Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX
One of the questions I dread is the inevitable New Year’s Eve party conversation opener, “What’s your resolution?” In the past, I’ve been put on the spot, blurting out “Lose weight.” Or “Exercise more.” Or “Write a book.” And, of course, while I’ve made some progress (and regression) in each of those areas, at the end of the year, if I even remember my hasty response, I really have no way of determining my success. Usually they are forgotten by January 3.
New Year’s resolutions fail. Isn’t that what conventional wisdom says? A 2017 survey found that less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions are ultimately successful. That is due to a variety of factors, but one of the primary reasons, in my opinion, is because most resolutions are vague, uninspiring and easily forgotten.
That’s why I am declaring an end to “resolutions” and a firm reliance on “goals” in 2020. While the two terms are essentially interchangeable, I’m choosing to define them differently. For me, a resolution is an indicator of personal effort – “I resolve to eat better.” But a goal is a concrete point in the future that I plan to reach – “My goal is to eat vegetarian at least one day per week for the next year.”
I usually advise my clients to follow the SMART goal system in which our goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (or Relevant) and Time-bound. This prevents us from making those wishy-washy “resolutions” such as “I want to eat better.” Better than what? How often? By when?
I also like to add two more aspects to goal-setting, in addition to being SMART,
Is it inspirational? Is this goal something that is going to inspire you or your team to happily work toward it? Is the end result something that you will be proud of? Does it have a definite purpose in your longer term plans or vision? Well, eating vegetarian inspires me because I believe that it is better for the planet, and is part of a longer-term vision of living more healthily and sustainably. I think that it is something that I will be happy to add to my routine.
Does it build on past successes or skills? Every goal has to have something to build on. No one runs a marathon without some past success in running a 5K or half-marathon, or at least without building up their skills over a longer period of time. This is related to the “realistic” aspect of the SMART goal, but also helps to build confidence that your goal can be achieved. I’ve eaten and enjoyed vegetarian meals in the past, so consciously dedicating one day a week to vegetarianism should be something I can accomplish.
The last advice that I can give about goals is that you should do everything you can to make them visible. Don’t let yourself forget them. Write them out. Post them where you can see them. Share them with someone. Set interim review points where you can assess your progress. Even the best, most carefully constructed goals will end up like my hasty New Year’s resolutions if they are out of sight, and of course, out of mind.