New Year, New Tools for Success

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happy new yearWe’ve all seen the statistics. One quick internet search produces several articles toting a very specific, and often discouraging, piece of data: roughly 8% of us keep our New Year’s resolutions, while 80% of us call it quits by the start of February. However, these annual results are only the “what.” It is the “why” and the “how” that help set us up for success. Approaching our goal setting with intention, creating support systems, using tools for accountability, and planning for obstacles are key practices in becoming part of, and increasing, “the 8%.”

Planning Our Goals: Intentional Goal Setting

Our goals can vary from job-related to personal, from financial to health and wellness. Whatever form they take, there are important goal-setting techniques that can help us succeed. In a post for the Harvard Health Blog, Dr. Marcelo Campos shares an exercise for goal setting, encouraging readers to, “grab a piece of paper to write down the answers to the questions below:”

  • Why do you want to make the change?
  • Is your goal concrete and measurable?
  • What is your plan?
  • Who can support you as you work toward change?
  • How will you celebrate your victories?

Seeing the purpose for and path toward our goals on paper encourages adjustments to ensure our success and prevent discouragement. For example, answering “Is your goal concrete and measurable?” allows us to assess the attainability of each of our goals and determine realistic actions for follow through. Biting off a little more than we bargained for and struggling to see results often ends in the abandonment of the goal we’ve set. Can we manage our goal this year? Should we start smaller and build toward the larger goal each coming year? For prompts, examples, and ideas regarding how to answer these questions with your goals in mind, visit Dr. Campos’ entry, Answer these 5 questions to help make your New Year’s resolutions stick.

Creating Support Systems and Accountability

Family of FourWe can create group accountability with friends, colleagues, and community in cases where each of these relationships fit with the goals we’ve set. Yet, some of the biggest determinants for our success are those we share a home with, and we can use family goal setting as a model for our goals outside the home. “Families Who Make Goals Together Keep Goals Together,” reads a heading in Kelsey Down’s piece for the Gottman Institute, “If you want to exercise more or eat healthier, you are more likely to do so if your other family members exercise with you and eat the same things you do.” Our families can be a readily available support system for goal commitment, particularly if we set those goals together. Each family member may feel invested for similar – or even different – reasons, so long as everyone has the same outcome in mind: success. As Down puts it, “Making goals public to your family and working together to achieve them provides the outside encouragement we all need to keep resolutions.” Down offers 8 examples of family resolutions, as well as ideas for achieving them, including “Unplugging Devices,” “Switch out The Soda,” and “Create Reading Time.” See the full list in Make Your New Year’s Resolutions a Family Affair.

Incorporating interpersonal relationships in our goal setting is one strategy for achievement. At the end of the day, we are most responsible for our own accountability, particularly those of us who are our own family. What are some accountability tools for the individual? With numbers projected as high as 2.87 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2020, many of us have an accountability tool on our person at all hours of the day. Molly Murphy has reviewed and compiled lists of wellness apps for Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less Online. You can partner your app use to specific goals; for example Murphy has created separate lists of The Best Health Apps for Nutrition Tracking, Exercising at Home, and Mindfulness. Ranging from apps that help you remember to drink more water, to exercising while raising money for charity, to quick, daily activities for decreasing stress, browsing these lists may even give you ideas for resolutions.

woman writing in journalIf apps aren’t your preferred method, there’s nothing wrong with using good, old-fashioned checklists, which we can tailor to our own tastes and creativity. Set aside time to compose and evaluate a yearly checklist of goals. Break each yearly goal down into manageable monthly, weekly, and daily to-do lists; micro sized steps toward larger goals. These can be done in pen-and-paper form, or as digital logs accessible in Notes on our phones, or word processing and spreadsheet documents. Integrating tools like calendars – which can also be digital or pen-and-paper – promotes visualization of our path to achievement. It’s also possible to find ready-made tools for accountability through organizations related to our goals. For example, Action for Happiness provides free monthly calendars featuring simple, daily activities that can keep us engaged with our wellness. Get started with activities as soon as today with January 2021’s calendar!

Going Forward

Setbacks are normal. Add a 6th question to Dr. Campos’ activity: “What will I do when I meet setbacks?” Goal achievement isn’t “perfection or bust.” Assuming struggle, planning for “when” bumps in the road occur, instead of “if”, encourages maintenance when the going gets rough. Our success is determined equal parts by how we set up, and by how we meet a shake-up. Our strategies may look as different and as individual as each of us, but the common thread is approaching our goals with intention; evaluating each goal, then laying the foundation to make them manageable and attainable. When we begin with the end in mind and visualize the journey that will lead us there, we will be equipped to deal with setbacks, such as illness and taking time to heal, or a dip in motivation. With systems in place – whether it be people, technology, or that piece of paper – and our eyes on the prize, we can get back up. One day, one week, or even a few months away from our progress doesn’t have to be the final curtain on our New Year’s resolutions; on any of our goals. The year isn’t over until it’s over. And, if you haven’t set your goals just yet, the year isn’t over after it’s already begun, either. Ready, set, goal.