It’s June — halfway through the year. How’re you doing on those New Year’s resolutions?
If your answer is, “Not too good,” you’re not alone. Most of us fail to complete (or even start) our lists of things we want to do or change in the new year. So why bother?
Because making resolutions is a deep psychological need. Doing so makes sense and can help you make more sense of your life. The problem is in the how, not in the what.
The first step to form a more healthy and sustainable approach to annual resolutions is changing the language you use to think about them. Resolutions are a form of goal-setting. But while the word resolution focuses on something you want to change or improve, the word goal is more positive and aspirational. Goals are focused on the outcome you want to achieve rather than the behavior you want to change — that’s key, because it can be hard to maintain behavior changes, especially if they aren’t tied to a larger goal.
Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you set great goals:
1. Who do you want to be?
Goal guru Dave McKeown, founder and CEO of Outfield Leadership, encourages people to take the time to reflect on who they want to be as a person. “If you set a goal of losing 40 pounds but you have deep issues with self-esteem or your relationship with food, then your ability to stick with a workout and weight-loss plan is dependent on sheer willpower. Given that our willpower is essentially a finite resource, without first addressing the issues of your identity, you’ll likely fall by the wayside pretty quickly.
“Instead, take a step back and evaluate what your goals get you. It’s likely you want to lose weight because you want to be a happy, healthy person. Start there and use that as your North Star rather than the arbitrary goal.”
2. Consider the “6 Fs.”
A great exercise to help you while you’re thinking about who you want to be is to think about the big facets or aspects of your life. These will become the home for your goals and will help you further focus. McKeown believes there are “6 Fs” that comprise the key areas of life: family, friends, finances, fitness, fun and focus.
Yours may be different, and you probably can only make a big difference in two of them at any one time, as they’re often competing priorities. For example, you might first focus on getting your fitness and family to the point you want, then a few months later focus on fitness and fun.
3. Achieve more by doing less.
It’s OK to have a lot of dreams and goals. You just shouldn’t — and, in fact, you really can’t — tackle them all at once. If there’s one idea trumpeted nearly universally by experts in goal-setting and planning, it’s that you should not set more than 5 goals at any given time. Three is the magic number for many.
It’s tough to stay on top of any more than 3 to 5 goals. If you really do have more than 5 major things you’d like to work on, then tackle just a few each quarter and actively plan them into the year, McKeown suggests.
4. Look backward before you look forward.
Evaluate how you’ve spent your time over the past year or two. That will tell you pretty clearly what your current priorities are. If any of your goals align with your current priorities, start there. If none of them do, don’t despair — because you’ve just taken an important step in defining who you want to be and what you want your life to look like.
“Goals that build on our current priorities are more likely to succeed than trying to build goals that require a shift in priority,” McKeown says. “That being said, if you feel you might need to shift your priorities for next year ask yourself, ‘When I come to do this review again next year, what would cause me to feel the greatest satisfaction?’ Then go do that.”
5. Embrace the process.
It may sound trite, but it’s also true. After you explore these larger questions and set 3 to 5 goals, the really hard part begins. Staying on track is incredibly hard. McKeown says the people who succeed in accomplishing their goals generally have one important thing in common: They understand excellence is built in the mundane.
“Success is built on a thousand tiny decisions, not big sweeping actions,” he says. “They learn to love the process, not just the outcome, and they have a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly review cadence that allows them to adapt and adjust as they go. They don’t adopt an all-or-nothing approach. When they stumble as they invariably will, they get back on the horse.”