Want to make your resolutions stick this year? Here's how.

Making new year's resolutionsIt’s that time of year again. You’ve probably set your new year’s resolutions and are motivated to achieve them. You know this will be the year that will change your life! Just like you did last year…and the year before…and the year before.

Good resolutions set with the best of intentions often break down. Usually it’s because there are too many decision points on the way. Keeping your resolutions goes beyond setting them. You must develop a plan when you’re already motivated to achieve them.

Research shows that we all have limited willpower. No matter how strong your intentions or how much you want to achieve goals when you set them, willpower will run out along the way. That’s why you have to make execution automatic and use your willpower reserve up front to develop your plan for achievement. Here’s how:

Break resolutions down

Every goal has landmarks that must be reached to achieve it. If you want to lose 10 lbs., you’ll start by losing 1-2 lbs., then 3-4 lbs., then, well…you get it.

Big sweeping goals feel good to set and initiate change. But many goals are abandoned because people get overwhelmed and don’t see the progress they’re making (I only lost 1 lb? That’s it!). That’s why you must break your resolution into smaller goals that progress you toward keeping it.

If you want to get a promotion at work, you need to understand what that will take. Through a conversation with your boss or determining what others did to get a similar promotion, identify the qualities and skills you need for the promotion. Then check them off as you achieve them. Obviously there are external circumstances here that are out of your control, but you’ll address those later on.

Make them SMART

You probably know what SMART goals are. And it’s fair if you’re “over” the whole SMART thing. But get over being over it because it works. As a brief refresher, SMART goals are:

Specific – what you’re trying to achieve is clearly explained with your resolution;

Measurable – they can be qualified or quantified (try to link intangibles, such as better balance, to tangibles, like “I’ll do this…and that…with this…”);

Action-oriented – because resolutions aren’t kept through inaction, you must have actions tied to your goal;

Relevant – the goal must be connected to what you want to achieve in life, your career, etc.; and

Time-Oriented – you need a deadline.

The key is to make sure your resolution is SMART as well as the little landmarks you identified in step 1. Remember, each landmark is like a mini-goal, and just as the smartest teams are comprised of a host of smart people, the SMARTest goals are comprised of various SMART landmarks.

Make them Meaningful

Many goals get ditched because, at the end of the day, they just aren’t meaningful to you. I’ve been trying to cut back on wine for years (I enjoy a couple of glasses most evenings – not anything I consider a problem). But for some reason I haven’t. I finally realized it’s because I don’t actually care about drinking less wine! I feel like I should do it because people say  we should all drink less, but I’m in great health, accomplished and, quite honestly, really enjoy wine!

Your resolutions have to be meaningful to you if you’re actually going to keep them. If you’ve decided you’re going to get a promotion this year, ask yourself why it’s important to you. More money? Why does that matter? How will it change your life? How does it support who you are and who you want to be?

If it’s not meaningful to you, it will be the first thing to go when you’re overworked or stressed.

Anticipate ObstaclesA Goal Without a Plan Is Just a Wish sign on desert road

Every resolution comes with obstacles. Identify, up-front, what obstacles you’ll face and what you’ll need to overcome them. Spend more time on this step than you think you need so you’re not thrown off guard with what comes up.

There are two types of obstacles – external and internal. External obstacles have nothing to do with you. The only way to overcome them is to change your circumstances. If you don’t have the skills required to get the promotion you want, that’s an external block. You need to acquire those skills through experience or education.

Internal obstacles are a different beast and can stem from external obstacles. Internal obstacles come from you – your mindset, your experience, your beliefs. In our example, if not having the skills required to get the promotion leads you to believe you’re not good enough and never will be, that external block has shifted to an internal obstacle. Overcoming internal obstacles requires a shift in mindset, challenging yourself and viewing your circumstances objectively.

Re-evaluate and Re-commit

No plan is perfect. No matter how long you spend determining how you will achieve your goals, you will get off course. Don’t fret just because things aren’t going your way.

Set a date or circumstance to re-evaluate your goal, your progress against it and do just that. If everything is going swimmingly, carry on. If not, re-evaluate the goal, the plan and the obstacles and determine what’s stopping you. Then, re-commit to a new goal or plan if necessary and a new way to overcome your obstacles. Don’t give up after one hurdle.

In Short, Be Deliberate

Most people set resolutions because they want to be intentional with their lives. They fail at keeping those resolutions because they forget to be intentional with resolutions themselves. Intention requires up front work to make execution easy and preparation for what might get in the way. Learning how to keep your resolutions will motivate you to keep setting them and, ultimately, get your life moving in the right direction for you.


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