Making resolutions is a time honoured part of welcoming the New Year.
Whether we plan to spend more ‘quality’ time with our kids, lose a few kilos, or take up knitting, there is something about starting a fresh new year that has us setting goals and articulating our aspirations.
While studies suggest less than 25% of people actually stay committed to resolutions after 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them, we persist with positivity and enthusiasm.
We’ve all heard the adage to write down our goals (based on a now-discredited Harvard study) to improve our chances of success – but there’s more to it than that.
By taking time to think about our approach and act on our plan, we are more likely to succeed, and for our achievements to be sustainable. (Latham & Locke, 1991).
And to make it easier – we asked our experts to share their top tips for success.
1. Don’t treat your goals like resolutions
First, it’s important to remember there is a difference between making resolutions and setting goals. (Especially when made at 12:01am on January 1 with a celebratory glass in hand).
Let’s be honest, resolutions are generally non-specific – a broad intention to do (or not do) something.
Goals are much more structured, usually involving some sort of plan and outcome – and are much more likely to succeed (Kleingeld, et al, 2011).
Importantly, setting goals is linked with better self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy (Locke & Latham, 2006).
“Whatever you do, don’t set your goal on New Year’s Eve – it’s like doing a supermarket shop when you haven’t eaten for 24 hours,” said Simon Brown-Greaves, organisational psychologist and CEO of FBG Group.
“Instead, set them in the first weeks of January whilst sober and calm.”
2. Know why you want to achieve your goal
“It’s critical to stop and think about why you want to set this goal,” says Beulah Joseph, principal psychologist at Assure Programs.
“Carefully consider what is driving you toward this desired state, and in particular, which of your needs aren’t being met today. Also, think about your values – how can you align your deeply held values to your goal?
“For example, if one of your values is on supporting your community, and your goal is to run 5k, you could combine those into a goal of running in a 5k event for a local charity,” Beulah added.
3. Identify the barriers to achieving your goal
This step isn’t to let us make excuses – in fact, it is the opposite.
It is important to take time to reflect on what might stop us from achieving our goal, so we can put in place strategies to address them or figure out how to work within what is possible.
“Try to be objective, if you can,” Beulah suggests.
“Take a step out of your day-to-day life and evaluate the ‘lay of the land’.
“If you have small children, is it going to be easy to get to the gym every day? If you want to get back into the workforce after a career pause, have your skills gone out of date?”
4. Be honest and real with yourself
It is important to identify where we are starting from and to be honest with ourselves about where we are in life and what we can achieve.
From there, we can evaluate what is a realistic and achievable goal – we may need to research and talk to some experts first.
Setting a goal to climb the Dawn Wall in three months’ time, when you haven’t been rock climbing in 15 years, is just plain unachievable.
“You might like to look at forming your goals in such a way that they are a stretch, but achievable, and can be measured in some way,” said Maria Galani, Psychologist with CiC.
5. Measure and track your progress
“You should definitely set your ‘data points’ at this stage,” Beulah said.
“Think about how you will measure progress and make a record of where your starting point is.
“If you want to lose weight, you might think about measurements such as BMI, weight, ranking your daily energy levels, or how your clothes feel.
“This way, you can start to track and measure against multiple points,” she added.
Maria from CiC also emphasizes the importance of measure our success.
“There is no point in setting a target or a goal if you don’t realize when you get there!” she said.
6. Be SMART
You’ve likely heard it before as it is commonly held that using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timeframe) is a simple way of making goal setting efficient and productive.
Specific: goals should be clear and concise.
Measurable: goals should be quantifiable to track progress.
Achievable: goals should be challenging yet achievable.
Relevant: goals should add value and align with other goals or values you have.
Timeframed: goals should have a time limit to maintain motivation.
“SMART is definitely the best mechanism for goal setting. Sometimes though we tend to forget the A (achievable) and the R (realistic) in the acronym.
“It’s great to have something to always strive for and achieve. It’s simply not always possible however to do everything,” said Denise Meyerson, Founder and Director of MCI.
“It’s not possible to eat cleanly AND go to the gym every day AND walk your 10,000 steps and so on.
“Be kind on yourself and create targets that are within reach with a good dose of motivation and perseverance.”
7. Be accountable
Recent research by Matthews (2015) identified an alternative approach to setting goals which demonstrated a 33% increase in goal achievement:
- Write goals down
- Commit to goal-directed actions
- Share your plan
- Report on your progress
“Having a buddy – someone you are accountable to, but also someone that can support you during challenging times, and celebrate success with you – is so important,” Beulah added.
Though as Simon from FBG Group advises, it can be difficult if they’re your partner too.
“Reconsider having a romantic partner as a buddy for challenging or possibly unrealistic goals – it can put a lot of stress on your relationship,” he added.
8. Break it down
We shouldn’t just set one big goal and be done.
Instead, we can break our goal down into smaller steps, or sub-goals.
This helps keep us motivated, on track, and makes the challenge more manageable.
9. Celebrate success
For each milestone, take a moment to celebrate.
Coffee with the team, a reward worth working towards, or a treat with a friend, sparks the joy and excitement that drives us. As long as the reward doesn’t undermine our goal!
10. Don’t dwell on the mishaps
It’s ok if we miss or are unable to reach a small step or part of our goal.
“It is not a sign of failure, but a sign of being human – of life. It’s part of the process,” Beulah said.
“What is important is that you adapt and be flexible – reset and move on.
“This year, and probably the year to come, has proven to most of us that as humans we are a finite resource, and sometimes there is just nothing left in the tank. And that is ok.”
Setting goals in a world fighting COVID-19
We move into 2021 with many factors, affecting goal setting at an organizational, professional, and personal level.
Some of us are getting on with life almost as ‘normal’. Others are in full lockdown. Some have lost jobs and family members. All of us are living with uncertainty.
“Here in the UK, unemployment has risen and people have been facing ongoing lockdowns since March 2020,” said Maria from UK-based CiC.
“Social isolation is an added barrier which has had a huge toll on the mental health of many.
“This past year has forced many of us out of our comfort zones and made us question whether it is even appropriate to set any goals.”
“Instead, maybe reconsider what your goals look like in 2021 – perhaps your goal is to focus on becoming more adaptable to change and developing greater self-compassion.
“These are key skills that can help you maintain resilience, appreciate what you have, and not fight against things that are outside of your control,” she said.
Now, more than ever, it is important to heed the advice of the experts when setting our professional and personal goals for 2021.
“Always set goals. It is what makes us human,” said FBG’s Simon.
“You can reduce the context factor by choosing goals that are independent of circumstances – for example, my goal might be to improve my core strength, which can be done through a variety of mechanisms, regardless of any lockdown.
“And be flexible – as circumstances change, re-evaluate but don’t give up. We are remarkably resilient,” he added.
Obviously one of your key goals for 2021 should be to subscribe to the MCI Virtual Classroom Subscription for your professional development.
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