Oh dear, March is here. Not long ago it was Christmas and we were all excited about our New Year’s resolutions and intentions. According to the U.S. News & World Report, however, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by mid-February because the rush of excitement and sense of determination we have at the beginning of the year fades rather quickly and we tend to fall back into our old habits. As an example, we can think of how crowded a gym becomes in January every year, just to go back to its normal volume of attendance by March, as people start forgetting and abandoning their resolutions.
But why do so many of us abandon our goals so quickly? While the reasons vary from person to person, a common trend is that we don’t know how to design our goals. Therefore, we end up making a list of goals that are either unrealistic, overwhelming, demotivating or unclear. With this blog, I’ll try to help you design goals differently, so you can become one of the few 20% who achieves their New Year’s resolutions by the end of the year.
Goals should be SMART:
The purpose of setting goals is for the goal to be achieved. SMART goals are a widely-accepted and simple way to go about setting goals because they maximise the probability of these goals being reached. Therefore, when setting your own goals, I’d suggest you to keep the following criteria in mind:
- Specific: What exactly do you want to achieve? Goals should be well-defined, clear and unambiguous. The more specific the description, the higher the chance you will accomplish the goal. For example, “I want to be promoted in 12 months’ time”, versus, “I want to feel more confident at work”.
- Measurable: How will you know when you’ve reached your goal? A goal should have criteria against which to measure progress. One way of doing this is by breaking down the goal into measurable milestones with defined outcomes. Broad concepts such as “being happier” is not a concrete outcome, but “having two free evenings per week for myself”, is. It might be worth asking yourself, “What is my indicator for progress?”
- Attainable: Whilst there’s nothing wrong with being overly ambitious and shooting for the stars, a goal needs to be within reach. Goals should inspire motivation, not discouragement. You’ll have to consider how you’ll achieve your goals and whether you have the right tools and skills to do so. If you don’t possess the right tools and skills, you might not succeed in reaching your goal. In this case, the first step would be to consider how to obtain them.
- Relevant: What will achieving this goal give you? What is the objective behind it, and will this goal really achieve that? These are the main questions to be asked before putting in effort to achieve that goal. Do you really want that promotion in 12 months’ time? Or, once you get promoted, will you realise all you wanted was a more creative job?
- Timely: In order to increase your motivation to reach your goals, these must be time-bound, with a clear start and end day. If a goal is very big or challenging, you might want to break it down into smaller sets of actions and create a timeline for each sub-goal.
But SMART is not enough. Goals also should be:
- Positively formulated: Goals should be phrased in a positive way. When contemplating your goal, make a conscious effort to think about what you want, rather than want you don’t want. For example, “I want to have a new job by September 2019,” versus, “I don’t want to be in this company much longer”. When thinking positively, your unconscious mind activates a sense of expectancy, which is a powerful motivator in pushing you forward towards your objective. Meanwhile, when thinking of something you don’t want, you’re moving away from something you perceive as painful, which in turn activates a sense of fear. Unlike expectancy, fear can be a strong motivator to help you avoid pain by preventing you from taking action.
- Within your control to achieve: You may want your son to pass his GCSE’s, but that’s not really under your control. Rather, it’s under your son’s control. What is under your control? Maybe something along the lines of, “I want to be a supportive parent”.
- Written down: A 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews showed that when people wrote down their goals, they were 33% more successful in achieving them than those who formulated outcomes in their heads.
- Have an ongoing accountability partner: An accountability partner is someone to whom you report your progress. You can even turn this into a dual relationship by holding your partner accountable to their goals, too. When you have someone checking in with you on your personal development, chances are you won’t want to disappoint them. The secret here is that, according to a report published in 2014, self-conscious emotions, particularly feelings of shame, can predict a desire for self-change.
- Challenging: Although achievable and realistic, goals should have some degree of challenge. Easy goals tend to come with limited rewards and scarce opportunities for growth. They become boring and we lose motivation to achieve them. Challenging goals, although more difficult to attain, come with higher rewards, so they’ll keep you interested for longer, they’ll help you avoid boredom and they’ll motivate you to reach your desired outcome.
So, don’t abandon your New Year’s resolutions just yet. Instead, take a moment to rework them, taking into account the above tips. Hopefully, you’ll have something great to celebrate by the end of this year.