With New Years upon us so too is the dreaded tradition of New Year’s Resolutions. According to some sources, nearly half of all Americans begin each year with a resolution, and of those more than 9 out of every 10 will fail to achieve their goal. Why is this? Perhaps some resolutions are destined to failure, but many could have achieved their goals had they properly committed themselves.
Whether it is a New Year’s Resolution, a business or carrier goal, or even just a personal enrichment goal, here are the 8 key attributes I’ve found helpful in achieving my own ambitions.
1. Set Milestones
Write down your milestones to make them more concrete. Ideally these are written someone very visible (like the calendar on your fridge) so that you’re constantly reminded of the impending deadline.
2. Keep It Realistic
The title really says it all, but it is amazing how often we do this to ourselves. Setting unrealistic goals and milestones is demoralizing, and risks leading to you abandoning your ambition entirely. Going back to college for a master’s degree might be your overall goal, but obtaining a master’s degree typically takes 2 years of full-time work, plus the effort of even being accepted to a degree program. In other words, simply stating « getting my master’s degree » is not realistic, you instead should focus on the more immediate and realistic goal of « getting accepted into a master’s program », or perhaps even « saving up enough money to afford my master’s degree ». Even then, those are realistic goals, but they need to be broken out into actionable (and realistic) milestones.
3. Focus On The Daily/Weekly
On the topic of milestones, remember to keep them near-term. Think about things you can do on a very regular and recurring basis. If your goal is to get accepted to a master’s degree program, then perhaps a realistic milestone is to « apply to 2 schools a week », or to lose those pesky pounds before spring you should focus on « losing half a pound a week ». In both examples we’re taking the more ambitious and long-term goal and pushing it out of our thoughts, and instead focusing entirely on the now. Staying focused on only losing half a pound in 7 days is a lot more manageable. Continuing the weight-lose example, an even more realistic example of near-term milestones would be to instead focus on a daily calorie limit, and let the weekly weigh-in takes care of them self.
However you end up doing it, remember to keep it realistic and keep it actionable.
4. Embrace Failure
Let’s get this one out of the way now – you’re going to fail. Accept that early and you’ll be OK, but failing to admit and plan for missing a milestone or goal is a guaranteed way to sabotage your self esteem. I remember seeing this in college, the kids who were straight-A students in high school often times had the most difficult time when compared to C and B students. It only took that one professor who graded on a bell curve, and that one first F on an assignment to completely demoralize someone who’s never experienced academic failure before. Of course I speak anecdotally, but the essence is still the same – roll with the punch, be prepared for the occasional failure, and plan ahead for how you’ll handle it. Keep those things in mind and you’ll be OK.
Your milestone might be to read 2 books in the month of January, but you forgot about some personal obligations and then got sick. What will you do when it is now February 1st and you’ve only completed reading one of your January reads? I certainly hope you wouldn’t just give up, but is it equally as realistic to slap that « missing » book onto your February goal? Sometimes you just need to admit that you missed your goal, and move on to your next goal as best as you can.
5. Psychology, Psychology, Psychology
Ask anyone who has set, and achieved, a considerable long-term goal what their biggest enemy was and you will likely hear the same thing – they were their own worst enemy to achieving their goals. I don’t mean that they actively went about sabotaging their goals, but rather that self-doubt and willpower were constant hurdles. Learning to manage those and plan for them is key to success, and this is largely a mind-game. Runners know all too well the pros and the cons of the human mind when it comes to a tough run. Getting one’s self « in the zone » is key, otherwise you’ll find that you’re fatigued sooner than expect simply because your mind kept dwelling on how much farther you have left.
This is also unfortunately one key to success that is highly individualized, and I can therefore offer few concrete ideas. Instead I’ll say that you know yourself best, and you know your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else – use those to your advantage. Salty snacks are my weakness, so if I’m looking to shed a few extra pounds perhaps it’s wise for me avoid being in a situation where I’d be tempted by those.
6. Stay Balanced
As the saying goes, with all things, moderation. This is true for achieving goals too, as all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so too can it sabotage our goals. Make time for fun, family, and other responsibilities. Eat a slice of cake (or two) when you’re dieting, but keep it balanced – you cannot eat cake everyday and still expect to lose weight.
I have found that making time for fun makes staying motivated easier. Try and schedule regular times for you, in addition to your other responsibilities. With everything that life has to throw at us, you certainly don’t want to burn yourself out by addition more obligations to the mix.
7. Make It Routine
Like it or not, long-term goals can sometimes feel like work. There will always been those days when it’s much more tempting to slack off, and while balance is essential balance also implies getting back to working on your milestones. Try to establish your goal as part of your daily routine before the effort becomes laborious. Whether it is making time everyday for your writing goals, or by weighing yourself every week to track your weight loss, you’re creating a habit based around achieving your goals. Habits can be difficult to create, but the benefit is that once established they can be even harder to abandon.
8. Just Do It
Finally, just do it. Set a realistic goal and just give it an honest shot. If you follow the above tips you’re more likely to succeed than you would be without them, but if you don’t at least try you’re guaranteed never to achieve your goal. Think of it this way, nobody rejoices in the marathon they thought about running in, or the books they wish they read. Even if you do not fully achieve your goal, if your follow the above steps you’ll likely have achieved something tangible. So, get out there, give it a try. Who knows, you might just achieve your goals!