Effective Resolutions Require A Thoughtful Plan and Action

This week’s Courier Herald column:

This is a time of year when we speak of resolutions. For too many of us, it’s all talk.  Resolutions are often just a momentary wish that we’ll commit to intentional and specific actions to improve ourselves and our situations.

Talking isn’t the same as getting something done.  There’s no reason for us as individuals to confuse the two.  We’re not Congress, after all.

With that in mind, I’m going to provide a few tips that I’ve found successful – on the rare occasion when I decide change is necessary AND I’m willing to do what is needed to make improvements happen.  You can also assume I’m actually the intended audience for this column, as I’m going to be going through this exercise in the days, weeks, and months ahead as well.  I’m reminding myself as much as I’m hoping to encourage you.

First, well intentioned platitudes aren’t goals.  Goals have to be SMART.  They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timed.  A bank where I once worked spent tens of thousands of dollars in consultant fees to drill this into their managers. 

The summation of their work is that goals must be clearly defined, something that can be measured against the goal, must be something that can be reasonably met and have a deadline.  Anything that doesn’t meet these criteria is a wish or a dream.  Don’t place the parts of your future that you can control on wishes or dreams.

As you’re deciding on your goals, don’t make the mistake of assuming your future is a blank slate.  You have a life with at least some set responsibilities.  Write these down first, and look at a calendar when doing so.  You’re either going to have to work around these things that are already set, or understand that changing them will be required to change yourself.  That’s part of your goals being realistic.

Focus on all aspects you want to change in individual categories.  I tend to use Professional, Financial, Health & Fitness, Educational & Creative, Recreational, and Social as my areas that each receive a review of where I am, and where I want to be. 

Start with a calendar and work your way backwards.  What are the goals you want to achieve in the next year?  Now break those down into smaller steps, each with their own deadline.  Ultimately you will need to know what must be done daily to get where you want to be. 

Then, you must measure daily.  Every day.  Analyze and adjust as needed weekly.

The trite consultant phrase for this is “you must inspect what you expect”.  You need to see and celebrate when you’re making progress, and you need to see when you’re not, ask yourself why, and adjust your effort, plan, or goal accordingly.

Allow some flexibility in this schedule.  Life will intervene along the way.  When it does, it’s best to have a goal that understands not every day or week will see perfection on this journey. 

If you have multiple goals (and you should), don’t try to change everything all at once, on the first day.  Change, even when it’s for improvement, creates stress.  It also takes at least three weeks to establish a habit.  If you try to change too much at one time, your mind and/or body may melt down rather than embrace the path you’re setting for the new, better you.

Don’t start anything new on a Monday.  No one likes Mondays. 

Don’t triple down on your bad habits for a week or two before committing to your plan.  Over eating for two weeks before you start a diet not only puts your farther away from your goals, but actually starts creating an even worse habit than the one you’re already trying to change.

Use some goals as motivation or rewards for others.  If your goal is to take a trip somewhere fun, that can also become a deadline of when you want to achieve a weight loss or fitness goal.  You want to upgrade your wardrobe?  There’s your reward for hitting a number of pounds lost.

It’s often easier to make significant change when no one else is watching. No one likes to let others see them try something new that is hard, and then fail. New Year’s might not be the best time to do the hardest pivots in your life.  Still, this is a great time to make a plan. 

More importantly, when you do start, understand that it doesn’t matter what others think.  You’re doing this for you.  You’re only failing if you know you need to do something different, and you don’t try.

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