A different sort of post about your new year goalzzzzzzz
Updated: Jan 6
Here's a secret. We know each other pretty well by now, so I know I can trust you. I have shied away from New Year goals for a long time. I used to be a strategy person, I have made my living helping people set visionary targets, break them down into achievable milestones, and publicly report on them to keep themselves on track. Setting goals and creating plans is 90% of what strategy is about. But when it comes to myself... not so much. However! This year I'm trying something new. Having actual goals! Care to join me?
New year, new you!!!! (Oh do shut up...)
One of my lasting impressions of Christmas past is it being Boxing Day, as we call the day after Christmas in the UK, and the TV commercials for diets starting. Or the ads for magazines about hobbies (magazines! Do they still exist?! I'm really showing my age...) Or nicotine patches. Or home improvements. And my dad huffing, without fail, every year, as he thumbed through the bumper double page issue of the Radio Times, "I see it's new year resolution time already." My dad has always been deeply suspicious of marketing. It's a mystery how I ended up on the career path that I did...
Is the memory of Mr Hogan's rolling eyes why I've never been into the whole thing? Maybe that's part of it. But I think to be honest it's because I always knew that if you set yourself a goal, there's a fair chance that you'll fail at it. And failure and I have never been good friends.
Give yourself the chance to succeed
Here's a hot take. If you don't set yourself a goal, you'll certainly never fail, but you'll also never succeed. So is the avoidance of failure worth defaulting on the feeling of success? I appreciate that it's rather early in the year to be getting into deep territory like this; if you're in the UK, a sliver of Brie is still lingering in the fridge, there's half a bottle of weird liqueur that you wouldn't normally have in the house leaving a sticky ring on a surface, and there's still an emergency box of canapés in the freezer. So instead of digging round in the psyche, let's assume that, like me, you've decided to give this goal-setting thing a try. How do you increase your odds of feeling good about yourself and your goal-achieving prowess instead of kicking yourself that you ever started down this path?
Tip 1: Pick goals you want to achieve
We're either off to a radical start or something incredibly obvious, depending on which way you look at it. So many of us start the year with "should" goals. Things that we don't actually WANT to do, but know that are theoretically a good idea. If you want to know more about my opinions about the word "should", there's a whole article about it here.
There's two problems with "should" goals. One is that they're often associated with stopping something, or cutting back. Goals about deprivation normally start of fine and then go down in a blaze of glory, like, say someone who goes on the keto diet and then after a month smells the bakery section in the supermarket. The other is that if, deep down, you don't really have the motivation to achieve a goal then you probably aren't going to. Because when you smell the fresh bread, in that moment what is there to hold you back from tearing into the loaf?
Goals that are about creating, or starting, something tend to be much easier to find the motivation to achieve. For instance, how different does it feel to have a goal about creating new healthy habits instead of, say, not drinking alcohol for the next year?
And having goals about doing more of the things that you enjoy, instead of banning behaviors, or doing things you resent, makes the whole experience of having goals feel much less like a burden, and much more like... something you actually want to commit to? For instance, I love travel. One of my goals this year is (vaccine-permitting) to visit three states missing off my been-to list. Is this an earth shattering goal that will change the trajectory of my life? No. Is it something I'll enjoy and feel a sense of achievement from? Yes. And when I write my blog from Wyoming, you'll know I'm sticking to it.
Tip 2: Ask yourself how it will feel to succeed?
Hear me out. This isn't "manifest your future with your mind and it shall come to pass" mumbo jumbo. We tend to think that the reason that we want to achieve something is the goal itself. Stopping smoking, or getting a new job, or working out every day before we even start work. Most goal-setting talk is around building out a really clear picture of what that success will look like (see tip 3). But also...
There is a school of thought (coaching school) that says that the REAL reason we want to achieve something is for the feeling that goes with it. Like the satisfaction of being healthier for your family, or the validation that our hard work has been noticed and resulted in a promotion, or the pleasantly proud (OK, smug) feeling of being the one who joins the Zoom meting with "sorry I'm late, I was JUST FINISHING MY DAILY WORKOUT."
So. When you're setting your goals, imagine how it will feel to achieve them. And don't stop at "good," we need to be more descriptive than that. Will you feel joyous? Satistfied? Vindicated? Proud? Will your heart swell? Will it empower you to take on the world? Whenever my coach asks me how success feels, we normally end up at "I'll be ON FIRE" and he chuckles indulgently, but he knows by now that's what works for me.
Tip 3: Be SMART
I'm SO sorry to anyone who works in corporate, or is studying for an MBA, or just came here for a break, because SMART goals are the bane of anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of strategy or year-end review. They're not sexy, they're not exciting, honestly I find the whole process pretty tedious. But, here's the kicker - they WORK. Because how can you ever know what success is unless you define it? And how can you ever have the motivation to succeed unless you put a date to it? So let's accept we need SMART goals, like taking our daily multivitamin: not the most fun part of the day, but better than paying for avoiding it by getting rickets later on.
If you've never had the pleasure, let's try and make it less arduous with an example close to my heart.
S - specific. So not: I will do more exercise. But: I will embrace a daily routine of hip hop dancing
M - measurable. So not: I will do some dancing. But: I will get crunk every week day, because I can definitively say if I've done that or not, not least by whether I go to bed with my calves aching.
A - achievable. So not: I will work out every single day for a year: for a start, I don't own enough leg warmers to keep up with the laundry, for second my neighbours would get the HOA to throw me out for disturbing the peace with the thudding, for third nobody should work out every day for a year. But: I will stick to my week day pledge.
R - realistic. So not, I will learn three routines a day. Trust me, if you've seen how long it takes for me to learn the arms to any dance, this is in NO WAY realistic. But: I will learn one a week. a level of arm waving I feel confident I can deliver on.
T - time bound. So not, I will stick to it as long as I can. But: I'll keep this up for 6 months - surely long enough to become a professional?
Tip 4: Don't keep it to yourself
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? Before he studied the Radio Times, my dad studied Philosophy, so this was a standard kind of a question in my house growing up. By the same token, if you set yourself a goal, and nobody else knows: if you don't achieve it, have you really failed?
Opinion is divided over whether shouting your goals from the rooftops makes you more likely to achieve them, and for sure making a goal public is not on its own guarantee of success. But the breaking point seems to be not just the telling, but who you tell. In fact this study by the American Psychological Association found that the key to success through accountability was declaring your goals to a "high status" individual: maybe a boss, a mentor, a coach (hey, I didn't write this survey, I'm just reporting it!) It seems that at heart we're all cavemen: telling someone you respect (or fear the wrath of) works, because we don't want to lose face with someone who matters. Whereas telling someone who you see as an equal, or you hold in less esteem, where there's no consequence for "letting them down" just doesn't seem to have the same gravitas.
And in one final push for my profession. The oft-quoted American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) found that if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed your goals to, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%. Just going to leave that there.
How are those goals feeling now?