All of us cobble together random ways we want to better ourselves in the form of New Years Resolutions. It’s a time-honored tradition, primarily because January 1 makes for such a nice, round marker in time to start fresh with something new.
And, also in a time-honored tradition, nearly all of our resolutions fail.
Why is this? It’s certainly obvious we all want to be better than we already are, and on every January 1st we proclaim we will start that physical activity, we will start that diet, we will finally build that shed, we’ll begin combing through our finances better…only to abandon the plan shortly after kicking it off.
In order to give these grand changes momentum and make them stick, we need three things: a desire, the drive and motivation, and a plan.
In nearly all cases, we are not lacking in desire. We want to be thinner, we want to be stronger, we want to be more organized. In very few instances would we want to regress.
Because our shiny new resolutions are front of mind and aren’t yet painful to maintain, our drive is very strong at first but then tends to erode when the temptation to eat a Twinkie/skip the gym/go watch television carries us away. (More on this in a later post.)
But what seems to frequently be missing is a plan. A resolution is nothing more than a “future state” in change management, and change management requires plans.
So what do we need for a plan? We have to know where we are now (“current state”), where we want to be (“future state”), an evaluation of options to close the gap between the current state and future state, and a way to monitor our progress.
Our resolutions need targets. They need goals. They need smart goals (or S.M.A.R.T. goals)!
What do we mean by smart goals?
– Specific: This is the who/what/when/where/why/how definition of the goal. “Run more” is not a specific goal. “I will run 1,000 miles by the end of the year” says who will do what, and by when.
– Measurable: Your resolution needs to be quantitative, not qualitative. How will you know if you’ve succeeded, or how will you track your progress? For running 1,000 miles in 365 days (oops – 2012 has 366 days, bonus!) maybe you want to monitor your average miles per day throughout the year and compare it to the standard you have set for yourself (1,000 miles/366 days).
– Achievable/Action-based: This means that the resolution you set for yourself is not only reasonable to accomplish but it also requires an actual change on your part that you must strive to make happen. There has to be a noticeable change in the way you do things in order for the change to stick and become a part of you. Also, the capability to make the change has to be there – as a fully-grown male in his 30’s, I can’t expect to grow any taller. My dream of being a seven-footer starting at center for the Chicago Bulls has long passed me by.
– Realistic: Related to being achievable, having unrealistic goals make them difficult to achieve and easy to abandon. Start slow but still be ambitious. You’re not going to lose 40 pounds in a month healthily in order to lose 50 pounds by the end of the year, so eating like a rabbit by consuming only lettuce in January will make you miserable and your chances for abandoning your resolution is high. Lose a pound or two per week. Have small, intermediate goals that can be quickly achieved so momentum builds.
– Time-based: I can run 1,000 miles, sure. Just give me an infinite number of days, and at some point it will happen. That’s not much of a goal, is it? Having time-based goals give you a termination date and a way to measure your progress against your target. “Okay, 1,000 miles over 366 days means I have to run 2.8 miles per day, every day. Well it’s January 3rd and I’ve run zero miles when I should have been at 8.2. I better get crackin’ if I’m serious!”