“Any New Year’s resolutions you’re keeping in mind for this year?” John laughed and replied, “No way. I gave up on those long ago. They never happen for me.”
He is not alone in this thinking. So many of us scribble out lofty ideas in maniacal hyper-ambition on the first of January for many years in a row. After a while, we start to notice a pattern. Every year, we scrawl the same goals on brightly colored sticky notes, and every year we are not a tiny inch closer to those results than the year before, no matter what motivational methods we try. And so we sigh and come to accept that we are simply lazy, unmotivated individuals. Or are we? Perhaps we simply need to rearrange our thinking.
Forget January 1st
For starters, let’s banish this idea that the start of a new year must bow with the weight of grandiose resolutions. There is nothing magical about hanging up a new calendar. Years are simply part of a man-made system of marking time, but time is always present, and any day of any month of any year is a good day for striving for personal growth and development. Throw away the idea that a magical clean slate is only available on the first of every year. It is yours for the taking any time you want it.
Ambiguous goals also play a big part in our failure to cross off those resolutions. We dream up fluffy ideals that feel easily achievable in those adrenalin filled moments, but just like fluff, those ideals are mostly empty air. Without something to really sink our teeth into, we never get the real work identified and completed. Success requires SMART goals.
Specific- “Learn leadership skills.” “Make a greater profit.” “Become an entrepreneur.” These are great starts, but lack specificity. What do you mean by “leadership skills”? What will equate to leadership skills? What particular attributes and abilities make up a leader? What do you mean by “greater profit”? Greater than what? Are you talking gross or profit margin? What do you mean by “become an entrepreneur”? What sort of income-producing activity do you want to begin? Be smart and get specific.
Measurable- You need to be able to measure your progress as you go along. Remember, as kids, using those cute little sticker charts? We excitedly added stickers each time we performed a chore or other task until the chart was full and we received our reward. This practice was a simplified method of making a goal measurable. It quantified our end result into specific steps. This is a measurable goal. Think numbers. Think time. Think objectives. Be smart and make it measurable.
Attainable- So your goal is now specific with measurable milestones, but is it attainable? Can you legitimately accomplish this goal? You want your effort to stretch you – too easy and it wouldn’t be a goal – but you also want it to be within your ability to reach it. I generally recommend you increase what you think you can easily do by about 20%. In other words, make the 80% mark doable, but the 100% mark more challenging. This stretches and grows you into the professional that you want to be. Be smart and make it attainable.
Relevant- Even if your goal is attainable, you need to make sure it fits into your life. Ask yourself, "How do these career goals align with my long-term vision?" If you can’t find a connection, dig deeper to see what you can unearth. When family and friends gather around your coffin, how do you want them to remember you? Do your goals align with that vision? If not, refine them or scratch them. Be smart and make it relevant.
Time Specific- Many of us humans tend to wait until the last minute to accomplish a task. If there is no “last minute”, we will never do it. If the deadline is too far away, we tend to put it off and then forget about it or, at the least, lose our “want to”. As you break your goals down into measurable milestones, assign each of them a date or timeframe to aim at. Be smart and make it time specific.
Above all else, know who you are. I don’t mean take some sort of personality test. I mean take time to consider your biology.
We all know that some people are genetically prone to a slim profile while others find weight maintenance a nearly impossible chore. This is not some cruel joke of fate. It is due to our coded DNA, which governs our body’s fat retention, and to our neural pathways, which govern our behaviors. But it is not just our metabolism that is governed by our DNA and neural pathways. The truth is we ARE our biology.
In order to ensure that our goals are relevant and attainable for us, we need to truly know ourselves. Just because Entrepreneur Bob was able to go from written business plan to a successful high-profit business in a significantly short amount of time does not mean that you can as well. True, there are the variables of business and industry. But he is also a different person. Perhaps his genetic makeup allows his body and brain to function on very little sleep. Perhaps from birth, he has been reinforcing neural pathways that result in highly motivated behaviors.
You have to consider what your behavior patterns are and realize that if you need to change them in order to meet your goals, you need to factor in the time and effort it will take to change those behaviors. You will also need to consider whether your genetically dictated physical needs allow you to reach your goals in the time you’ve given, or even whether it’s a goal to pursue at all.
For more on how our DNA and neural pathways dictate behavior, check out these articles:
In closing, I would like to quote the hot mess, Charlene. “Everybody’s like ‘be yourself’, but on the new year it’s like ‘be another person’. If you didn’t like me last year, you won’t like me this year.”