Goal-setting, and Other Flights of Fancy

NYR2015

It’s not really that I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I just don’t think that they by and large are effective for most of the people that set them. In fact, they generally last through the first month of the year… maybe two months if we are lucky. I’ve talked about the whole issue of the resolution before.

Resolving to Solve in a New Year

Most people have extremely good intentions… and deplorable follow through. I’m generalizing. Of course, I am. There are people who absolutely carry through with their goals. People have made better health choices, started new diets, formulated plans for workouts, decided to quit smoking/drinking/punching drunk monkeys… Just seeing if you were still paying attention. What makes some people more successful with their resolutions than others?

It could be a personality thing. Some people are stubborn… I wouldn’t know anyone like that. Nooooo.

It could be that they choose easy goals.

It could be that their shoes were too tight… Ooops, wrong holiday. Nevermind.

The truth is, it probably isn’t any particular magical formula. It may be a combination of a lot of factors, but I’ll tell you one thing. I’m betting that the goals that those “follow-through-ers” are SMART. No, I don’t mean over intelligent or hyper-intellectual (I totally made that up). I mean S.M.A.R.T.

Some of you may have heard the term before. It is used a lot in management training and supervision, but it works for self-management and introspection as well. It is an acronym and a mnemonic supposed to help us plodding managerial types make sure that when we set goals, they are the right kind of goals that aren’t going to self-sabotage mid action and blow up in all of our faces. Some of the letters have multiple meanings depending on your application, but it all boils down to something like this:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Attainable – assuring that an end can be achieved.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

I can tell you right now that the reason that a lot of New Year’s resolutions go poof before the end of first quarter is that they don’t adhere to the criteria above. Most people are way too general in their identified goal and they fail to pick something that they can have an actual measure of success. Seriously, if you are looking at a subjective measure… the truth is, you are going to get a lot of “Meh, I guess I did it.” That doesn’t actually work when you are looking for some positive self-reinforcement. Like it or not, humans respond to facts and figures and numbers, numbers, NUMBERS. Being able to say, I have been smoke free for 27 days as opposed to “Yeah, I think I feel better” is a huge bonus in the psychological reinforcement department. In fact, if you can give yourself gold stars, it is even better. The word up there for “A” is Attainable, but I don’t like that one. I like ACTIONABLE. Why do I like that better? It is an active word. It also doesn’t make the “R” word redundant. Pick a goal that has an action; something that can be actually done, not thought, dreamed, or considered, and movement and concreteness help. Realistic is also important (though, I might also say Relevant, because if it isn’t meaningful, it won’t feel worthy of the effort). Sooooo important. Seriously, it might be a goal to be debt-free, but if you have mortgage, most of a car loan, student loans, and a couple of credit cards, that is not going to happen as a short term situation. That’s more of that long term goal; not that it isn’t a good goal, just probably not the best choice for a New Year’s resolution. Instead, in this example, pick the smallest of the balances and say “I’m paying this off by…” Which totally brings us to the last and very important part of the SMART goal: TIME. Why is Time so important? It is because of that statistic that says the majority of us give up those resolutions before Valentine’s Day. Short term goals are more likely to bring success. With success comes positive psychological reinforcement and a big confidence boost. “YEAH ME!!! I paid off that card… Now, for my next trick…”

I avoided making New Year’s resolutions for a while now. Mainly, I didn’t like the odds. I’m way too prone to the statistical norm of forgetting about my self-set goal by St. Patrick’s, if not sooner. Instead, I tend to stick with short term, year round inventories and self-evaluations. However, I think I’m gonna give the NYR a try again this year. I’ve got a long list of things that I want to change in 2016. I’ve got financial goals, health goals (yes, more physical fits are a-comin’), home goals, family goals, job goals… Goals, I gots ‘em. But I’m not going to be setting myself up for failure by putting them all down on my list of resolutions. At least one of my resolutions is already set up for me. I let a friend talk me into the Herbalife Body Transformation Challenge (http://level10btc.com/). Yes… that is what I did. I am still wondering what insanity possessed me, but it has specificity, measurement (oh lord and before pics), action absolutely required on my part, realism (because even with anxiety pounding at my door, I know I can actually do this), and there is a deadline/finish line (and oh lord after pics). So, resolution #1 is already in there. I think I will probably pick at least one in the financial land of my life, and that, my friends, may be it. Once I accomplish these, the world is my oyster, and I’ll pick a few more.

There is no reason whatsoever that we should be restricted to resolve once a year. I personally think that we should make it an ongoing thing… maybe quarterly. The thing is, if you are like me, you need some sense of success to give you the energy and impulse to continue. So… be SMART. Start with one or two. Make ‘em short term, and make sure you reward yourself when you make that goal! Happy New Year, everyone!

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