What is your opinion about New Year’s resolutions? I have a list of goals as long as my arm for the New Year, and I realize I am probably overdoing it. How do I know how much is enough, and how much is too much?
Dear Feeling Ambitious,
There is something so inspiring about the feeling of a fresh start, isn’t there? But we know good intentions alone aren’t going to get us where we want to go. A ton of research has been done on the topic of goal setting and achievement. The newest entry to the field is from Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. His most recent book, Smarter, Faster, Better, is a fairly standard take on the topic but fresh for today. To be fair, though, he stands on the shoulders of Steven Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) and Hyrum Smith (The 10 Natural Laws of Time and Life Management). These two books caused me to radically change my life twenty-five years ago. Both Covey and Smith insist that every choice you make must be rooted in your deepest values in order for you to be successful. For example, losing weight won’t work if you are doing it to please someone else. A goal must be important to you or you are not likely to accomplish it.
Here are a few quick tips if you aren’t up for a stack of books—although a little Googling will uncover many good summaries!
- Pick one big thing. Probably the main reason people don’t achieve their goals—other than lack of deep personal commitment—is that they have set too many. So your angst that you may be loading up on goals is probably spot on. As you swing back to normal after a big holiday season, you are already behind, so you must manage your own expectations. Choose one big thing and let the rest go.
- Get Support. Lots of it. Change is hard, no matter what it is—and if you’re trying to break an addiction like nicotine or sugar, it is doubly hard. The brain craves anything that causes a predictable release of dopamine, so you’ll need more support than you think you do. Tapering off can help, as can support groups, a buddy, keeping a journal, daily acknowledgment, or asking for help from your guardian angel or whatever you know to be your higher power.
- Break it Down. You have one big goal. Break it down into small sub-goals or daily commitments. Ask yourself: What can I do, every day, to keep myself on track? Make a chart and check off something every day. (I’m sure there’s an app for this, but I’m committed to reducing my screen time, so I go with paper.)
- Be Clear. You may have heard of the SMART model—it’s been around for years and still offers good guidelines for goal setting. Here’s the way I learned it:
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Timebound
Other interpretations for the model exist but I won’t go into a long analysis here, because so many have done it so well. Again, Google can shed more light on this if you’re interested.
I mention the SMART model because I have observed in myself and in my coaching clients that specificity has tremendous power, and so does a timeline. It’s fairly easy to set a SMART goal with something like losing weight, because we can use numbers. With other things, it can get foggy. So specificity and clarity are key. For example, “I want to get better at my job” is not going to help you. “I am going to achieve ‘Exceeds Expectations’ on the following three competencies at my job” will take you much further.
Note: before you start, you must ask yourself: How will I know I am successful in the end? You can only really celebrate your success if you have answered this question in the beginning.
- Make it Compelling: Now let’s loop back to my first point, which is that you really have to care about doing the work to achieve your goal. You can’t do it for your spouse, your kids, your dad, or anyone else, no matter how much you care about them. So, choose something you really, really want. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t a big deal to anyone else, or if it isn’t going to make you a better person. If you really care, there is a chance you will succeed.
I will leave you now so that I can decide how to be nicer, more productive, a more patient mom, a more inspiring boss, thinner, healthier, and a more committed recycler. I only wish I were kidding.
Here’s to miracles for all of us in the New Year!
PS. I was kidding. Kind of. But seriously, my big goal in 2019 is for this “Ask Madeleine” column to be more widely read. So I am asking for your support. If you like my column, please share it every week with three (3) other people whom you think would like it. Thank you so much!
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!