With the beginning of a new year comes the hope of a fresh start, the breaking of old habits, the pursuit of new passions, and the all too relatable desire to “get it together.” Perhaps with the dawn of a new decade there is some additional pressure to make your New Year’s resolution stick this year. However, as many of you likely already know, resolutions are, statistically speaking, ineffective. According to a 2015 article from U.S. News & World Report, around 80% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by the second week of February (Luciani). Even more harrowing is the fact that only 8% of people see their resolutions through until the end of the year (Conklin). So why do resolutions fail so frequently? One might argue that resolutions are often unspecific, unrealistic, and conjured up in a post-holiday stupor—and they would be right—but the real trouble with resolutions is that their intentional vagueness relieves those who make them from any sense of accountability. To create and maintain real change in your life, organization, or workplace, the first step is to commit to the hard work that positive change often necessitates. The next step is to then create a list of specific, measurable goals that can be reasonably accomplished within an established time frame. While you may not feel comfortable sharing your goals with friends and colleagues, who can often be great partners in accountability, it is important that you externalize your goals in some way, shape, or form. A 2007 study revealed that individuals are 42% more likely to accomplish their goals when they write them down (Matthews).
So, what do “good” goals look like? Well, to start, there are not “good” goals or “bad” goals outside of the idea that good goals are positive and bad goals are detrimental to you and others. Goals should be personal to individuals and specific to organizations, meaning that all goals are equal so long as they are creating a positive outcome. The strength of a goal instead can be evaluated on the previously stated criteria…is it specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART)? If not, the goal could be considered “weak” in that it may not have all of the necessary components to be accomplished.
A helpful strategy in writing your goals is to begin broadly with long-term goals and work your way down to smaller, more easily accomplished steps or action items. For example, a long-term goal might be that by December 31, 2020, you will have run at least 1,000 miles total. Moving on from there, you would then create a short-term goal, such as “In January 2020, I will run approximately 20 miles each week.” Next, you need to evaluate the current obstacles you face in reaching your goal and create action items to remove those barriers. Continuing with the “run 1,000 miles” example, a potential obstacle might be that you don’t have access to a treadmill. Your subsequent action items then would look like: “find a safe running path outdoors by January 3rd, 2020” or “purchase a gym membership by January 3rd, 2020.” What is important is that you assess what is holding you back from your goal and take steps to overcome your obstacles in a timely manner. Finally, you need to schedule your action items into your busy life—whether that is waking up 30 minutes earlier to extend your day or simply ensuring that you have reminders built into your personal calendar.
Following all of this advice, reaching your goals can still be difficult, especially if you set goals that are quite literally out of your reach. The goals that you create should be entirely within your purview. For example, while stating that you want to be admitted to medical school is admirable, it is not a goal that falls within your own realm of control. There are admissions committees that will ultimately take that decision out of your hands. A better goal then is to state that you will ask at least three trusted advisors to review your application before you submit it, or that you will study a specific number of hours per week for the MCAT. These are goals that you can realistically hold yourself to and achieve without depending on the actions or decisions of other people.
Most importantly, when striving toward your goals, it is necessary to give yourself grace. Be kind to yourself when you miss a deadline or are occasionally enticed by the baked goods that you vowed not to eat. These choices are not symptoms of some underlying inability to reach your goals; rather, they indicate that you allow yourself to be flexible and that you care enough about your goal to keep moving toward it even after a setback. Self-love is the key ingredient to achieving anything. So, with that in mind, go forth and get after it!
Commit to your goals:
Reaching your goals is hard work and requires accountability. Seriously consider them, seriously commit to them, and you’re already halfway there!
Create SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) and write them down:
SMART goals are the strongest goals because they hold you accountable to specified standards and deadlines. Research shows that you are 42% more likely to achieve goals when you write them down!
Break your long-term goals down into smaller, more easily attainable action items:
Long-term goals can be daunting. Take the time to break your goals down into smaller action items that you can accomplish more quickly!
Set goals within your own reach:
Don’t create goals that are dependent on the actions or decisions of other people. You are the one thing in life that you can control!
Be patient with yourself:
The only real way to fail at reaching your goal is to give up on it. Be flexible and recognize that setbacks are just opportunities to prove to yourself that you can keep moving forward!
Written by Allie McHugh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Conklin, J. (2018). New Year’s resolutions are for losers — Take These 4 Steps Instead. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/justinconklin/2018/12/18/new-years-resolutions-are-for-loserstake-these-4-steps-instead/#635ba0955e2c
Luciani, J. (2015). Why 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail
Matthews, G. (2007). The impact of commitment, accountability, and written goals on goal achievement. Paper presented at the 87th Convention of Western Psychological Association, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.