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Don’t Set Goals This Year: Instead, Make Promises, and Take Action.

Don’t Set Goals This Year: Instead, Make Promises, and Take Action.
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Most of us are really great at setting goals and terrible at achieving them—just take a look at the stats from 2012:

45% of people usually set New Years resolutions
54% of people fail with regard to their New Years resolution after 6 months
39% of people in their 20s achieved their New Years resolutions last year
14% of people over the age of 50 achieved their New Years resolutions last year

Right now is goal-setting season, with many of you putting this past year behind you and starting fresh now that we’re in January. Let’s take a quick peek at the most popular resolutions from last year:

1. Lose weight
2. Get organized
3. Spend less, save more
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy

Now, raise your hand if you made any of those resolutions last year—hell, you may have even made a few of them.Yeah, I’m right there with ya.

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Before making any resolutions, do this:

Before sitting down to set any resolutions, take time to conduct a yearly review for yourself. What went right last year? What went wrong? What were some of the decisions that you made that led to the good and the bad? Where did you hesitate and miss out on opportunities? Spend some time thinking about this, then take out a notebook and pen and break it down month by month.

I’ve found that taking a look at the things that did not go so well for me over the past year and coming up with strategies to overcome obstacles in the future helps me to prepare for the unexpected.

No more goals—only promises, and action

We’ve become desensitized to goal-setting: most of us have many goals in mind, but we’re so used to not meeting them that it has become okay to let them slide. Instead of setting goals this year, make promises to yourself instead: when it comes to promises, you are more likely to limit the amount that you commit yourself to, more likely to hold yourself accountable, and to set promises that are more realistic.

Better yet, try making promises to someone else. Promise your kids you will lose 20 pounds of fat this year and lower your cholesterol; promise your wife you will quit smoking; promise your best friend that you will exercise four days per week for at least sixty minutes a day. Alternately, if you have the kahunas for it, make promises to everyone via a website such as stickK.

I’m not sure about you, but I have a much easier time letting myself down than disappointing someone else. Making promises to others really commits me to the task at hand and keeps me stay highly motivated.

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Promise yourself this:

Whatever it is you decide to promise yourself this year, make sure to promise yourself to be consistent. Many of us tend to turn to motivation as the answer when we are struggling to meet our goals, but motivation is something that is out of your control. It comes and goes and is often short-lived. Consistency, on the other hand, is something that you can control. You can choose to get up at 6AM every day to write 1,000 words for your book. It is your choice to prepare your healthy meals for the next day so that you can stick to your nutrition plan. You can control the extra work you put in on the weekends to grow a side business.

There is a great quote in author Steve Pressfields book The War of Art:

“Someone once asked Somerset Maughham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Consistency trumps motivation every time, so if you’re looking to guarantee yourself success this year, promise yourself to be consistent in all that you do.

Get specific

Take a look again at the most common resolutions made in 2012—they’re extremely vague. What does living life to the fullest actually mean? When you say you want to be more organized, does that mean at home, at work, in your personal life? If you want to spend less and save more, what do you want to spend less on and how do you plan to save more?

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One reason most resolutions fail is because they fail to be crystal clear. Confusion is the gateway to complacency: the more confused or unclear you are about something, the less likely you are to take action towards achieving it. A great way to clear up confusion and to get clear about what exactly it is you’re trying to achieve can be accomplished through the “by game”:  whatever you promise yourself this year, simply associate the word “by” with it. In this case, “by” is not a measure of time, but instead, a way to clarify things, like this:

“This year I promise to write a book by waking up at 6 AM and writing 1,000 words every day, for the next 3 months.”

Your promise is made clear, delivers actionable steps, and encourages you to hold yourself accountable.

Reward yourself

Oftentimes, promises can be set that are quite the grind: they may take some time to accomplish, and involve a tremendous amount of energy, consistency, discipline, and struggle. A great way to keep yourself on track is to set up tiny milestones in which you receive rewards for your accomplishments.

In the case of our book example above, you could set up weekly milestones: if you found that you were able to accomplish 1,000 words for all seven days this week, maybe a nice day at the spa would do you some good. How about a glass of red wine and some dark chocolate?

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The cool thing about setting up milestone goals is that they keep you focused on the task at hand. Often when big rewards are set up at the completion of a goal, things can become blurred as to what you are actually working so hard for. The big reward should be the completion of the task itself and the fact that you achieved what you set out to achieve, rather than just a prize at the end.

Make sure it means the world to you

Lastly, if you do decide to make yourself some promises this year, I hope that they really mean something to you. Don’t make promises to yourself simply because it is something you feel you should be doing, someone asked you to do, or that you are pressured into doing.

A great way to clear up any confusion as to whether or not a promise this year is right for you is to look to your emotions. Does your promise make you laugh? Cry? Does it give you goosebumps? Excite you? Get your heart racing?

What will you be promising yourself this year? What is the first step you plan to take in achieving it?

Featured photo credit:  Silhouette of a photographer in the nature via Shutterstock

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More by this author

Justin Miller

Healthy Lifestyle Architect, a Fitness and Nutrition Coach

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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