It’s that time of year again. Even though you might still be prepping for end of the year holidays, the new year is all but upon us. And with the new year comes resolutions. In light of this I’m doing a two article series on how to conquer the two major parts of the New Year’s Resolution: goal setting and follow through.
Whether you love resolutions or hate ‘em there’s no denying the optimism and energy that comes with a fresh start. And no start is fresher than the beginning of a brand new year.
Even if you are in the the 30-40% of people that have no intention of making new year’s resolutions, you can still benefit from this post. Resolutions are just goals and I’m willing to be that you’ve got goals that you’d like to hit this year.
WHAT’S IN A GOAL?
There are all manner of schools of thought around how to set goals. Some believe that you should be setting SMARRT goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Relevant, Time-Based – while others tell you that the goal should be so big that it scares you. So, which is it then?
The answers are of course it depends and a little of both. I know, I know, I hate vague answers too, but let me explain.
The reason that it depends is because it depends on what kind of person you are. If you’re the type of person that wants to get the bare minimum done that’s required, it’s likely that you’re not setting big enough goals for yourself. If you’re not having to stretch and grow a little bit to reach your goals, then they aren’t likely to get you any of the big things you want out of life.
However, if you’re the type of person that sets enormous, lofty goals – but then can’t figure out how to get to them – it might be time to come back down to earth a little bit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have lofty goals, but when they are so far away it can feel impossible to picture how you’re going to get from here to there.
A Little of Both
Any really big goal that you want to hit can be broken down into smaller goals. This is how goals can be both big and scary and SMARRT at the same time.
In order to make this work you need to come up with a really big scary goal that you can break down into smaller chunks with shorter time frames. Think about it as the larger goal is the overall project and the smaller goals are milestones on the way to project completion.
SETTING YOUR BIG GOAL
One of the major flaws that’s usually found in goals that never get achieved, is that they are not specific enough. Even the big, scary goals need to have enough specificity that you can envision the result.
Some of the biggest resolutions from 2018 were “eat healthier” and “get more exercise”. These are great things to improve upon, but they are really vague. What does eating healthier look like? Is it vegan, paleo, keto? What’s “more” exercise? 1x a week? 6x a week? Cardio, weight lifting, yoga?
You can see the problem here:
If you go into the new year with nothing but a vague goal and bright eyed optimism, it’s likely that you’ll be another member of the group that ditches their resolution by Valentine’s Day.
Let’s take the perennial favorite goal — lose weight — as an example. Again, losing weight is not a very specific goal. So it’s time to start narrowing it down. How much do you want to lose? By when?
Let’s say you wanted to lose 50 pounds by the end of the year. That certainly fits the bill of a big goal. Plus now it takes on some of the characteristics of a SMARRT goal in that it is specific, measurable, and time based.
When you’re setting your big, scary goals you can shove “realistic” right out the window for awhile. We’ll figure out realistic when we get to your smaller goals.
The other major problem with goals is that we frequently set goals based on what we think we should do. And even if we know that we should do this thing because it will actually improve our lives – often a should is not very motivating.
Your goals are your goals and don’t need to be dictated by other people. I’m not talking about things at work that come down from your manager, I’m talking about your personal goals. And if you’re doing something for yourself based off of what someone else told you, you ought to be doing, or something society tells you, you ought to be doing, it’s not likely that you will reach that goal.
When setting your goals, there needs to be a fire behind it. You need to be excited, not just about reaching the end result, but about the process itself. This motivation needs to be intrinsic – coming from within – not from outside sources. When you come across a goal like that – then you’re much more likely to reach it.
In order to find this magical unicorn of a goal ask yourself “if I could only reach one major goal this year, what would it be?”. This goal needs to be big enough to be satisfying, but not so big that it seems impossible – because impossible is the opposite of motivating. For example, if you’re working in the mail room, making a goal of getting to the C-suite by the end of the year is pretty impossible, but getting a promotion by the end of the year is not.
So yes, you do need to apply a little bit of the “realistic” to your big goal – but only enough to stop the goal from actually being impossible.
BREAKING IT DOWN
In order to make those big, scary goals a reality you need to break them down into doable chunks. Our brains don’t do very well with goals that are too far away – if we did no one would procrastinate a paper for 5 months and 3.9 weeks and do it in the hours right before the deadline.
If we take the weight loss goal from above you could simply break down the pounds into months. 50 pounds in 12 months is a little over 4 pounds a month or a pound a week. That is significantly easier to wrap your head around than just the big chunk of 50 pounds.
Or another popular goal is to save more money. Perhaps you’d narrow that down to building up a $1000 emergency fund. That’s about $20 a week or $2.75 a day. That brings the whole goal into perspective.
Not all goals are this quantifiable, though. Some things take a little more time or are a little more dependent on people outside yourself. For example, writing a book.
If you have written a book before, it’s likely that you have a better idea of how to write your book and then shop it to publishers. You can probably break down how you will go about fitting the writing into your life and have an idea about how long your editors will take to get back to you. However, if you’ve never done that, it becomes much harder to set deadlines and objectives.
When you’re tackling a goal that you’ve never reached for before, it’s better to break things down into 3 month blocks and much smaller targets. If you’ve never written anything before, it might be best to start with a blog or some articles and then move on from there. The first quarter’s big goal might be something like get an article published and the smaller goals would be to write every day or to start your own blog.
Because when it comes to new things you don’t know what you don’t know. And that can be the thing that stops you from getting to the goals you want to achieve.
Breaking the goals down into smaller time frames allows you to get help and feedback sooner than it would if you had just taken the whole big project by storm. In the book example this means you might get experience working with an editor before you start shopping a book, or you might learn how to fit writing into your daily life so that you could actually get enough words to fill a book in a year.
Resolutions are just goals that happen at the beginning of the year. The key to effective goal setting involves creating a big, scary goal that you’re motivated to accomplish – which you then break down into smaller objectives.
If you’re struggling to accomplish the goals that you set for yourself, please contact me. Coaching with me will help you set your big, scary goals, break them down, and then take the action that you need to reach them.