If you’re like me, you are thinking about goals and challenges to undertake in this New Year. There’s just something extra special about starting afresh–and that’s what a new year offers. In reality, “life is as usual,” but the fact that the calendar changes over gives us an opportunity to feel that fresh sense of new beginnings.
I’m not a big fan of ‘resolutions,’ per se. Resolutions seem more like “good intentions” because only 8% of people actually follow through on and keep them throughout the year. I prefer to concentrate on “goals for personal development.” I seem to give them more weight to ‘goals’ than I do to ‘resolutions.’
Goals are not passing whims or weak, half-hearted “tries;” they are ideals, actions, and outcomes I honestly want to build into my life and am willing to work towards. Necessarily, then, goals are not something that I decide upon lightly.
Following are some guidelines for making strong, achievable goals.
What do you want to do?
State your goal as succinctly and clearly as possible. “I want to lose X pounds by DATE.” Some authors insist that the most effective goals are stated like this: “I am losing X pounds by Date”–as if it is already in progress.
In thinking about the kinds of goals you want to strive for, I encourage you to think beyond the usual ‘lose weight,’ ‘save money,’ ‘make money,’ ‘exercise more’ goals. How about relationship goals? What kinds of goals could you make to build a stronger relationship with your spouse, with your children, with your friends and extended family? What kinds of goals could you make to develop a deeper relationship with God? What kinds of goals could you work on to become a better person, in general? Think outside the box; go a little “wild and crazy” as you contemplate a subject so weighty as who you want to become.
Make Smart Goals
In addition to goals that can be stated succinctly, in a positive way and in the present tense, make sure your goals are S-M-A-R-T. SMART goals are those that are:
Specific – For instance, rather than a goal of “I want to lose weight,” a much more effective goal is: “I am losing X pounds by X Date.” Very specific.
Measurable – Use some means of tracking your progress–a chart, an app on your phone, a calendar, etc. (see Don’t Break the Chain for a simple tool to measure your progress).
Actionable – What do you have to do to reach your goal? Focus on this rather than the outcome. If weight loss is your goal, don’t focus on the outcome (pounds to lose/scales) as much as you focus on the actions needed to lose the weight: eating more vegetables, keeping a food log, exercising regularly, not eating past a certain time in the evening, etc. These action steps will produce the intended outcome, and they are measurable. If you are focusing and tracking (measuring) these actions, you will lose the weight.
Realistic – This is the most important element of a smart goal in my opinion. You only have to read my post on Incremental Change to see how this has been a game-changer in my life. For a personal example of the power of “baby steps” (aka, realistic goals), read My Running Story.
Timely – Set mini-deadlines throughout the year to keep yourself on target. If you have 100 pounds to lose, start with “I am losing five pounds [remember: be realistic!] in January” or “I am losing a pound a week in January.” In fact, it might be more effective to set a very targeted and specific goal each month, rather than a broad goal for the entire year.
Meditate on your goal
I think this step can actually make the difference in following through and quitting before “arrival.” When I say “meditate,” I am not referring to sitting cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed humming “Ohmmmm.” I am simply suggesting that you give your goals and plans some deep, reflective thought before actually setting out on the journey to change your behavior.
I spend a good part of the month of December mulling over my goals and ambitions for the New Year. It is not a formal process; I don’t have a particular method. Knowing that the New Year is approaching, I naturally begin to focus on areas that are probably already being emphasized in my life (which is the way in which I choose my goals: “what’s being emphasized in my life right now?”). I start considering how I can improve in an area that has been brought to light. I think of ways to make my goal “actionable” (see above). These thoughts may not always be at the forefront of my mind, but they are usually just below the surface. I think about them when I am in the car (one of the few times my mind is not preoccupied with something I am doing) and when I am running (one of the great benefits of running or walking for exercise is quality thinking time).
The more you think about the goal, the more you become committed to it. It gets embedded in your psyche. This is the single best reason I know of to actually defer a big goal to a start date in the near future rather than starting on it right away–meditation time: time to make it your own.
Write about your goals. Discover your “why?”
Also during the month of December, I start journaling about my plans, dreams, goals for the upcoming year. This is a product of my meditation time. I basically begin “putting to paper” the ideas I have been thinking about when running, driving, cleaning house, etc.
It is in my journaling that I develop my plan of action–those small steps that will produce the desired outcome. It’s true that I can simply think about these steps and start doing them, but something about putting it in writing makes me more committed to the plan. Maybe it’s like a contract with my self.
Another important benefit in writing about my goals is that I discover my “why?” in the process. This is very important to me, because my “why?”–my motivation–must line up with my core values. If I discover that I am “off” in my motivation, then I either do a mental and spiritual internal shift, or I postpone the goal till I am able to align it with my values. (Example: I actually stepped back from writing for this blog during 2013 while I clarified my “why?”)
Probably the most common example of New Year’s resolutions is “to lose weight.” If losing weight is the goal, then I would not only think about how much weight I want to lose, the date by which I want to have lost it, and the steps I am going to take to accomplish the goal, but I would also consider why I want to lose the weight. This requires some soul-searching to be effective. For this process, journaling is highly valuable. Not only will you discover all the “why’s?” of your weight loss goal (a list that can actually be a tool you use to motivate yourself even more), you will discover other things about yourself, as well.
Start the journaling process by writing your succinct goal. Tweak it, edit it, play with it until it says precisely what you want it to say.
From there, start listing your “why’s?” Dig deep. Don’t be satisfied with “the obvious” reasons. For every “why?” you list, ask yourself “why?” again. For instance, on the weight loss goal, the obvious answer to “why?” might be, “To look better.” That begs the question, “Why do you want to look better?” Keep asking “why?” till there are no more answers left in you.
Read about your goal
I have written before regarding the effectiveness of reading about areas in which you want to change (Creating Inspiration to Accomplish Your Goals). In this Information Age, it is easy to find blogs about any area of interest. When using the blog method, I suggest doing a little reading on your subject just before going to sleep at night, as the idea of “sleeping on it” really works at installing information–and hopefully a little inspiration, too–in your brain.
One of my serious goals for the New Year is to change my eating habits. My main “why?” is to try to lower my cholesterol naturally (i.e., without medication). My doctor does not give me much hope, as it appears that I am genetically predisposed to high cholesterol. Nevertheless, I struck a deal with her, and I will give three months to eating with this purpose in mind.
I knew what general changes I needed to make (less red meat, more fruits and vegetables), but I still chose to do a little reading on the subject because this is a going to be a major lifestyle change for me, and I need all the motivation and inspiration and knowledge I can get. I went to the library with a couple of books in mind, but while perusing that section of the library, a few other titles caught my eye.
I walked out with five books on diet and lifestyle change, and I’ve been plugging away at them ever since. The effect? I started making little changes to my diet almost immediately–even in the midst of the holidays. Not only did I start making the changes, but I also was excited about them. Instead of dreading “giving up” my comfort foods, I was looking forward to changing my lifestyle for the better.
For those who are truly committed to making changes in their lives, I cannot recommend this strategy enough. Make it an area of serious focus (through diligent study) at the beginning of the process in order to build the habit over the long haul.
I’ve shared one of my goals for the upcoming months, now it’s your turn. What is something you plan to change or develop further in 2014? Share with me in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
Also, for more good reading on the subject of resolutions (or goals), below are links to some more interesting articles.