How to stop failing miserably at New Year resolutions and actually start achieving your goals
In 2013, my business New Year resolution was to “Deepen my Network”.
This meant to build, grow and develop the existing relationships I had in business, as distinct from trying to widen my network by meeting new people all the time. During that year, I focused my networking energies solely on people I already knew, the groups and associations I was already part of and the regular events that formed part of my diary the year before.
As the recognition, familiarity and trust grew within those professional relationships, I found my network organically widening as people who knew me introduced me to their contacts. While this new year resolution took time, effort and a different approach, it was one that resulted in 2013 being a great year!
I often share this story of “networking within my network” during presentations.
People appreciate the networking tip, but they are also very curious of the “New Year resolution” aspect. They get that strange look on their faces that says “A New Year resolution from 2013… do you mean… you actually kept it?!”
Why do we make new year resolutions if we don’t
believe we can achieve them?
I make a point of using positive language all the time. A side effect is that I have become more sensitive to the little negative throwaway comments that people make. You know the kind: they are generally meant as a joke and are accompanied by a self-derisive chuckle.
Take one that we start to hear around mid-December: “Let’s meet again when the New Year resolutions have failed!” By which people usually mean “right after January 15”. In other words, what they are saying is “We know our plans to live a more beautiful life to the full only last around a fortnight.”
Imagine: every year, people want to better themselves and lead a richer, more enjoyable life – and still every year, even before they have made a commitment to change for the better, they sabotage the whole thing by saying, in effect, “Ah sure it will never work.” I find this terribly, terribly sad.
Where did goal setting go wrong?
Is that specific goal actually worth achieving?
It’s something I often run into when giving training courses on productivity and time management. People have no problem slicing and dicing their goals to make them specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and what have you – but what if the goal completely fails to excite them?
Same thing with the GROW model: The “Reality” part of the framework addresses the obstacles and constraints you have to work with, in order to reach your goal. What if the biggest obstacle holding you back is simply that it’s the wrong goal for you?
So let’s address the elephant in the room: if you’re making the exact same resolutions as last year, how come you didn’t achieve them in 2014? Of course, some goals take longer to achieve than others: if you’re well on track and that’s the reason you have the same resolutions, kudos to you. But if you’re just picking up the same old goals, could it be that you’re setting yourself up to fail?
The goal that’s all about getting the result without
putting in the work
I remember talking to a friend in college about his career ambitions and he told me that he wanted to be the CEO of a listed company. This surprised me as he was forever telling us how he couldn’t wait to start working, so that he could just do a “9 to 5” and go home! I put it to him a CEO of a listed company probably puts in double the hours of a typical working week. He ditched the idea there and then, and said, “I better come up with something else so!” And he did.
Sometimes what we mistake for motivation is only the perceived prestige of a goal. But prestige is external: somebody might be prestigious in the eyes of the world and still feel miserable in their heart of hearts.
If you want something, but somehow always fail to take the steps that would lead you there, ask yourself whether you truly want that something, or just the admiration of others. Wanting to be admired when you achieve the goal is fine, but this won’t give you the internal momentum to actually start doing. You have to want and enjoy the process itself, not just the end result and the perks it brings.
The shape-shifting goal
And sometimes we get too hung up on a specific goal, only to realise that we can get the same result – that we’ve already attained that result, perhaps – by following a totally different route.
I once had a meeting with a friend who was my accountability partner at the time. One of her stated goals was to start a specific hobby, that she thought would bring more creativity into her life. I asked her how she was getting on and her answer was “Ah I didn’t bother with it afterwards”.
Just as I was getting ready to do a postmortem and ask her what had gone wrong, and brainstorm ways to move forward and give her encouragement, she said she had found the creativity she craved in a totally different way and that, as a result, her old goal had lost its raison d’être. As it was, it made perfect sense to abandon a goal that had served its purpose, even if she didn’t reach it.
So before you set yourself up for failure
by choosing the wrong goal, go through
the following checklist:
- Just as you are thinking of New Year resolutions, check in with yourself: do your resolutions fill you with joy and excitement?
Do you look forward to the new year and to thinking about life as if you had already fulfilled your New Year resolution?
Or do you feel a kind of resignation and grim resolve, telling yourself “Lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking… Here we go again, I don’t even know why I bother.” If the latter, you should re-examine before you commit.
- Do you actually look forward to the process, or do you want the result only?
If your goal sounds like a dreadful amount of hard work and drudgery, ask yourself whether it’s the external prestige and accolades you want – these will only come after the goal is achieved. This motivation might not be strong enough to see you through the hard times.
- Is the goal itself what you want, or do you want to reach something else through the goal?
This will allow you to identify your deeper underlying motivation, your “why”. If your “why” is strong enough, it will take you through the ups and downs, and you will also know when you have achieved what you wanted to achieve, even if it takes a different shape than you originally envisioned.
Don’t just choose the “good” parts of a scenario – you can’t decide on a goal by looking at the highlights reel. Consider the whole picture: do you still find it attractive? Then go for it!
Are you on the list?