I wish that my life was lived with such unthwartable intentionality and unbroken cadence that all my best intentions, hopes, dreams, strategies, and plans just scurried into their rank and file behind me like submissive infantrymen flanking their fearless general into battle as I marched unhindered through my schedule. However, if I don’t intermittently remind them who’s boss, my delinquent platoon of would-be accomplishments, attainments, and acquisitions abscond instead into obscurity, leaving me with a motley crew of foot shuffling “coulda-shoulda-woulda” excuses in their place.
That’s why I’m an annual advocate of making New Year’s resolutions.
Note that I didn’t say “keeping” said resolutions. To be overly transparent, I have to admit that my rate of keeping resolutions beyond the first three months of resolve is about a rate of 20%. I usually make ten resolutions, and end up keeping two of them until at least April. One one occasion I managed to stay on the raging rodeo bull of distraction long enough to actually accomplish a goal. That particular resolution, which tackled my love handles and other BMI eye-sores, saw a total loss of about 6kg (20 lbs?) by literally going to the gym every weekday for three months. When I realized the untapped power of an unbroken commitment, I renewed my allegiance to the hapless art of annual goal setting.
My reasoning follows this litigious track: If I didn’t make ten resolutions each year, then the 1.5 that reach the coveted status of being crossed off the list wouldn’t have a fighting chance. Yes, I fail eight or so out of ten times, every year; yes, it is accompanied with the semi-demoralizing reminder that I am a consummate loser; BUT if I didn’t make any resolutions at all, I would have no hope of attaining any of my goals.
I know it sounds a little like the lottery ticket purchaser’s argument that if you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t stand a chance at all, which is worse than the one-in-a-googleplex chance they have of winning. But there is a fundamental difference: I’m actually in (some) control of my resolutions. I can stack the deck in my favor with these five tips to help you actually keep a resolution or two in 2013…
1. Choose an attainable goal.
If your goal is not realistic, you are setting yourself up for failure. Don’t put on your list “Resolved to love my dead-end job, respect my idiot boss, and get promoted to company owner.” Don’t select items you dont have sole control of either. I.e. when your goal depends on other people, it’s just another species of unattainability.
E..g. “Resolved to have good kids; resolved to get promoted; resolved to be married.” You can choose to be more consistent in disciplining your kids, work toward earning a promotion, and asking someone out on a date or saying yes instead of “I’m washing my hair that night and every other night too” as often as you did last year. But you can only resolve to change whatyou can change.
2. Choose a specific goal.
The way you do this is by knowing what an attained goal will look like. At what point can you cross it off your list as done? So, you can’t for example, choose: “Resolved to lose weight; go to the gym more; read more; learn French; improve my guitar skills.” That’s just dumb. If you skip three consecutive meals and run away from three vending machines today, you will have lost weight. But is that really what you wanted? If not, then don’t say “lose weight”, say “lose one kilogram per week for three months” or “lose ten kilograms this year.” Say, “read one fiction and one non-fiction book per month” or “go to the gym twice a week for 40 mins of exercise” or “be able to hold a five minute converstaiton in French with a native speaker” or “be able to play a complete suite by Segovia.” Know what target you are are aiming at so you’ll know if/when you’ve hit it.
3. Plan the weekly steps.
Once you know what you want, figure out what that looks like every day or week of the next year. Once you know you want to eat an elephant, know how many bites you need to take each week. E.g. To accomplish the goal of “have a five minute conversation with a native French speaker,” you can either move to France for two months and immerse yourself in language learning to cross it off your list by late February, or you can take a class/do a 40 minute lesson per day on the internet/ work on a chapter every other day from a French language book.
When you’ve isolated what you actually have to do and how frequently you need to do it, then schedule it in. Write in your day planner “Go to gym 1pm-2pm Mon, Wed, Fri.
4. Incorporate a weekly review.
I had this driven home by David Allen’s superb book, Getting Things Done.
At the end of your week (Sunday night for me or early Monday morning), you need to look at your written list of goals and then evaluate if you have done what you intended to do to accomplish them. If not, plan for a catch-up the following week, and if so, then acknowledge that you are making progress, which will encourage you to make more goals as you see they are attainable with your system.
5. Solicit accountability.
I don’t do this. I just read enough times that it works for others, so I decided to include it for your consideration. Some people find it easier to commit to a gym session if they know someone else will be waiting for them. In my experience I am able to talk my gym partner into taking a break this week too. Some people put money at stake by fining themselves or paying for a gym instructor or whatever, but again for me that just ends up stinging more when I quit. I prefer my failures to lead to private self-berating, instead of public ridicule.
I guess, in theory, the public consequence is meant to be enough to overcome your inertia but that only works if you have normal amounts of laziness in your system, and a healthy respect of what others think of you. I possess a copious surplus of both factors, leading to an acute sense of embarrassment, which is only overshadowed by how inert my slackerdom makes me. But if it works for you, use it.
I hope this helps somewhat. If not let me know and I resolve to do better next year!