Saying that self-control is a positive character trait is, for most of us, an exercise in stating the obvious. Scientists, psychologists and philosophers have been extoling the virtues of self-control...
There’s a reason why so many people make New Year Resolutions. There’s something about the beginning of a new year that feels like a clean slate. A fresh start. A chance to re-group and reflect on what we want to do, accomplish and become during this next year of our lives.
Another factor, for me at least, is the fact that those few days in between Christmas and New Year’s Day tend to be a bit quieter than the previous months. The end of the year is chaotic… but the last week of the year generally contains a bit more space. And space makes many of us reflective. Whatever has happened within the past year is done. Whatever we haven’t accomplished over the past year simply isn’t going to happen, at least within that particular 365-day stretch. But, it could happen within the next. In fact, we’re sure it will. We’re determined to make it happen.
So then why do so many of us make resolutions at the beginning of each new year and not keep them? Lots of reason, I suppose. The resolutions are too general or vague (loose weight), they are unrealistic (loose 25 lbs. by February), or so esoteric that it’s difficult to identify specific actions in our day-to-day lives that will move us closer to the achievement of that goal (be happier and healthier).
Still, setting goals (or resolutions) at the start of a new year can be a valuable exercise. For leaders, I believe it’s especially important because who you are as a leader is just as important (if not more so) as what you’ve done or will do. So what can we do to make the kind of goals at the start of this new year that will move us closer to the people we want to be and the things we want to achieve?
- The Goals Should Be Intrinsically Motivating. If you set a goal and then groan at the thought of following through on it’s fulfillment, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s not going to happen. Setting a goal to run a marathon, when just the thought of a lap around the block has you diving under the covers, is probably not a very realistic goal. The goals that we set for ourselves must come from a place of “want to” rather than “have to”.
The key here is to make sure the achievement of said goals will be personally important and meaningful. If you’re only setting a goal to run a marathon because someone told you it’s the best way to get into shape, but you hate running and could care less about ever finishing a race, it’s not the right goal. You might have an intrinsic desire to get into shape; but finding a way to make that desire a reality should involve something you might actually feel motivated to do.
- Break Down Your Goals into Specific Habits. Action, often involving change, is required to achieve any goal. In order for changed behavior to stick, it must become a habit. For example, let’s say you’ve determined that in order to be effective in 2016 – personally and professionally – you are going to have to get more sleep. Achieving that goal likely requires a whole set of actions, probably beginning at the start of your day and continuing right through the evening. You might need to change your work schedule, your workout schedule, your diet, the way you have been spending your evenings, or the routine you go through before bed. The point is, in order for you to achieve the goal of “more sleep in 2016”, you’re probably going to have to develop at least a few new habits.
There is a lot of conflicting advice out there about how long it really takes to develop a new habit. The most commonly held belief is that it takes 21 days. Recent research suggests it probably takes as long as 2 or 3 months. Regardless, creating a habit means determining specific actions that must be performed repeatedly until those behaviors become “normal.” This can feel daunting. But think about it this way: Whether it takes 21 days or 210 days, those days will pass regardless of how they are spent. So perhaps the length of time doesn’t matter as much as knowing that if we do the work, for as long as it takes, our future selves will be better off.
- Treat Your Personal Goals Like Business Goals. Every organization, for-profit or non-profit, with any hope of success, begins each year with specific goals and a plan for how those goals will be realized. Projections are calculated, budgets are set, marketing plans are created, sales goals are determined, etc. As a Director of Marketing, I could not reasonably expect to retain my position if I stood before my superiors and told them that in 2016 my “plan” was to reach some more people, through some additional marketing activities that will cost some money, but should deliver some more
We know that specific, attainable, measurable goals, backed by research and strategy, and including actual numbers are vital to the success of our organizations. So, why would we think our personal lives are any different? Treat yourself as the business of one that you are. Determine what you want to achieve by a specific date and create a plan to achieve it. If financial resources are required, determine a budget. Enlist whatever support you need from those around you. Explain the goal. Tell them the plan. Set expectations. This may seem like a lot of unnecessary fuss, but… we value our professional resources and achievements enough to require careful research, planning and scrutiny. Should we not value ourselves at least as much?
It’s easy to make resolutions, but it’s hard to make them come true. We all know this. It’s little wonder so many of us make the same resolutions every year, without ever achieving them. I’d like 2016 to be different. This time next year, I want to be basking in the satisfaction of accomplishment rather than reflecting on what I wish I would have done. How about you?