The goals that got away

With every new year comes a brand new chance to make a fresh start with an exciting list of personal and professional resolutions. How's your list going by the way?

Chances are you've already given up on the majority of your goals for the coming year.

I'm not being negative, just realistic based on the stats that say more than 25 per cent of all New Year goals are broken in the first two weeks of the year, and more than 50 per cent in the first four weeks.

If you take another look 12 months later you'll find that fewer than 12 per cent of people stuck to their initial plan.

Based on that dismal projection, it's easy to start thinking 'if goal setting doesn't work, then why bother to do it in the first place?'

It is true that poor goal setting makes people cynical, wastes their time and fosters confusion about where to focus attention and energy. But did you know there are a number of simple strategies that can dramatically increase the likelihood of you sticking to your goals?

But lets reverse the process and look first at what not to do.

1. Don't set goals on New Year's Eve

As the fireworks crackle, hiss and bang, that little voice starts chirping in the back of our brains thinking up new goals for the coming year.

But over the next few days - as we gradually break them one by one - that little voice pops up again and says, 'it's OK – we'll just set them all again next year'.

So how do you avoid the New Year's curse and move from writing goals on the back of a VB coaster to actually making them happen in a logical, structured process?

Solution: Plan ahead

Start thinking about your goals for the coming year well before New Years Eve. Mid to late December is a great time to review the previous year (check out my blog Looking in the rear view mirror) and plan some specific time to think about what you'd like to achieve in the coming year ahead.

2. Don't set goals purely to impress others

The link between goal setting and motivation is strong. It's so strong in fact that if you perceive your goal being driven by external pressures rather than internal (or intrinsic) reasons, the likelihood of goal attainment is very low.

Just because you paid $3,000 to listen to the latest pop-psychology motivation speaker who sits you in a room, sleep deprived for 3 days and waxes on about the 3 P's – POWER, PASSION and PROFITS, – doesn't mean you're going to make any lasting changes.

And your partner's comment: "hey, you're not looking too pretty in those shorts anymore!" is equally unlikely to trigger long term change. Sure, this blunt feedback can help you get started but unless you really want to lose weight and improve your fitness (for reasons other than just the way you look) chances are you're going to be in the 88 per cent bracket the following year.

Solution: Align to internal values and ask the right questions

Goals motivate us at the most basic human level so understanding the real reasons why you set them will reduce the chances of setting conflicting or competing goals. To aid this process use the following checklist as you set each new goal:

•     What do I really want and why do I want to achieve it?

•     How much does this really mean to me?

•     Who else does this affect/impact?

•     Am I really prepared to do what it takes to achieve this goal?

3. Don't set huge achievement lists

George Miller, a leading psychologist in the 1950's proposed that we only deal with seven bits of information at any one time. Any more and we either lose focus or see the task as being too difficult to comprehend. The notion of setting bite-sized chunks still holds firm.

Solution: Keep goals to a minimum

When you create your New Years master plan keep your goals to a manageable number and group into similar areas including business, health and fitness, learning and development, relationships, hobbies and passions, etc and only set a few specific goals in each area.

4. Don’t set and forget
Goal setting does not work like the popular pre-GFC investment advice to simply ‘set and forget’. 

The accountability process in goal setting is often more important than the actual goals you set. Rather than keeping important goals to yourself, enlist the support and buy-in from family members, friends or colleagues. For many people having a coach in its many guises (personal trainer, executive coach, performance psychologist, life coach, mentor, etc) is the perfect way to build in accountability.

Solution: Get SMART
If it all sounds too overwhelming, an easy-to-use and validated guideline for setting goals is the SMART principle:

Work out what your specific goal is? 'Earning more money’ is a wish list, whereas 'earning an extra $30,000 in the next 12 months' is specific.

How will you measure the success of the goal? How often are you going to review? Who is going to make you accountable? Make this area as explicit as possible as leaving it grey allows you to opt out along the way.

In years gone by the 'A' stood for Accountable but some of the newer information on goal setting has upgraded this to authentic, which aligns with your core values. How important is this goal and is it meaningful to you?

How realistic is it that you're going to achieve this goal? Is there enough complexity and difficulty to ensure you're motivated to achieve it? We disengage with goals if they are either too easy or too hard – it's all about getting that right balance of complexity.

What time frame will you set to achieve the goal? What feedback measures will you put in place to let you know how you're tracking along the way?

Does goal setting work for you or do you consider it a complete waste of time? Have your say.