Famous for the traditional establishment of resolutions, New Year’s Day also marks the beginning of failure when those resolutions crumble days, weeks, or even months later. Rather than fall victim to lofty, unattainable goals, put a process in place that sets feasible benchmarks for achievement, because nothing breeds further success like success.
1. Identify your goals. Let’s start low-tech. Find a sheet of paper and a pen and write down your goals. Don’t censor yourself, just write. You’ll have plenty of opportunity later to whittle them down. Questions to ask yourself as you jot down those goals include what you want to accomplish in the following months or years and what ignites your passionate interest. Let’s say you want to own your own airplane; write that down.
2. Analyze your goals. Every one of those high-level goals should exceed your current capability. When you evaluate those goals, you have the opportunity to begin to break them down and begin to figure out the steps to achievement. Sticking with our example, you can easily determine that it’s best to learn how to fly before you buy an airplane, because what’s the fun of owning an airplane if you can’t fly it yourself? That simple breakdown will lead you to investigate which kind of license you want, the criteria that must be satisfied to earn a pilot’s license, where you can take flying lessons, and how much those lessons will cost. Then you work out how to integrate lesson fees into your budget and flying sessions into your schedule.
3. Prioritize your goals. This means deciding what’s really important and focusing your time, attention, and resources on that. Decide why you want to achieve that particular goal. Analyze whether it’s the experience of flying that interests you or whether it’s ownership of the aircraft. This also means that achievement of some goals must be postponed. Some you may be able to accomplish within a year, others may take several years, and still others may have to be abandoned entirely.
4. Determine feasibility. This means truthfully acknowledging how much control you have to achieve something. If the action of the goal is something you control, then it can be achieved. If the action of the goal is something someone else controls, then strike it from your list. “I will run a 5-mile race by June 1” differs substantially from “I will win a 5-mile race by June 1.” You can control whether you run that distance by that date; you cannot control the speed and stamina of competitors in the race.
5. Set benchmark achievements. This breaks down the overarching goal into smaller goals that guide your path toward achievement. If you want to write the Great American Novel, the thought of producing 100,000 words by year’s end may intimidate you into stasis. However, if you can commit to producing 2,000 words a week, then you’ve set yourself attainable benchmark goals that will lead up to the grand achievement of 100,000 words within a year.
6. Create an action plan. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of New Year’s resolutions into those that are most important and you understand what will be required to achieve those goals, you’re ready to create a plan of action to keep you on track. Be sure to build some “wiggle room” into your plan to accommodate unexpected obstacles, such as a yearly bout of influenza or that summer vacation when you know you won’t accomplish anything beyond relaxing. Review your action plan periodically to keep your resolutions in mind and make adjustments as necessary.
Celebrate your achievements and forgive your failures, because failures teach us what we don’t know and that insight can lead to different goals and future success.