New Year - New You
Updated: Dec 27, 2018
With the holiday season coming to a close and a new year nearly upon us, it is common for accomplished individuals to turn thoughts to planning and goal setting for the new year. Our uplifted spirit is eager to commit to ending bad habits, committing to more productive approaches and setting ambitious goals for all the shimmering possibilities in the new year. And rightly so! The bustle, energy and giving spirit of the holidays puts us in the right frame of mind to see our greatest potential.
Yet, despite our optimism and resolve as we approach Jan 1, our cultural tradition of setting new years resolutions seems hopelessly flawed. A 2007 study of 3,000 people by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were CONFIDENT of success at the time they made the resolution.
Reviewing the most common reasons that well intended resolutions don't see completion can help inform any goal setting endeavor. Here are a few suggestions:
Know your why: Having a REALLY compelling reason to avoid a behavior or a driving motivation to accomplish a goal is possibly the most important element to eventual success in goal setting - the outcome needs to resonate with you as an absolute MUST to ensure focus, consistency and longevity of progress - no matter what! If necessary, make a detailed list of all the pain associated with not achieving the goal and every detail of the upside you will feel or experience by accomplishing it. Plan to review this regularly to stay motivated.
Prioritize: one or two meaningful goals will be easier to stay consistent with and focus on than many smaller goals, even if they are seemingly "easier."
Be specific: a goal of "losing 20 lbs by June 1" stands a far greater chance of focus and success than an amorphous goal of "losing weight this year."
Have a plan: breaking large goals into smaller, measurable (ideally weekly) milestones and developing a strategy to reach each of them is key; losing 1 lb per week makes tracking and celebrating progress much easier than working blindly toward a larger mid or long-term goal that can't be accomplished with a single effort.
Create processes or routines to support the goal: changing small habits like switching from whole milk to skim or avoiding impulse purchases by creating a grocery list before shopping can all contribute to staying on track, avoiding common pitfalls and creating new routines rather than trying to succeed through a single, monumental, or unrealistic life change.
Measure progress: setting a consistent weekly time to check in on your goal and keeping a record of your progress will help reinforce focus even when life gets busy and distractions tempt us to reprioritize.
Stay flexible to avoid being discouraged: success is most often a series of failures/ falls where, rather than accept failure as inevitable, we get up and continue to try to move forward - success is almost always a choice or series of choices to stay focused on moving forward.
Celebrate progress: finding even small ways to celebrate success will reinforce progress and help ingrain the small changes that support the goal
Get started right away: taking the first step when you first set the goal grants the satisfaction of immediate progress and creates momentum.
There is one other problem, however. Even if we follow the guidance above, once the holiday dust settles and we get back to the grind, most of us find it hard to keep things on track. Whether you call it setting resolutions, goal setting or strategic planning, "the going" seems to gets universally tougher around mid-February or so, which is when US News reports ~80% of resolution makers find they are already off track and many give up.
It's not really that surprising - in stark contrast to the holiday frenzy that early December brings, the week between Christmas and New Years often comes with fewer obligations, greater calm and a chance to focus clearly on what we find most important in life. That we often feel a renewed motivation around personal and professional goals at this time as well is no coincidence.
As the demands, urgency and obligations of life return in the new year, it becomes all too easy to fall back into the ubiquitous trap of confusing urgency with importance. Since urgency and obligations won't stop anytime soon, adding a broader perspective to our goal planning and connecting our goals to our deeper identity will help fortify them. Some suggestions:
Connect the goal with your identity: close your eyes and visualize yourself in the new year as the person who achieves the goals you are setting. Make the image clear, specific and authentic - when something challenges your resolve, make it a habit to come back to this image.
Become conscious about separating urgency from importance: someone asking for something urgently doesn't automatically make the request important, even if it feels that way. Living in reaction is what kills our ability to focus on what we know is truly important. Delegating, setting expectations and planning in advance can help avoid or address urgent items of lesser importance as well as help prevent them from overtaking both your time, clarity and focus on what is most important.
Schedule regular weekly time to prioritize and take action on items of importance: a consistent, weekly routine to renew clarity around what is truly important and why, and to actively track and plan progress against those goals can both be impactful and help de-escalate the sensitivity of urgent items that will inevitably pop up in the week ahead. If this time is not scheduled, commitment is far less likely.
Get help: Consider a third party to help keep you accountable. Sometimes our obligation to others resonates more strongly than our obligation to ourselves. If this is true for you, finding a friend, colleague, mentor or coach to check in with regularly might be the additional support needed to reach success.
As the new year approaches, I wish you the clarity of the season, success in your planning and the resolve needed to achieve amazing things in the new year!