There's still time to get your resolutions rolling... The first of the year gave you a blank piece of paper on which to write the next year of your life. New Year’s resolutions anyone?
The holidays may have widened your hips or piled on the credit card debt. That's why people say things like, "This year I'm definitely going to get back into my skinny jeans." Or, "I’m going to get rid of my debt and start saving once and for all." These declarations may give you an initial boost of inspiration, but most of them will soon disappear. In fact, studies show that most people's New Year’s resolutions have dropped away by February.
So what can you do to beat the odds? How can you really make your New Year’s resolutions happen? These 7 steps work to accomplish a resolution or any goal. Apply them this year, starting today, and make your resolutions come true!
1. Ask yourself: "What do I want to accomplish this year?"
As you look toward the year in front of you, what do you really want to accomplish? If you actually made your New Year’s resolutions happen, what would you gain? Look to key areas of your life for inspiration—career, family, health/fitness, money or romantic relationships. As I stated in the How to Set Goals That Stick Special Report, "Imagine that you’ve already completed the coming year with satisfaction and ease. What are you most proud of? What thrilled you the most?" From there, come up with ideas for your yearly goals.
If you’re drawing a blank, think about what you dislike in your life. On the career front, do your work hours stretch into the evening? Do you want to stop missing out on family dinners and outings? From a health/fitness point of view, are you tired of feeling low energy every day? Are the daily trips to the office vending machine taking their toll? Frustration and dissatisfaction can be great motivators for change.
By viewing what you want to move toward, or sorting through what you want to move away from, come up with several possible goals. Then narrow down your list and pick one to three final goals. Make them important. If you could only achieve three things this year, what would they be?
2. Ask why? Why did you pick these goals?
What's behind them? Connect to what's really driving you. As I said in my Special Report, "Set meaningful goals, not just any old goals." What goals would be meaningful to you this year? Be as specific as possible.
For example, if you want to save money, go beyond saying, "I want to save money because it would be great to have some extra cash." Wanting more money for the sole sake of having more money isn’t meaningful enough to keep most people going. Connect to something deeper. What's behind your desire for more money? Here’s one possibility: "I've always wanted to own a home. It’s time to take action toward that dream. I'm tired of renting and I want to lay down roots for my family. I also want to move to a nicer area that is safe and close to good schools for my children. I will use the money I save this year toward a down payment. I can definitely cut back on spending to buy a house!" When you clarify the "why" behind what you want you’ll feel much more driven and connected to your goal.
If you have no idea why you want something, dig deeper. Ask, "Why is this important to me? What would I get out of that? What would my family/friends/coworkers get out of that?" You can also ask another person or coach for insight.
If you keep coming up with nothing, maybe you need to reconsider whether you want that particular goal at all. Create a goal that has some passion behind it. Give yourself reasons to strive toward your aspirations.
3. Follow the "do what by when" formula.
Most New Year’s resolutions fail because they remain vague or wishful. Goals such as "I want to lose weight" aren’t tangible and will be difficult to make happen. If weight loss is a goal of yours (and you already know why you want to weigh less), make it specific. For example, "I want to lose 20 pounds by May 30, 2008." Using the "do what by when" formula clarifies exactly what you intend to do (lose 20 pounds) by a specific month, day and year (May 30, 2008). Then you can measure your success every time you jump on the scale.
Speaking of measuring, make sure you can count, measure or touch your progress. The above weight goal, for example, can be measured in pounds—20 to be exact. How will you know when you've met your goal? Define it in a measurable way. Do you want a promotion of 10% or 20% this year? Do you want to save $1,000 or $10,000? How much money do you need to earn each month to pay your bills? Without ways to measure your goals, they remain wishes.
Financial advisor and founder of Insideout Investing, Anna Choi, says, "You can manifest your goals better when they are specific, measurable, time-bound and achievable." To do that, apply the "do what by when" formula to quantify your goals. Then, to make those goals achievable, do the "rubber band" test.
4. Do the "rubber band" test.
The trick is to set ambitious goals that will stretch you without making you “snap.” In the November 2007 article, ''Top 3 Must-Do’s Before the New Year," I said, "Like a rubber band stretched between two fingers, the goal should have the right mix of tension and flexibility. Put enough stretch in your goal to make it enticing yet with a touch of slack to make it doable." Setting a challenging goal will encourage you to try harder and to go for it.
Anna Choi agrees, "It's important to set a goal you believe can happen. But it also has to be a stretch goal, versus a goal so ridiculously huge you feel deflated even looking at it." Peak performance comes from doing something tough but possible given your time frame.
A common New Year’s resolution is to learn a new language. But unless they are multi-lingual or languages come easily, most people won’t achieve this in a year. Try something more doable, such as “to attend Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 at the local community college by December 31, 2008.” You’ll still be working toward your long-term goal of being fluent by allowing yourself to get started. Overly lofty goals will have you giving up at the starting line. Ambitious goals will give you a challenge but allow you to get going right away.
5. Put your goals in writing.
Have you written down your goals for the New Year? If you haven’t, you're not alone. Research shows that in the U.S. fewer than 1% of people write down their goals. Why is this important? A noted 1953 study at Harvard University evaluated how many graduates had clear, specific goals in writing and supported with an action plan. Although the classmates being assessed were obviously bright, very few of them set goals. In fact, only 3% of graduates put their goals in writing.
What happened to this 3%? When questioned 20 years later, it turned out that this small group had had greater success than the rest. Those 3% of graduates who had put their goals in writing had built greater fortunes than the entire remaining 97% of alumni.
Taking a moment to put your goals in writing is worth it. Try it yourself. Put pen to paper (or fingers to key pad). The act of writing will cement your goals in your mind. It can also help you clarify your goals, think about them in a new light and direct your energy toward ways to make them happen. Display your written goals somewhere visible and review them daily. Post them on the corner of your computer desktop and put them on your refrigerator. Keep them alive and create a plan around each one.
6. Create a plan.
You know what your goals are. They’re clearly written with deadlines. Now go beyond wishes and hope to put meat on each of your goals with a solid plan. Your plan answers the question: "How will I make this happen?" For example, if your goal is to save $10,000 by October 31, 2008, set a plan for saving $1,000 per month. What systems will you put in place to achieve this? Will you have the money automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your retirement account? Will you cut back on buying clothing or eating out to reserve cash for savings?
Create milestones for each month. What’s the main thing you want to accomplish toward your goal in January? in February? in March? Then break each month down further. Underneath those milestones define specific actions needed to achieve them. Map out exact steps that are time-bound within the month. Put them in your schedule.
Celebrate small achievements along the way. If you've saved $2,000 by February (and have never saved money before), bravo! Take time to toast your progress. Let yourself know that you’re on track and let that progress motivate you to keep going. Getting even one dollar closer to your goal is better than adding one more dollar to your debt.
7. Take action… right away.
The most important thing is to begin. Never leave a planning or goal-setting session without taking at least one tangible action. Without action, your goals can’t take flight.
You’ve selected your top one to three goals for the year. You know why they are important in your heart of hearts. You've committed them to writing, and you have a plan. Way to go! Now keep going. Take that final step—action.
Start right away with at least one action you can take toward your goal today. Consider the goal "to lose 20 pounds by May 30, 2008." What small step can you take today toward that goal? For example, you schedule your first appointment with a trainer. Or you go to the gym for 30 minutes. Or you take a brisk 20-minute walk. Pick something so easy it would be almost impossible to fail. Stand up and take that single action.
Use your plan to plug action into your yearly, monthly, weekly and daily schedule. Look for consistent blocks of time when you can work toward your goal. It takes discipline. Life will get in the way. But staying the course will let you reap the rewards. Successful people know this. That’s why they make it a priority to focus and act on their goals regularly. You can do it too. When you arrive at your destination you’ll feel a great sense of satisfaction in your focused effort to make your goal happen.
James Boehm Every Month A Million and the Daily Dose Of Good.