How come New Year’s resolutions never seem to stick?
So many of us have such great intentions at this time of year. As December slides into January we have grand notions of fresh starts. We start accumulating gym memberships, workout DVDs, juicers, and motivational books. We’ve got all the enthusiasm to make it happen — that is, until that motivation peters out around January 10th. What happened?
A New Year’s resolution is a goal like any other, but many of us don’t treat them that way. Instead of setting real goals, we make vague assertions. This will be the year I finally get in shape. This will be the year I start saving better. But as goals, these kind of statements ring pretty hollow. How will you know when you’ve accomplished these goals? What steps can you take today, next week, and next month to get there?
It’s time to start setting real goals, and I’m going to show you how.
After you check out the full graphic below, be sure to keep scrolling for more tips for each of the ten goal-setting steps!
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Step 1: Chart a Path
The first step of any goal-setting process is deciding what goals you are going to pursue! Choose an area or two to focus on for now; it’s okay to have more than one goal, but you shouldn’t set too many. Remember, you are setting priorities for yourself, but not every goal can be a priority.
For now, it can help to think of some broad areas on which you would like to focus. Here are some ideas:
- Love Life
- Creative Pursuits
Step 2: Make It SMARTer
SMART is a well-known acronym for perfecting your goals. The letters stand for:
- Time Limited
One of the most important things you can do at the outset of setting a goal is to make sure you know exactly what success will look like. Numbers can be incredibly helpful here because they take the vagueness out of setting a goal and give you a clear endpoint to strive for.
Here are some ways you can make the vague goals you set in step one more SMART:
Lose weight.Lose 10 pounds before my sister’s wedding. Pay down my debt.Pay off $5000 of my student loans by the end of the year. Learn to cook.Host Thanksgiving at my house this year.
As you noticed, each of these got more specific, measurable, and gained a clear endpoint.
Something that can be incredibly helpful in this regard, and also from a motivation perspective, is to tie your goal to a greater purpose. For example, I don’t want to just learn to cook — I want to get to the point where I can host an extravagant Thanksgiving dinner for my immediate family. I don’t just want to pay down my debt — I want to make a big dent in my student loans in a single year. In both cases, the goal becomes more personal and meaningful, which makes me want to work harder to achieve my goals.
Step 3: Write It Down
It’s true — according to a study by Dr. Gail Matthews, you are 42% more likely to reach a goal if you write it down. There’s just something about committing a goal to writing that makes it more permanent and top-of-mind.
You don’t have to stop at just writing them down, though — in fact, I recommend you go even further. Record them somewhere where you will encounter them regularly, and make a conscious effort to review them. For example, reviewing your goals could be a consistent part of your morning routine.
Even better if you can use the reminder to keep yourself in check. For instance, if you are frequently guilty of mindless snacking, leave a reminder in plain sight of where you typically grab your snacks. If you are frequently guilty of wasting time on the internet (and who isn’t?), use a browser extension like New Tab Notes (Chrome) to change your new tab to a list of your goals.
Step 4: Break It Up
You aren’t done when you choose an overall goal. Instead, break your major goal into smaller, more manageable tasks so you have more of a direction. These also serve as mini-goals, which give you more opportunities to celebrate success and forward progress throughout the year.
Most goals, especially those with numbers attached, can be easily broken down into monthly, weekly, or daily increments. For example, if you want to save $3000 over the course of a year, you can set a goal to save $250 each month, or $60 a week. It can help to front-load your increments so they are higher in the beginning, since that is when you often have the greatest amount of motivation.
Step 5: Get Support
I will admit, the jury is still out on this one; there is conflicting information on whether or not it is ideal to share your goals with the world or keep them to yourself.
In one school of thought, you are more likely to follow through with goals that you share with others because they create social pressure to do what you say you’re going to do.
On the other hand, a number of experts have written articles and even given TED Talks urging you to do the opposite: to keep them to yourself. This is because talking to others about your goals actually makes you feel as though you are working on the goal — it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”
That, in a nutshell, is what makes getting support for your goals so tricky. It is the human reaction to want to share our intentions with those around us, but this can get us in trouble if we’re not careful.
Another form of support can actually be going in on a goal together. A worthy pursuit indeed: let’s both hit the gym each week and reach our weight loss goals together! This is another tricky area. To make it work, you need to share a very high level of commitment; otherwise, you are just as likely to hold one another back as propel one another forward. If your friend has to skip the gym, will you go anyway or take it as an excuse to skip, too?
One way to make goals work with friends is to turn them into a competition. For example, a coworker and I compete each month to read a certain number of books, usually between three and five. Each month, we both plow through our books (I use Audible, which I highly recommend, especially if you have to drive pretty far to get to work, like I do), check in on a regular basis, and compare notes at the end.
Your friends can keep you accountable in other ways, too. For example, you might work out a deal where you must go to the gym at least ten times a month. If you don’t make it, for each session you missed you pay your friend $5. See, the pain of losing money on a gym membership you aren’t using isn’t enough to motivate most people; it automatically deducts from their bank account each month. But your commitment to your friend hurts in two ways: first, because it’s based on your hard work, seeing that money go isn’t as painless, and second, because it can be embarrassing to own up to your friend about how you fell short. Few friends will turn down the opportunity to get paid to keep you accountable.
Step 6: Take the First Step
They say the first step is the hardest, and boy are they right. How many times have you set out to get started on something, then been stalled because you don’t have what you need to do it, or you don’t know how to do something essential? Even confusion over the right thing to do first can cause somebody to stop dead in their tracks.
To avoid this eternal pitfall, plan meticulously ahead of time. When and where will you get started? What will you need? What will you do first? Then what?
Step 7: Keep the Momentum
Don’t stop now — by now you are full speed ahead on your goals!
Progress is hard work. It is common to see easy gains early on, but then come to a point at which you feel yourself start to plateau or even fall back. It is essential that you keep identifying new opportunities to reach your goal, and keep yourself excited, in order to push through the slow periods.
One was to do this is to build your goals into your routine. Find ways to design your routine so that it is actually easier to pursue the desired behavior than avoid it. For example, if your goal is to go to the gym before work, force yourself to drive there no matter what. You may find that it is easier to just go in and go through with it once you are there than to sheepishly turn around and go home.
You can also set some major milestones for yourself along the way, that come with rewards attached. For example, if you set a goal to lose 20 pounds, you can set milestones at 5, 10, and 15 pounds lost with small rewards. Just make sure that the reward is reasonably sized to the level of the accomplishment.
Step 8: Reach Your Goal
You can’t reach any worthwhile goal without hard work. This is the most important step of them all and there’s not much to be said about it — you just have to go do it!
Step 9: Celebrate
It is a big thing to accomplish a big goal, and you should treat it that way! Throw a shindig with your best friends to celebrate, or tell the world over social media! And, of course, reward yourself for all that hard work.
Just be sure that your reward is not competing with your goal. For example, if your goal was to pay off a debt, don’t reward yourself with retail therapy. Find a free or low-cost way to celebrate while continuing to live the habits that made you a success.
Step 10: Evaluate & Repeat
Be sure to take some time to reflect on what went well and what you can do better next time. Was the goal appropriately challenging and attainable? How will you keep it?
Are you ready to start accomplishing your goals? You can jump right in, no matter what month it is!
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