, “What’s the difference?” Well I’ll tell you.
Resolutions tend to be big life changes we commit to make. We want to lose weight, start exercising, or eat better. We want to be less negative or more optimistic. We want to spend less money or save more. We want to quit smoking or drinking. We want to work less or find a new job.
Resolutions aren’t a bad thing. They’re always well-intentioned. It’s just that most of us don’t actually succeed.
So when I started setting goals, I made it less about blanket statements or drastic shifts and more about methodical, long-term things I want to accomplish or achieve. I guess it might be semantics, but it’s worked for me, and here’s how.
First, I set a few goals each year. Specifically, I set 3-4 personal goals and 3-4 professional goals. Never any more than eight. Over the past few years, some of my goals have been things like:
• Hike a leg of the Appalachian Trail
• Save $xxx
• Read 24 books
• Run at least 180 miles
• Plan a trip to England
My goals are always measureable.For example, I wouldn’t just say “lose weight.” I’d say “lose XX pounds.” I wouldn’t just say “run more,” I’d say “run 180 miles.”
Then, I set “mile markers.” I believe effective goals are time-bound. I break my yearly goals down into quarterly goals. If I want to run 180 miles, since I know I’ll have to start slow and build up endurance, I might say that from January to March I want to run 30, from April to June I want to run 40, from July to September I want to run 50, and from October to December I want to run 60.
Or if I want to read 24 books, I know I need to read two each month or six each quarter. This helps me throughout the year to evaluate and make sure I’m on track.
I also prioritize my goals. I put the most important ones at the top of my list. This helps to remove any lack of clarity about where my priorities lie as I’m working toward my goals throughout the year.
Finally, I get accountability. A few years ago when I wanted to go on a hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail, I reached out to a friend who has hiked on the trail many times and we went together. I knew if I went about that one alone, I probably wouldn’t do it. I definitely wouldn’t know how to do it right. So I got someone else involved.
The most important part, though, is that each goal is planned with a high degree of intentionality. I don’t just throw random things on a “to do” list. I take time each year to ask myself how I want to grow, or what I want to be better at, or where I need to shift my priorities in the next year. Then I set specific goals according to those things.
I mentioned in a previous blog post that last year I decided I wanted to devote more time to reading, so I set a goal of 24 books. Reading books all the way through has always been extremely hard for me. I get distracted and lose interest really easily. But then, I actually found that once I focused and determined to meet my goal, it wasn’t as hard as I expected. I finished the year with 39 books read start to finish. This year I’ve set a goal of 36. We’ll see what happens, but I’m already well on my way to my first quarter goal of 9 books… eight days into the quarter and I’m halfway through my second book.
A final piece of advice: One of the most important things I do as I’m determining what goals I might want to set is that I visualize the people that matter most to me, and I ask myself how I can make changes in my life to love and lead them better. Then it’s not just about me, but it’s about the people I care about. It helps me to remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. Some people will tell you the exact opposite; they’ll say you should never set goals for others…do it for yourself. I’m not saying they’re definitively wrong, but I can say that hasn’t worked for me.
A quick Google search will give you endless advice, ideas, or methods for being more productive and setting better goals. It’s really easy to overthink things and then you just get discouraged with the whole idea. These are a few pointers that I’ve found work well for me. What advice would you offer up?