I'm not a grouch! I just want results from my goals!
I don’t know about you but the idea of setting a New Year’s resolution just has me feeling all resistant and grouchy. Maybe it is the thought of doing it because it is the norm, maybe it is the non-conformist in me making a stance, maybe it’s just because I am grumpy (no, not because of any over indulgence on New Year’s Eve!).
What is wrong with New Year’s resolutions?
It’s not so much about what they are, it’s about what they aren’t. They are often wonderful intentions but the translation from into actions, turning goals into results, often doesn't happen. Making New Year’s resolutions must be a good thing because it means you have the desire to make positive change in your life – so where do they go wrong?
A quick Google search brought up hundreds of results for ‘most common new years resolutions’.
One article listed their version of the top 40 resolutions and they seem pretty consistent with what I hear from clients, colleagues, friends and family.
If you talk to enough people about their resolutions, some trends and patterns really leap out:
- Too often, a New Year’s resolution isn’t a serious commitment – they can be spur of the moment, whimsical and easy to break. An unfortunate downside is that breaking New Year’s resolutions can start (or reinforce) a habit of not keeping the commitments we make to ourselves.
- Most resolutions aren’t supported by a plan – the key difference between goals and results is a good strategy. Exactly how will you make your resolution a reality? What specific behaviours will you start or stop? How will you deal with the challenges any worthwhile resolution will inevitably face? How will you know when you have succeeded - when your goal has become a reality?
- Often they aren’t specific enough – a client told me that his resolution is to ‘be a better dad’. That’s great and I really encourage him to do that – but what does it mean? Does it mean being more patient, spending more time with his kids, helping them with their homework, etc.? Even a more specific resolution such as ‘I will spend more time with my kids’ is pretty non-specific and in danger of being an intention with no action plan to support the transition from goal to reality.
- They often emphasise the negative (I will text people less) instead of the positive (I will talk to people more than I text). It is much harder to not do something than it is to do something new or different. As simple as it sounds, the positive version provides a strategy that will help make the change. Another example could be ‘I will stop taking my partner for granted’ (negative) translated into ‘I will find three things I appreciate about my partner every day and make sure I mention them in our conversations’ (positive).
- I may have left this point for last - but I feel it is the most important. Resolutions often address the ‘headline’ problem or need: I will stop smoking, I will drink less alcohol, I will lose weight, I will spend more time with my kids, I will fix my relationship. Each of these is a good intention but they don’t address the overall wellbeing of the person – and they may just be ‘wall papering over the cracks’? Why are you smoking or drinking too much? Why have you gained weight? What is stopping you spending more time with your kids now? Why does your relationship need fixing? The reality is that none of these things will change unless you do. Resolutions such as I will read more books’ can be good if they are made by someone who is already leading a healthy well-balanced life. Only you know the answer – does your life need a tweak (a simple resolution) or does it need a broader overhaul?
So how can you turn these intentions or goals into results?
There is nothing wrong with the intentions that drive most New Year’s resolutions – in fact, the intentions are normally great. To turn these great intentions into great results, try these four simple strategies:
- Re-think any resolutions you made at 3am on January 1st - on the assumption that you are less ‘tired’ now! Are they meaningful? Do you care about them enough to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve them? Will they make a worthwhile difference in your life?
- Are they specific enough to guide you? Will you know when you are on track? Think about the differences in the following example: ‘I will get fit’ is hard to track, ‘I will do more exercise’ is more tangible but still open to interpretation; ‘I will spend half an hour a day, six days a week exercising’ is much more tangible and you will know every week whether you have met that commitment or not.
- Make sure the resolution includes a plan that specifies what actions you need to take – try to break it down to simple weekly and daily behaviours that, if you consistently repeat them, will help you bridge the gap between intention and reality. For example, if you have decided to lose weight, how much will you lose? What foods will you decrease or stop eating altogether? What foods will you eat more of? What exercise will you do to burn more energy? How often?
- Look at the rest of your life and make sure it supports the resolution. If you have resolved to spend more time with the family, where is that time coming from? If you work too many hours and haven’t got plans to fix that, how are you going to get more family time?
It is often this last point that leads to the need for a general review
Balancing your life
Most (all?) resolutions are made for one of three reasons: you are doing something you shouldn’t; you are not doing something you should; or because your life is out of balance. Often, it is a combination of at least two of these.
In reality it is no wonder so many people make simple New Year's resolutions and so few do some broader planning in their life. Traditional approaches to setting goals and planning are often overwhelming and intimidating. Many people put of doing this sort of planning until they are less unsure about what they want - which really defeats the objective.
My favourite approach to planning across all the important areas of my life is much more simple - not as quick and easy as a New Year's resolution but still somehting that can be achieved in 15-30 minutes (not a bad investment of time). To make it even easier, we have made our favourite template available to you free: you can either download that or get your own sheet of paper and follow these steps:
This is my favourite approach:
- Either download our My Life planner or use your own sheet of paper – around A3 is ideal (‘double letter’) for our US subscribers. You could also use a whiteboard or a sheet or butchers paper
- In the middle (having the paper in landscape works best for me) draw a circle and write your name in it
- Now draw around ten lines from the centre circle, each with another circle at the end (like mind mapping). In each of those circles, write the most important things in your life
- Now draw about three lines from each of the ten circles. At the end of each line, draw a box. In the three boxes attached to each circle, write down three things you want to achieve in that area of your life
By following this simple process, you have 2-3 objectives or goals in each of the most important areas of your life. The next step is to turn those goals into results. Some of them will be simple – others may need a more detailed plan to support them.
I would love to hear back from you about the resolutions you have made, refined and achieved!
Have a great 2014!
photo credit (gorilla): .m for matthijs via photopin cc photo credit (resolutions): creepyed via photopin cc