It’s never too late to make changes in your life. I knew most people failed to meet their new year’s resolutions, but I was pretty surprised by some of the statistics in Richard Koestner’s article about New Year’s resolutions. Koestner’s research shows that 22% fail after one week, 40% after one month, 50% after three months, 60% after six months, and 81% after 12 months (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988, as cited by Koestner 2008, p. 60). I’ll be the first to admit that I know that statistics can be manipulated, but based on past personal experience, I cannot help but think that this research has more than a bit of truth to it. As my old math professor would say, “People use statistics like a drunk man uses a light pole – for support rather than illumination!”
So let’s also illuminate the process of goal setting. In its purest form, it is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve, and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it. In between, there are defined steps that transcend the specifics of each goal. Knowing these steps will allow you to create goals that you can accomplish on your terms.
If you search for “goal setting” or “new year’s resolutions” on the internet, you can find over 80 million websites, consultants, books, blogs, and guides on these subjects. With incredible resources and free support at your fingertips, why are so many people and companies failing so miserably with meeting their goals? And why the hell didn’t I lose that 15 pounds three years ago? Over the years, I’ve read dozens of books that were full of complicated action plans and vague tips that made me feel like I’d have an easier time reading braille or deciphering the Rosetta Stone. I needed something that was simple and would allow me to create and meet my personal and professional goals, despite any challenges that would come my way. As I pondered this question, the answer eventually came to me. Set goals that will motivate you.
When you set goals for yourself, it is important that they motivate you: this means making sure that they are important to you, and that there is value in achieving them. If you have little interest in the outcome, the chances of you putting in the work to make them happen are slim.
Below is an actual goal I had for myself this 3 years ago, followed by my short commentary explaining the benefits of this goal (which also served as a tangible reminder for me). It took a ton of planning and work to make it happen, but I met this particular goal in 364 days. I resigned from that job and started a whole new career. It was one of the most impactful changes I made in my life.
Goal: Spend more quality time with my wife and children during the weekdays and weekends.
Commentary: Due to my heavy workload in the office and my daily commute (around 2 hours a day), I have limited opportunities for quality time in the evenings and many weekends. When I am home in the evening, I find myself mentally exhausted and distracted. I often find myself thinking about work projects while eating dinner and playing with my children. Although I am thankful for a position that does compensate me adequately, I feel like I am missing out on quality family time. In order to spend more quality time with my family, I will find employment that that is closer to home by July of 2014. When I find a position that is within 10 miles of my home, it will create an additional 15 hours of time each week, 60 hours each month, and 750 hours a year to spend with my wife and children. In addition to this invaluable amount of quality time, I will also save over $1500 annually in fuel costs.
My goals this year are based upon the SMART acronym. For goals to be powerful, they need to be SMART. There are many variations of what SMART stands for, but the essence is that goals should be:
- Time Bound.
Your goal must be clear and well defined. Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. Remember, you need goals that will show you the way. If you cannot sum up your goal in a single sentence, it’s too complicated.
Include precise amounts, dates, etc. in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is simply defined as “To be healthy” how will you know when you have been successful? Do you want fit into a certain pair of pants? Do you want to run a mile in under 10 minutes? Without a way to measure your success you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have actually achieved something.
Make sure that it’s possible to achieve the goals you have set. If you set a goal that you have no hope of achieving, you will only demoralize yourself and erode your confidence.
However, resist the urge to set goals that are too easy. Accomplishing a goal that you didn’t have to work hard for can be anticlimactic at best, and can also make you fear setting future goals that carry a risk of non-achievement. By setting realistic yet challenging goals, you hit the balance you need. These are the types of goals that require you to “raise the bar” and they bring the greatest personal satisfaction.
Goals should be relevant to the direction you want your life and career to take. By keeping goals aligned with this, you’ll develop the focus you need to get ahead and do what you want. Set widely scattered and inconsistent goals, and you’ll pitter your time and energy away.
You goals must have a deadline. Again, this means that you know when you can celebrate success. When you are working on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases and achievement will come that much quicker.
A Final Thought
Most importantly, don’t stress too much about settling on an exact path for 2017. The division of time into years is a human invention. Every day and every moment is a new opportunity for growth and success.
“Concentrate all of your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
-Alexander Graham Bell