Looking back on 2013 is a bit like leaning back over a black hole for me –there’s some good stuff in there, but mostly I hope I don’t get sucked back in and have to relive it. It was a year of complex challenges, both personally and professionally.
A Facebook friend recently posted the question, “New Year’s Resolutions – Thumbs up or down?” I was fascinated by the responses. 8 people simply endorsed, “Up.” 13 equally succinct individuals voted, “Down.” 17 responded with more detail in a generally positive direction, 14 generally negative, and 19 waxed philosophic without committing one way or the other. The latest (more scientific) research indicates that these percentages aren’t far off the national average1.
I think it’s really interesting that the single largest voting bloc was noncommittal, but total negatives were clearly the biggest group. Unfortunately, the more detailed negative comments suggest that most people don’t make New Year’s resolutions simply because they’re scurrying about too much to stop and think about it.
I view the transition to a New Year as an opportunity to reflect on the year behind and think intentionally about the year ahead. Every year brings challenges and achievements, sorrows and celebrations. Each of these moments offer lessons to be learned, insights into ourselves and others, and opportunities for the future that aren’t always immediately apparent. I personally have learned as much from my worst experiences and most unpleasant encounters as I have from the brightest highlights of my life. What a shame it would be to miss these lessons because we’re too busy. And by the way, this applies equally to individuals (“personal” brands) and companies!
Because I am future focused, I spend much more time thinking about what I want for the New Year. Trite “Start/Stop” lists of resolutions aren’t very meaningful to me, and aren’t often kept, according to the research. Vague resolutions like “Live life to the fullest,” or “Commit to a healthier lifestyle,” sound great, but don’t have much impact. According to the same research, explicit resolutions are 10 times likelier to be kept. Humans generally stick to goals when they can see some progress, and that’s hard to do with a goal so vague that you can’t tell what progress even looks like.
So as I think about the 358 days of 2014 that still lie ahead, I’m harshly reminded that each year passes more quickly and I’ll be having this conversation with myself again sooner than I care to think. I believe that each of us owes it to ourselves to devote some time to thinking about what we want to see when we look back on 2014. I approach it as a strategic process to create my vision for the year ahead.
Here are some tips to ensure that it’s a meaningful exercise.
- Focus on what’s meaningful to you. Well that sounds like a blinding flash of the obvious. But think about it. How many people make a resolution to drop 10 pounds, yet really couldn’t care less about dropping 10 pounds? Who knows why they make the resolution – their wife is nagging them, their best friend is doing it and needs a buddy, or it sounds doable because there’s a great checklist in Gym Bimbo Magazine. Your vision for 2014 should be aligned with your core values and your long- and short-term personal or professional goals. Wait, what if I don’t know what my core values are, or haven’t set any goals? Congratulations, you get to shortcut this process – your resolution should be to set aside time to define your core values and set goals. You might want to consider working with a coach to do this.
- KISS (Keep it Simple, Sweetie!). Don’t try to do everything at once. Some experts advocate limiting yourself to just one resolution. Depending on the situation, you might have room in your life for more than one, but if you focus on the one change that would have the most positive impact, you can’t go wrong.
- Be specific about what you’re trying to achieve. In the corporate world, we are trained to set “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Timebound) objectives. When you look back at the end of the year, how will you know if you were successful? Imagine what success looks like. It can really be helpful to write down, in detail, the changes you want to see for your life or your brand at the end of the year. So let’s return to the weight analogy. Think about why you want to lose weight, and the benefits of doing so. What amount of weight loss is going to provide those benefits? How are you going to feel differently? Maybe you need to focus not just on pounds but also on other measurements, like your blood pressure or body mass index (% body fat). Picture yourself once you meet your goal.
- Be realistic AND aspirational. What’s realistic in a year? The answer is key to setting yourself up for success. Stretch goals can be highly motivational, but only if you can believe they’re realistic. Too many managers pass the buck & set ridiculous targets for their teams to impress senior leadership, without thinking them through to make sure there’s a real possibility of success. But don’t sell yourself short either. Too often, we refuse to make a resolution out of the dreams that would mean the most of us, out of simple fear of failure. There’s nothing motivational about achieving something you can do without trying, and growth doesn’t result from napping in your comfort zone.
- Be equally specific about what you need to do to get there. If you have thought carefully about how to make success possible, you have probably also begun thinking about how to make it happen. Years ago when I worked for Burger King our field team was given some targets that seemed nearly impossible. Our leadership team was really smart about how they presented the challenge. They started with the rationale for why these targets were important, & the benefits that would result. They acknowledged that they were huge targets, & told us how we’d be making history if we succeeded. Then they devoted a big chunk of our meeting to letting the teams ask questions, develop their plans to achieve their targets, & come back to ask for the resources they needed (and helped us by providing those to the extent possible).
- Set milestones & monitor progress. Sometimes the process includes doing some work to determine the best plan of action (like meeting with a trainer and a nutritionist to help you establish your weight loss plan). Once you have a plan, establish regular check points to make sure you’re not falling behind. Otherwise, life and day-to-day “fire fighting” can really get in the way of doing something that’s more important than urgent.
- Share your goals and your progress. As obvious as this sounds, there’s a “right way” to do it, at least when it comes to personal development goals. Sharing your goal can heighten your sense of accountability, especially if you ask people to hold you accountable to the steps along the way. But don’t get too full of yourself & let the satisfaction of sharing your goal lull you into complacency, or it can actually impede your motivation for actually doing the necessary work2. Be as open about the bumps in your road as you are about the good news. You probably have a number of people in your network who have skills and tools to help you move forward. If your goals are of a nature that you’re not comfortable making public, consider working with some sort of professional who can help hold you accountable and provide support along the way. The right professional depends on the goal – a career coach or mentor for career goals, a personal trainer, nutritionist or physician for weight/health goals, a publisher or writing coach if your goal is to write a book.
These strategies can really help you to “be the change you want to see.” A clear plan is a great way to start your year off motivated by your own potential. Contact me if you need help creating a plan that motivates you!
I suppose the inevitable question at this point is, “OK, Monica, so what are YOUR resolutions for 2014?” To be honest, I’m still in the reflection stage, trying to make sense of 2013, and haven’t yet formulated my plan for the New Year. Stay tuned …
Mike White, a fellow coach from the UK, responded to my share of this post in a LinkedIn group. With his permission, I’m sharing an alternative to the SMART criteria for goals that he’s found motivating for clients.
TRAMS (SMART backwards):
T = Thrilling (What would really get you moving?)
R = Resonance (What’s really important to you?)
A = Accountable (How will you hold yourself accountable for what you plan to do?)
M = Measureable (How will you know you’ve been successful?)
S = Specific (What will you specifically do next?)
I love it!
Monica – Thanks for the excellent post! Each year, my husband and I sit down and talk about the values in our life that we focused on in the prior year, and the ones that will get our attention in the year to come. We do our best to keep it simple, with under seven (7) focus areas on the list.
I love the comment above regarding TRAMS and look forward to revisiting my 2014 goals through the lens of those questions.
This is very valuable perspective Monica. I so appreciate your focus on simplicity, measuring progress, and sharing progress with friends, all so key to complying with a new routine. I read related advice explaining that “Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.” (from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230333#ixzz2pNd0SL73) All timely advice as we contemplate new year’s resolutions, or just better behavior!
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