It's that time of year again. People rush to join health clubs, open savings accounts, buy Nicotine gum, and a whole host of activities intended to improve themselves, break the habit, turn the corner, clear the hurdles, and get the proverbial monkeys off their backs. In some ways this frenzy of good intentions is a bit humorous, tied to the start of the new year and all. Why is it that January 1st evokes such a wave of well meaning misfires? Why not July 1st, or September 28th? Why not every day?
I offer the theory that there is nothing special about January 1st itself, rather, it merely serves as a good place to play such a game because we like deadlines, love milestones, and look to build the drama of everyday events into something bigger and therefore more meaningful. We love the idea that we are actually going to take responsibility for outcomes and actually force ourselves to change - this time. Tradition also has its pull; we are convinced that because "everyone else is doing it" or "people have always done it," we should be participating too.
Maybe it's unavoidable, this gravitational pull toward New Year's Resolutions. So why fight it? Perhaps the best course of action (and I can hardly believe I'm writing the words) is to line up with everyone else and set some 2011 goals for ourselves. After all, Rascals are all about growing and improving, and maybe it's just that this time of year is the one time when the crowd lines up with us.
So how can we set goals that won't disappear faster than a politician's promise? First, let's cover the basics, which are given more depth of treatment in Orrin Woodward and my book, Launching a Leadership Revolution.
1. Goals must be specific
2. Goals must be written down
3. Goals must be set in stone
4. Goals must be measurable
5. Goals must be realistic
6. Goals must provide motivation
7. Goals must be in line with priorities and values
8. Goals must be prominent
9. Goals must have a specific time period
And now for some subtle nuances that will help make your 2011 goals more achievable:
1. Don't set too many goals. Sometimes we can overwhelm ourselves with too many things on which to focus at once. We want to loose weight, build muscle, stop a bad habit, improve in this area, move ahead in that. We take a look at ourselves and see so many areas for improvement that we are tempted to attack them all at once. Resist this temptation. Select one (or at the most two), and hammer away at it with all your ability. Focus is the key.
2. Take immediate action. Goals are actually quite easy to set; the process is painless, quick, and costs nothing. Where the fins hit the water is when we take action toward their fulfillment. Action convinces our subconscious minds that we are serious. It begins patterns that can form into productive habits. So allow no time to lapse between the setting of a goal and the first steps toward its attainment. Remember: time kills all deals, and this includes deals you make with yourself. So get moving, and do it immediately.
3. Set rewards and correspondingly deny yourself. One of the most effective methods for gaining leverage over ourselves is to set up a reward system that encourages correct and discourages incorrect behavior. (Also, it should go without saying that such a reward/denial system should align with the goals set.) For instance, let's say your goal is to lose that last 15 pounds. An action plan might involve joining a health club, working out three to four times a week, and managing your caloric intake. So far so good. The reward system might look like this: DENY yourself any baked goods whatsoever until Sunday, at which time, if and only if you were successful throughout the week, you REWARD yourself with a treat. Now, I am not a weight management specialist. Perhaps this is a stupid idea physiologically. I don't know (and I don't care). The point is that self-denial can be used to encourage correct actions, which are then rewarded in small but non-destructive ways.
4. Align your environment. Changing things in our inward lives almost always requires making changes in our outward lives. Much of the time our environment, if not entirely responsible, is at least an accomplice in who we are, what we do, and how we behave. If you hang out with a bunch of people doing a certain activity and yet you've vowed to refrain from that activity, guess what? Your association with those people is going to have to come to an end, at least in large part. If you're trying to lose weight but you hold your daily company lunches at Krispy Kreme's, you might want to rethink your geographical tendencies. You get the idea.
5. Track progress. We need encouragement like a newspaper needs crises. One of the best ways to encourage a correct behavior in ourselves is to track and take note of progress, no matter how miniscule. Seeing improvement, noticing some advancement, are fuel in the tanks of self-improvement and change.
6. Keep the big picture in mind. Most of our worthy goals are anchored to our ideals. Our new goal fits some higher picture we hold of ourselves and some loftier concept we'd like to make reality. Keep this in mind. View it continually and remember the deepest reasons for setting the goal in the first place. Remember: it's hard to get down when you're constantly looking up.
So those are the guidelines and the nuances for goal setting. At a time of year when everyone seems aligned to better themselves in one way or another, there is no shame in joining the crowd (just don't get used to it). Sadly, though, you won't be with the crowd for long. They'll fall by the wayside like the wimpy kids at football tryouts. They'll set their goals and then sit their goals. They'll set high expectations and then sit down in the dumps. But not you. Now you are armed and dangerous. You've been given all you need to not only properly set a goal, but to hit it as well. I'll see you at the health club.