(Note: I originally wrote this post last year for GovLoop, but as the year’s end has rolled back around I think it’s still relevant. I’ve adapted it for this blog.)
The new year is a traditional blank slate for most people, but despite our best intentions most of us don’t keep our New Year’s Resolutions much longer than January.
The problem with the usual way of making resolutions is that they’re not often made in the context of our lives. I’m as guilty of that as anyone, so I want to propose a new way: rather than simply picking a goal (“lose weight,” “volunteer more,” “get promoted”), take time to really evaluate your dreams and ambitions, and set goals that are truly in line with your life.
Want to join me?
A note about last year’s goals.
In my post about looking back on 2015, I talked about considering the goals that you didn’t hit. Writing New Year’s Resolutions can seem like a deja vu if every year you put the same goals on it that you failed to hit the year before. Rather, set your goals for 2015 to build on your accomplishments from last year – and give yourself permission to let go of any goals that no longer fit your plans.
OK. Here’s my 3-step plan for setting goals:
Set a theme for 2016
This sounds super cheesy, but I swear it works. How will you evaluate success in 2015? By your career growth? By your side projects? By how much time you’ve spent with your family?
- For me, 2014 was all about getting work done at all costs. My husband and I had moved to a new city without many friends to distract us, and were both in new work situations. We’ve worked some crazy hours, we’ve worn ourselves out, and we’ve both built tremendous momentum in our jobs. It’s been an exhausting ride, but it’s been worth it.
- The year 2015 was about harnessing that momentum and taking back time for myself. My theme for 2015 was “Balance and Health,” and I although I haven’t been perfect, I’ve definitely achieved a better sense of balance in my life. I’ve made huge strides in tailoring my freelance client list so that I’m doing the work I want to do, not saying yes to everything that comes across my plate. I’ve been exercising regularly, and making conscious decisions to practice self care, rather than running myself into the ground. (Most of the time.)
- For 2016, I’m going to stick with the “Balance and Health” goal, since I know I still have lots of work to do in that area. As I ramp up my fiction business, I know I can too easily get carried back into the overtime-stressed-burnout mode of 2014 – so I want to make sure that I’m making each decision with this theme in mind.
This theme is your rubric for making decisions.
When you’re making your goals or deciding what kinds of obligations to take on next year, weigh it against your theme.
One great tool to help you out is a Will-do/Won’t-do List. As you plan for 2016, make yourself a list of possible projects or opportunities you will and won’t do, so that when new opportunities come across your plate you can make a quick decision and move on without regret.
Plan big, but act small
OK, we all know what SMART goals are, right? They’re: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-related. But when most of us write our resolutions, we aim big and vague, writing down things like “I want to get in better shape,” or “I want to spend more time with my family.”
Dream big, but make sure your goals for 2015 are SMART. For example: “I will lose 10 pounds by March by cutting out sugar,” rather than “I want to lose weight.”
Once you’ve got your big goals in place, think about the small daily actions you’ll take to get there. If you want to cut out sugar, like in the above example, maybe start by making a little change. Only allow yourself candy between the hours of 12 and 6, perhaps, or switch to only putting one spoonful of sugar in your morning coffee rather than two. If your goal is to write a novel, set a daily habit of writing 200 words on the bus ride home, or on your lunch break.
If you focus on forming small daily habits, you’ll have a much better chance at achieving your goal than if you try to accomplish it in one fell swoop.
You’ve got until 2016 to turn over a new leaf, right? But what you can do for the next few weeks is to start dreaming so that you’re ready to hit the ground running on January 1st.
Ask for running shoes for the holidays. Start googling alternate careers. Check out a book on gardening from the library. Start a Pinterest board for healthy recipes. Research MBA programs.
You don’t have to make any changes right now, just use the next six to let your imagination run with it. This is a fertile time to let your mind wander, and will help make sure you’re not just throwing goals on your list because think you should.
Is your imagination sparked? What will your theme for 2016 be?