Ditched the new year resolutions? Set goals that get results




If we want to make real change in our lives,

we need to move beyond believing in the ‘magic bullet’ of new year resolutions.


Over the years working as a coach, I’ve achieved most of what I set out to do – except when it comes to keeping New Year resolutions. I still have my written resolution to learn the guitar in 2006 somewhere. It’s probably near the guitar I never learned to play.

And apparently I’m not alone. According to research in the US, only 15 to 20 percent of people achieve what they set out to do on January 1. In terms of strategies, I’d say this one isn’t very effective. And yet every year most of us participate in a ritual that routinely makes us feel like we’re failures.

You see, New Year resolutions don’t take into account how we change. We blindly believe that just by saying it (“Lose weight”, “Stop smoking”, etc) we will make it so on January 1. Our conscious thoughts can be powerful things, but they usually need a little help. When we make New Year Resolutions, we usually make them too vague (“get healthy”, but what’s healthy?), too negative (“I’m going to stop dating lying bastards like I’ve done the past five years”) and too overwhelming (“I want a hot body, hot partner, fame and a six-month round the world holiday”).

Just to make it harder, we joke about how long our resolutions will last and how spectacularly we will fail at them. Imagine if we treated our big life choices the way we treated our resolutions (“Yeah, I just got into uni; but I’ll probably fail, drop out, end up homeless and with a massive HECS debt”).

Now, don’t get me wrong; I think the beginning of a new year is a fine time to sit down and take stock of where we are in our lives, acknowledge the great things that have happened in the previous 12 months, perhaps give some consideration to how we’d do things differently if faced with some of the choices that gave us grief, and ask the question: What do I really want?

But if you’re really interested in changing some part of your life – and this time you want it to actually happen – then I challenge you to ditch the resolutions and start setting some goals.

What’s the difference between goals and resolutions?

Goals are about action and tangible results

You can say you want to make a million bucks this year, but until you get off the couch and do something, then it probably ain’t going to happen. Goals describe what you will be doing when you have achieved your intention – often quite specifically in a way that can be measured. You will be left with no doubt whether you attained it or not.

Goals have feedback built into them

You need to know if you are on track, or whether you need to change your strategy. And often the best way to do this is through the goal having a measurable component (such as “I will be exercising for 40 minutes a day, 3 days a week”) or even having people you can ask “Do you think this looks right?”

Goals create a path of “least resistance”

Goals have followup, support structures and excitement built into them so that you can actually achieve them. They acknowledge and work with the “path of least resistance”, which is your “natural” way of doing things. You thus encounter fewer obstacles. And goals have a support structure that pulls you toward them. This may be the way you structure your day or prioritise or it may be having people around you to encourage you as you make changes.

Goals are short-term, long-term and changing

Your goals will be with you for the entire 12 months. You will be visiting them regularly (sometimes daily, at least monthly) to see whether you’re still on track. Shock of all horrors, they may actually change over that twelve months as you realise that you didn’t really want to be a doctor anymore and joined the Sea Shepherds instead.

Goals challenge you

Goals are challenging (just out of your reach) but also not too far so you always have the belief that you can achieve it. Goals acknowledge what you’ve got to learn along the way. So you may have a long-term goal of finding a partner who you love to be with, but perhaps before that happens you’ll need to address your confidence in meeting new people generally.

Goals keep you in motion

Goals build your confidence by gradually moving you toward what you want rather than the ‘sink or swim’ approach. They acknowledge where you’re at, your skills, your beliefs and what really has to change. They are ongoing. You revisit them every week, every month and they change and grow with you.

Don’t set yourself up for failure in 2010 by talking about resolutions you know you’ll give up on after two weeks of suffering. Bring what you really want to life right now by setting some goals.

10 tips for achieving your goals

1. Ask yourself: Is this what I really want?

Your goals reflect your values and what’s most important to you in life. If you’re on holidays and would just like to feel this relaxed all the time, then perhaps it’s time to look at the work you’re doing or the way you are spending your working hours and ask “Is this what I really want to be doing? Is this what I really want to be doing in 12 months, 5 years, or 20 years? Do I need to change careers or change something about the way I work, or do I need to change myself?”

2. Be specific

Goals are specific and tend to be something you can measure (so you know when you get there). When you set goals for yourself – not your partner, your mother or your boss – you get the payoff everytime. Goals have a time-frame so you know when and if and what you’ve got to do to achieve them this month or this year.

3. Be bold

Confidence is the number one thing I work with people on. Even those who seem so sure of themselves in public have times of doubt. That’s healthy and part of who we are and how we process things; we’re looking for threats that impact on our safety and security. But most of the things we fear aren’t real. We are wonderfully resilient creatures, and it is only through putting ourselves in new situations that we learn and grow and find out that what we feared wasn’t as bad as we imagined. Public speaking, for example, can be an exhilarating experience.

4. Be positive

Goals that work are positive and things that you want rather than don’t want. For example, you may wish to leave your job, but your goal will be focused on identifying and attaining a job that you actually really enjoy. Elevate your mood, shift how you’re feeling and what you‘re thinking so that it‘s all moving you toward your goal in a positive way. The research shows that when you relax, keep positive, and do the things that make you happy, good health will follow.

5. Write it down

There’s something in the action of turning what’s in our head into words on paper. Whether it be writing your goals in a visible place where you can see them everyday, or journalling every day to keep your thoughts and feelings in flow; just write it down. Make it positive, share it with someone who you trust and make it yours.

6. Create a structure to stay on track

Look at where you give up and put something there to keep you on track (a reward, a buddy, a coach, an “appointment“ with yourself, etc). It’s no coincidence that, as life coaches, we coach weekly or fortnightly. Everyone has a certain cycle of change, and your goals may need that regular tweak to make them challenging again.

7. Feel your end goal

If you’re going to the gym with gusto for the first week or two and then start making excuses, it’s time to reconnect with what you’re doing this all for and make that emotional attachment to the end goal. Connect with the feeling of what it’s like playing footy with your kids and not getting puffed, or climbing those stairs without needing a break.

8. Look outside and inside

Use this time of year to re-connect with friends and re-discover passions and things you love that you’ve put aside while you’ve been busy with everyday living.

9. Don’t just do something, lie there

Achieving goals isn’t just about doing more, doing it quicker and doing it by yesterday. If your 2010 diary is already micromanaged in five-minute intervals, you may want to consider putting your batteries on recharge rather than burnout. Read a book, meditate, spend a day lying on the grass watching clouds. If you find it hard to figure out how to slow down, ask yourself WWYCD (What Would Your Cat Do)?

10. Celebrate what you do have

Use the time to acknowledge all the good stuff you already have in your life. If you have a roof over your head, food on the table and are working then you’re already doing better than 95% of the world’s population (!).

It’s your life. Live it.


Get support for your goals this year with the worklifedesign.

You can find out more about creating a life and work you love at www.worklifedesign.com.au