Here we are at the beginning of February 2020 already. Did you set a New Year’s resolution in January? Are you still on track? If you have already fallen into your old habits or haven’t quite launched the new ones you hoped to develop, don’t beat yourself up. Research shows approximately 80% of people fail to achieve their New Year’s resolution. And most stop trying by mid-February. So, if you’re still trying, or even semi-trying, you have two weeks to decide.
Are you going to join the majority and throw in the towel, or will you be the 20% that succeed?
The end of one year and the beginning of another is usually an impetus for reassessing and re-evaluating our accomplishments, our goals, and our expectations. We often get inspired and think “New year, new me.” But the truth is–new year, same you. You can’t change overnight. But that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. The first step is to formulate a well-defined goal. Once that is in place, you only need four key ingredients to make it happen: motivation, planning, action, and support
Let’s talk about goals–there’s a right way and wrong way to state your goals. Let’s look at some examples.
The wrong way: I want to lose weight this year.
The right way: I will lose 35 lbs. by December 31, 2020.
Let’s break it down. The first example says “I want to,” and the second example says “I will.” There is a big difference between wanting to do something and actually doing it. The word will communicates a level of commitment. When there is commitment, there is a higher probability of success.
The wrong-way example is ambiguous. It does not indicate how much weight by the end of the year. It is difficult to obtain a goal when it is not clearly defined. Would you consider 5 lbs. by the end of the year a win? If so, then state “I will lose 5 lbs. by the end of the year. If you need to lose 50 lbs. to feel you’ve accomplished your goal, then say 50. The best goals are SMART goals.
SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.1
The right-way example meets all of these criteria. It is specific–35 lbs. It is measurable–stepping on a scale. It is attainable–at 1-2 lbs per week and 52 weeks in a year, that is doable. It is relevant–losing weight improves quality of life. And it is time-based–by December 31, 2020. Keeping this acronym in mind when defining your goals will bring you one step closer to achieving them.
Now that we’ve learned how to state our goals, let’s look at achieving them. Earlier on, I stated that there are four key ingredients to success:
Let’s start with motivation. This is called your WHY. Why do you want to achieve this goal? The stronger your why, the more likely you are to be successful. In keeping with our example, your why might be “I want to look good at my niece’s wedding in November.” Or, “I want to avoid taking cholesterol medication.” Or, “I want to run and play with my kids when we go to the shore this summer.” All of these are good motivators. But to make them even better, try visualizing your future once your goal is achieved. Create a vision board with pictures of families being active together. Find a picture of yourself when you weighed less and keep it on your phone or in your wallet so you can use it for inspiration. Create a chart that represents a decline in your cholesterol. Remind yourself every day why you are doing this.
The second ingredient is planning. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Knowing what to do is one thing, but actually planning how and when we are going to do those things is paramount to our success. Again, using our example, we all know what to do to lose weight: move more, eat less, and make better choices. So if we know what to do, why don’t we do it? Because we have no plan for how to do it. Sit down and actually make a plan. It might look something like this:
- On February 1, join the gym.
- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 30 minutes treadmill.
- Saturdays Zumba class.
- During February, I will only have 2 sodas a week.
- During March, I will only have 1 soda a week.
- Beginning in April, I will not drink soda at all.
- Beginning February 1, I will track my food and exercise in my app.
- Beginning February 1, I will eat 1500 calories a day.
- I will weigh in once a week on Monday mornings.
(Note: Before embarking on any exercise or diet plan, it is highly recommended that you get approval from your primary care physician. The plan outlined above is for example purposes only.)
Once you have your plan in place, it is important to track your progress. There are many apps you can use or simply keep track in a notebook. Writing things down holds you accountable. Be honest and include your stumbles. No one is perfect and recognizing you can still succeed even if you slip is a very important lesson.
The third ingredient for success is action. A-C-T…I-O-N…Action! Action! We want action! Okay, we get it! You can plan all you want; you can stare at that vision board or photo until your eyes cross, but if you don’t implement your plan, you’re toast. You have to ACT! I am guilty of this myself. I get a great idea; I formulate a plan; and then I lose steam. Here are some tips for carrying out your plan:
- Define each step in your plan
- Identify milestones to celebrate
- Track your progress
- Revisit your goal every day
The fourth ingredient–support. Sharing your goal and plan with people makes it real. But telling people can be scary. It’s important that you choose people that will support you and not tear you down if you stumble. Your support people should fall into two categories:
- your biggest cheerleader
- your accountability partner
Your cheerleader is the person who lifts you up when you struggle and claps when you succeed. Your accountability partner motivates you and pushes you when you need it. Your cheerleader and your accountability partner can be the same person or different, but it is helpful if your accountability partner is also working toward a goal so you can be mutually supportive of each other.
Now, I realize it is the beginning of February, and you might be thinking “where was all this advice when I needed it a month ago?” And my answer to that is January 1 is not a magical date. It’s a day just like any other. Targeting some arbitrary day to begin your journey is just a stalling tactic. Perhaps you’re just not ready yet. And that’s okay. But when you are ready, you don’t have to wait until the first of the year, the first of the month, or even a Monday to make your move. Don’t put it off. Define your goal. Live and breathe your why. Write out your action plan. Put it into action. And Tell someone. Time waits for no one. What are you waiting for?
1 Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.