Happy New Year! For many, the emergence of a New Year is an opportunity for a fresh start, for a new beginning. And many use this time to resolve to be a “fresh” and “new” version of themselves by promising to start or stop specific behaviors. In fact, according to a study from the University of Scranton, almost 50 percent of Americans make a New Year’s resolution. Losing weight is the top resolution, followed by getting organized and reducing debt. The study also found that only 8 percent actually achieve their goals.
I commend those that have the self-awareness to recognize that a change needs to be made. I also take my hat off to those that make the initial commitment to take on these resolutions. That step alone tells me that making these changes is important to them. But… too many people abandon their goals, paving the way for an ongoing state of being overweight, disorganized and in debt. But there’s hope. After all, 8 percent do accomplish their goals. And if they can do it, you can, too.
There are three main reasons why people don’t achieve their goals: they get distracted, they give up too soon, and they don’t work for them.
Life gets busy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a married mother of three managing work, a husband and each of your children’s extracurricular activities, or a single man juggling school, a part-time job, volunteer work and spending time with friends and family. It’s possible to get overwhelmed with everything going on in our lives to the point where we just don’t have the time to dedicate to our goals. We keep putting it off until tomorrow, this weekend and next week until we look up and it’s been three months and no progress has been made.
Or, we’ve set too many goals. We’re ambitious and we have an entire list of things we want to accomplish. The problem is trying to keep up with them all. We start on one goal and then pause working on that goal to start on another goal and before we know it, we’re running around in circles. You’ve got your eye on a promotion so you want to put in more time at the office. But you also noticed your friendships are suffering so you vowed to do happy hour with your gal pals 1-2 times per week. But you also wanted to start volunteering at the local shelter. Setting too many goals is a distraction within itself. Because, let’s face it. Not all of those goals are top-tier important and when we turn our attention from those goals to second- and third-tier goals, really, we’re distracted.
Being distracted is a good excuse for quitting. You’re so distracted with everything going on around you that you think, “it’s too hard” trying to juggle life plus the added pressure of working on and achieving goals. Or, “I don’t have the time” it takes to work on my goals. So, you just quit. You say you’ll try again next year. For example. Let’s say you resolved to lose weight. You’ve been working late and by the time you leave the office, it’s 7:00 p.m. You stop at a fast food restaurant for dinner. You tell yourself, I can’t work late and lose weight. I’ll just revisit losing weight once this project is over in a few weeks. But only… you don’t.
Sometimes we set goals that are really tough to achieve. Goals where we have to sit down and focus. Goals that are time and energy-consuming. Goals that force us to make uncomfortable decisions and act on them. But, one thing’s for certain. If we’re not focused, not motivated and make excuses for why we can’t start or work on our goals, it will be only a matter of time before we quit.
Some people set goals and don’t put any effort towards achieving them. All year long, from January 1st through December 31st, absolutely no time is spent making progress. Let’s say your goal was to save $1,000 by the end of the year. Each payday comes and goes and not a cent was set aside. You even got a tax refund, money for your birthday and dividends from an investment, but all of that money was spent, too. Do you think that once New Year’s Eve arrives that you’ll be able to mark that goal complete? Absolutely not! Not unless through some miracle that $1,000 in cash landed in your Christmas stocking.
All year long, you will have had to sacrifice a few Starbucks lattes, a few trips to your favorite restaurant, an online sale at the Gap. Bottom line is, we can’t expect results if we don’t put in the work.
I am achieving all of my goals
You now know what NOT to do when setting out on a quest to achieve your goals. Here are a few things that you should do if you want to be a part of that 8 percent of people that achieve their goals each year. First, make sure your goals are SMART. Next, create a plan and finally, be accountable.
I am setting SMART goals
Many people set goals using the SMART acronym. The S stands for specific, meaning that you have a both definitive and detailed statement for what it is that you want to achieve. If you want to “pay down debt,” for example. That’s good, but is not specific enough. Something like, “I want to pay off my car loan” is what you want. The M in SMART stands for measurable, which means that you can track your progress towards this goal so you’ll know how far you’ve come and how far you have to go. Paying off your car loan fit the bill here (no pun intended) because you have a beginning balance and you’ll be able to track how much you’ve paid. The A stands for achievable. This relates to whether or not it is in your power to achieve this goal. If your car loan balance is $10,000, but you wouldn’t be able to pay it off even if you put every dime of your discretionary funds towards the loan, it’s not achievable. You want to set yourself up for success, not failure. The R stands for relevant. Does the goal have any real value to it? Is it worth the time, energy or other resources? I’d say paying off your car loan is! Lastly, you have the T, which stands for time-bound. Most people say their goals need to be completed by the end of the year. But you may set smaller goals to be completed in three months, or six months or eight months. Whatever the goal, make sure you set a date for when you want it to be finished, and that it’s realistic for it to be done by that time.
Some of the letters in the SMART acronym vary by person. But regardless, thinking through each letter will help you narrow the focus of your goals and get you on the path to achieving them.
I am planning for success
Someone once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Creating a plan for success will ensure that you can stay on track. Remember our goal to lose weight? A plan would be to eat out less and eat healthy meals at home. A good plan for paying off your car loan is to divide the total balance by the number of months you have to pay it off. Then make monthly payments based on that number.
Inevitably, though, something will happen that will threaten our goal. So having a contingency plan is paramount. For example, on nights where you have to work late, bring leftovers into the office so you could eat them while at your desk or reheat them once you get home. This beats stopping at a fast food joint. Another example is saving each month for an amount that exceeds the amount of the car loan. That way, you’ll have the extra funds to pay for something unexpected, and if you end up not needing the extra cash, you can just put it in the bank.
When you set a goal, put together the “how.” And then think about all the possible scenarios you may encounter throughout the year. What will you do if any of them come true? How will you stay on track? You may think there’s no harm in a slip up. But the truth is that just one slip up can lead to a slippery slope of multiple slip ups. Whew, say that three times!
I am accountable
It’s easy to break promises that we make to ourselves. After all, no one’s going to call us on it. It couldn’t do that much harm, could it? Actually, YES! When we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we really cheat ourselves in the long run. The goal that could have taken six months to achieve can take two years if we’re not holding our feet to the fire. Sticking to it when it gets hard, making us do it even when we don’t want to. Reminding ourselves that if we want something, we have to make sacrifices for it, or we’ll never have it. Now I get that some of us can’t be trusted. If there’s cake, you will eat cake. A nice thick slice of it. I know I would. In that case, I would recommend appointing an accountability partner. Someone who will push you to wake up a 5:00 a.m. to get that workout in. To choose a salad at the restaurant. To shop the sale rack. To only have one helping. If you set a SMART goal and create a plan for how you will achieve it without being accountable, or at least appointing an accountability partner, there’s room for failure. Setting the goal gets you started. Creating a plan is progress. But accountability is what will bring you to the finish line.
At the end of the year, to which group do you want to belong? That 92 percent of people that set a goal but didn’t achieve it? Or that elite 8 percent that did? If you chose the latter, you’ll want to avoid being distracted and inactive and quitting. Instead, set SMART goals, create a plan (or multiple plans) for success and be accountable. If you follow this advice, you’ll be celebrating victory by December 31st.
Here are your positive affirmations to ponder on this week:
- I am achieving all of my goals.
- I am turning away from distractions.
- I am never going to quit.
- I am working on my goals consistently.
- I am setting SMART goals.
- I am planning for success.
- I am accountable.