Did you even make a resolution this year? If your answer is “Absolutely, this is the year I am going to get in shape, start my own business and run a 5k!” you have a lot of company. About half (45%) of us like to start off the New Year with a plan for self-improvement, and healthy lifestyle goals such as weight loss top the list.
Unfortunately, less than 10% of the folks who make New Year’s resolutions actually succeed in keeping them. With such a low success rate, you might think “Well, what’s the point of even making a New Year’s resolution?” How about this for a little incentive: people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to see positive life changes than people who do not.
So, whether it’s January or July – go ahead and make that resolution! Whether your aim is to lose weight or master a new skill, let’s turn this into the year you succeed and reach your goal!
Or, maybe that’s the problem – you set a goal but forgot to make the plan to achieve it.
Action Step One: Write down your goal – and do it the old-fashioned way – by hand!
Thinking about what you would like to achieve, even if you think about that goal all day, every day of the week is called daydreaming.
Sitting down and ACTUALLY putting that goal in writing is the first crucial step in turning that dream into a goal.
Why is it important to write your goals and plans by hand? Because some amazing things happen in our brains when we manually jot down our thoughts and ideas.
The very act of writing something down tells your brain “hey, this is important stuff here – pay attention!”
When you write something down, your brain not only activates the part responsible for memory, it also intensifies the amount of focus given to that information. Our brains hone in on what we are writing and retain the information.
The area of the brain that is used for movement (handwriting) is also the area associated with the functions we need for goal setting: reasoning, judgment, planning and problem-solving.
Because it’s not 1989, you will also need to keep and organize some important information in your phone. But writing down important and new ideas daily, (whether you use a fancy planner, a cheap notebook or a poster on the wall) will keep the information in the forefront your mind.
Action Step Two: When my alarm goes off I will “do this thing”
If we invest sporadic, random efforts into achieving a goal, we end up with – surprise – sporadic, random results. It’s like only showing up for work on the days we feel “inspired” to do the job, but expecting an award for “employee of the year”.
Successfully achieving a goal is exciting. But, a lot of the work it takes to get to that point can often be pretty darn boring.
And, the further away we are from reaching the goal, the less motivation we feel to do that boring work.
The less work we put into it, the less likely achieving the goal becomes.
It’s a vicious dream killing cycle where we give up early in the process and beat ourselves up with the idea that we just lack willpower or discipline.
Well, guess what? Willpower and discipline are overrated. Do you know what really matters? Forming a habit and creating a routine.
Good habits are easy to form for the same reason that bad habits are hard to break – our brains thrive on habitual behavior. Whether it’s going to gym, doing paperwork or meal preparation – turning that behavior into a habit involves the same 3 step process.
1) cue your brain the behavior is about to begin
2) initiate the behavior
3) reward completion of the behavior
Pick a specific time every single day to do an important, but boring, task related to your goal. Set your alarm to go off at that time – and when it does, unless you are a brain surgeon in the middle of an operation – do that task. Immediately follow it up with an activity you find pleasurable.
Action Step Three: Gather your “people” resources like a squirrel gathers nuts
Maybe you pride yourself on being the lone wolf type who doesn’t like to turn to others for assistance. Maybe you are like the fabulous (and probably chronically stressed) woman in the song who can “bring home the bacon AND fry it up in the pan” with no outside help required.
But, you want to know which folks are the most successful in achieving their goals – it’s the folks that unabashedly ask for help.
No matter what your goal might be, the odds are that at least one, and probably several, people in your life can be instrumental in helping you achieve it.
Once you get over your initial reluctance and begin approaching others you will discover that most people actually like sharing their expertise or knowledge on a subject they are passionate about.
One of the barriers many of us face when it comes to asking for help is fear of being told “no”. We hesitate to ask because the possibility of rejection feels personal. And, that’s when we have to stop the negative tape playing in our head.
There are a thousand reasons we may ask for help and receive a “no” in response. That reason is seldom, if ever, because the person is thinking “I reject you as a weak and needy human being unworthy of my assistance.” The truth is, you don’t know why your request for assistance was turned down – and the bigger truth is, it’s not important.
You just ask someone else. Yes, it really is that simple. A thousand “no’s” become irrelevant when we gather enough “yes’s”!
Make a list of every person you know socially, personally, professionally. Beside each name write down exactly how they might be able to assist you. It may be small and seemingly random, it may be large and game-changing. As different needs arise, you be pre-prepared with your list of potential resources.
Action Step Four: Make plans for your plan
The devil truly is in the details – and the details are all covered in your action plan. There are four key factors every action plan needs to be successful:
1. focus statement
3. metrics to monitor progress
“nothing in life is free” “everything has a price tag” – insert the cliche of your choice because they are all true. Whether it’s time or money, and it’s usually a combination of both, you are going to have to decide how much of an investment is needed towards reaching your goal.
You can’t increase or allocate the resources you need until you have a realistic idea of what those resources will be.
Write down your plan of execution in a few short, specific sentences. Include:
- your date for expected completion
- the milestones and metrics you will use to determine progress
- the amount of time and money you are willing/able to spend.
This is possibly your most important step. It firmly removes your resolution from the vague “I have a dream” to the action oriented “I have a plan and this is how I will execute that plan and measure progress towards completion”.
Action Step Five: Gotta know when to hold ’em
Do you think Mark Zuckerberg made a weekly announcement to his hundred closest friends: “I’m going for world domination baby”
Whether your ambition for the new year is to lose 20lbs or to develop an app that will change the world – there is no benefit to repeatedly discussing your plans and goals – especially before you even begin executing. In fact, the more often you talk about your goal, the less likely you are to complete it.
You know that wonderful little boost of pleasure and satisfaction you get when you reach a goal – well, your brain’s reward center gives you that same boost when you talk about reaching a goal. The more you talk about your plans – the less motivation you have to actually implement them because you’ve “tricked” your brain into congratulating you for winning the race while you’re still putting on your running shoes!
Don’t talk about it – be about it! Only talk about your plans when you are actively engaged in completing them.
Action Step Six: Gotta know when to fold ’em
All roads don’t really lead to Rome – in fact, some roads lead to dead ends.
That doesn’t mean you should abandon the journey, it just means you need to step back and re-evaluate your map.
Every long-term goal has “difficult” periods: weight loss plateaus, training gains stall, resources run dry. This is the time when it’s most tempting to feel we are failing and we have the urge to give up. Unfortunately, when our plans hit a snag we are vulnerable to not only our own negative thoughts but the negative input of others. Remember the words of Albert Einstein: “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Don’t retreat, just reassess and adjust.