I don’t believe in resolutions. The idea that a trick of the calendar should be the driving force for real change in my life seems silly. And yet, there’s no denying that a year is a good block of time to think with — long enough to carry out big projects and short enough to keep the end-goal in sight. Plus, a year is a good block of time to look at to get a “big picture” view of your life — what you’re doing wrong, what you’re doing right, what you’d like to change.
So while I won’t be sitting down to make a list of resolutions this January 1, I will spend some time over the next couple weeks thinking about what I want to achieve in the next year: new projects I want to start, old ones I want to wrap up, personal faults I want to conquer, and personal strengths I want to build on.
However you define it, we’re all working towards some sort of success. Whether that’s achieving wealth, happiness, fame, greater family togetherness, a stronger commitment to one’s faith or one’s vocation, or whatever else, we all want to succeed at everything we set out to do. Here’s 8 tips to help make that happen in the coming year:
- Set SMART goals. Don’t just make goals, make SMART goals. The idea of SMART goals is credited to George Doran, and stands for:
- Specific: Goals should be as particular as possible. So, for example, not “lose weight” or “make more money” but “lose 10 pounds” or “increase my salary by $10,000 a year”.
- Measurable: It should be possible to keep track of your progress. You can track weight loss on a chart, or check your salary to know if you’re moving towards your new salary goal, but you can’t measure progress towards, say, “be happier”.
- Achievable: Unfulfilled goals make us feel terrible about ourselves, so make realistic goals. So “lose 10 pounds” is better than “lose 150 pounds”; if you’ve never run before, “run a 5k” is more achievable than “do an Iron Man triathlon”
- Relevant: Is this a goal that a) will have an impact on your life, and b) that you are prepared to pursue? If not, maybe your goals should be to attain the skills and resources you need to tackle the bigger, more distant goal.
- Time-bound: Give yourself a clearly defined end date to achieve your goals by. This gives you a sense of urgency, and also helps keep you focused — you want to lose 10 pounds by June, not at some point in the course of your life, right?
- Make a plan. How are you going to achieve success this year without a plan? Planning is the big “gotcha” for lots of people — we might have a big general plan, but when it comes time to sit down and actually do something, we have no idea what to do. Write a plan for achieving your goals in specific, discrete, and doable actions, one after the other. If some steps are contingent on actions or conditions you don’t know right now, sketch them out as well as you can. Make a contingency plan, too, in case things don’t go as you thought they would.
- Commit to a due date. Go through your list of projects and assign each one a due date. Do the same for any vague “I’d like to do this” things you have floating around in your head. I use a formula that goes “By March 31st, I will have [insert goal here]” and list everything I want to have finished by then, with matching lists for June 30, September 30, and December 31. Maybe quarters don’t work for you; if not, pick another way to do this, but do it.
- Make it public. Share your goals and commitments with other people — your partner, your parents, your friends and co-workers, your blog audience, anyone — to make the commitment more real. If you’ve told everyone you’re going to finish your novel by June 30, then you’ll have a powerful incentive to get it done. And they’ll help, too, if by nothing else than nagging you about it.
- Find a support group. A group of like-minded people with similar goals can be a great motivation. Not only will they understand what’s holding you back, they may have tips that can help you overcome your blocks. And if not, chances are they’re struggling with the same things you are, and you can work through them together with the knowledge that it’s not because there’s something wrong with you.
- Accept failure graciously — and move on. There’s a chance with any undertaking that you’ll fail. Accept that, and do it anyway. If you do fail, examine the reasons why, and move on. The only real failure is the failure to learn from your mistakes.
- Change yourself, not the things around you. Too many people fall into the trap of believing that they can buy their way to happiness — a new product will make them super-organized, a new car will make them feel better about themselves, etc. Change your attitude, not your things– if you’re unorganized, figure out why you have a hard time putting things into a memorable system and change that; if you don’t feel good about yourself, look at your life and what’s not going well, rather than seeking out a remedy that has nothing to do with what’s making you unhappy.
- Silence you inner critic. There’s a difference between knowing yourself and undermining yourself. Learn to ignore the nagging voice in your head that says you’re not good enough, smart enough, or good-looking enough to succeed. Set goals, make plans, and move forward in spite of that voice, and soon enough it will start losing its power over you. It might not ever go away, but you don’t have to let it run your life.
Too many of us go through life without reaching success not because there’s something wrong with us but because we’ve failed to define what success even means to us. Instead, we sleepwalk through our days, doing the things that we’ve learned we’re supposed to do, and wondering why none of it feels quite right. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering whether you’re going to have to keep doing the things you do today for the rest of your life, it’s time to sit down and figure out what you’d rather be doing and how to start doing them.
And this year is as good as any to do that. Good luck, and Happy New Year!