Every new year, people all over the world create a list of resolutions – a new ‘to-do list’ of activities to be embarked upon, or ‘bad’ habits to be given up. There is usually a feeling of renewed optimism and enthusiasm that the beginning of the year brings, and this inspires the lofty goals and ideas that are set in our personal and professional lives. Often, however, these goals do not make it past April, and in some interesting cases, February!
According to the University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology infogram, only 8% of Americans are successful in achieving their new year resolutions. Many individuals tend to throw in the towel only after a few days, returning to their old habits. Now let me make a confession here: I used to be one of those people. However, upon investigation and analysis of the root-cause and a conscious decision to change that pattern, I have discovered that the issue is not the goal/resolution, but how we set them.
So, here are four workable tips I believe can help everyone attain goals in their personal and professional lives:
1. Weaning Over Cold-Turkey
Indeed, one of the major reasons why our new year resolutions may fail from the beginning, is that most individuals tend to go the ‘Cold-Turkey’ approach. We believe that we can automatically click the ‘reset’ button on our old habits - forgetting that these habits that have become ingrained, and therefore not easy to discard; neither is the ‘launch’ button on the new goals. The trick here is to use the weaning method.
Just as an infant is gradually weaned off breast milk, you could take gradual steps towards achieving a desired goal or let go of an old habit. A common example here finds expression in people who have decided to stop smoking cigarettes – and have set the goal to ‘stop smoking completely by midnight of January 1’. While this cold-turkey approach works for some, many struggle with the same.
A better approach instead would be to tail off the lifestyle. Here you identify how many sticks one smokes per day, or month, and reduce that number by a realistic number. That way, the results of the previous month motivates you to further reduce the number, till zero is achieved. Similarly, you may set a goal to read a new book every month, however with busy work schedules and the quest for work-life balance, it may be an issue finding time to settle down and read the book. The way out would be to aim to read, say a chapter a day, and then gradually increase the number of chapters read daily. That incremental process would lead to you achieving the desired outcome.
2. Document Your Goals
I had written in this post on the importance of documenting your career journey, the same is applicable to your personal goals. Writing goals down prompts you to be specific as to what exactly is to be achieved. By articulating your aspirations, it moves from just an idea to an action plan; and you can see how far you have come, and what is left to be accomplished.
Again, if, as in point one, the goals are broken down, it becomes easier to tick milestones achieved off the list, which serves as morale boost. Furthermore, there may be times you may feel uninspired or demotivated. However, revisiting the notes helps to reaffirm why the goal was set in the first place.
3. Get an Accountability Partner
It is often said that ‘’Teamwork makes the dream work’’. This is also true of goal setting. Having a partner, friend, mentor, colleague to whom you are accountable, will help you stay on course to achieve your goal. The accountability partner may have separate goals of their own; however, one party could encourage the other, and give each other high fives for milestones achieved. With my involvement in group/buddy programmes for young professionals, vision board parties, and so on, I can personally attest to the benefit of serving in a support system of such hue.
4. Celebrate the Successes
Have you met your target for the month, week, or even the day? It is okay to reward yourself for milestones achieved, no matter how small they may seem. The feeling of accomplishment feels real and valid, and little celebrations will often motivate you to trudge on until the final victory lap – when the desired result is achieved.
Whether you choose to call them resolutions or goals, or they are set at the beginning of a new year, new week or new day; making a conscious effort and decision to improve your personal and professional life is important. One must remember that Rome was not built in a day, and hard work and consistency always pay off. Keep the momentum going! Moments of demotivation and even setback are normal. Do not despair; instead, take time to re-evaluate the approach and re-strategise, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to anything in life. In the words of Benjamin E. Mays - “It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach.”
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