Written by Russell Johnson
New year’s resolutions are famously ineffective. Studies have shown that less than 25% of those who make New Year’s Resolutions are still trying to keep them after 30 days. Moreover, only 8% actually accomplish them.
Why is this? The answer lies in our tendency to underestimate the difficulty of launching and embedding new habits.
A Weak Form of Goals
Resolutions are a weak form of goals. They fail because they lack the supporting framework of a clear and firmly held set of values. Additionally, a plan and commitment, based on your values, are needed to create and fully establish momentum in your new direction.
To set goals and then achieve them, we need to think sequentially and in detail. This means clarity, strategy, plans, goals and tactics are required. Therefore, we need a deliberate series of actions directed toward achieving outcomes that are compelling enough for us to justify real and sustained effort. As Peter Drucker put it,
Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.
The Basis of Compelling Goals
Meanwhile, the repeated sequence of thinking, acting and reflecting is vital to long-term progress. So the circumstances we want in our lives and the reasons why these matter to us must be very clear. And should become ever more precise over time.
In the absence of such clarity, setting goals will hold dangers that we may not even recognize.
Unfortunately, solid clarity is uncommon. As Abraham Maslow, the author of the famous Hierarchy of Needs, stated,
It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.
If we lack such clarity, we should initially focus our plans, goals and tasks on getting it. In its absence, goal setting is likely to provide only weak impetus. For clarity internalizes the importance of making the trade-offs necessary for success. Or worse, to the extent our goal setting does provide strong impetus, it’s likely to do lasting harm by taking us in the wrong direction.
It’s not the purpose of this article to address how to gain such clarity. If you don’t have it, I’d suggest reading my article, The Power of a Compelling Vision and Strategy, and other related articles you can find in my blog.
Our goals must fit within a Strategy, which is essentially our Grand Plan for achieving the things that are of the most considerable long term importance to us.
Such a strategy requires clarity of vision and objectives. I don’t mean a bloodless intellectual kind of clarity. But the kind that’s grounded in deep reflection and a rock-solid understanding of what really matters to us.
This kind of clarity enriches our sense of meaning and of a purposeful life. Importantly, it will bring focused energy that’s obtainable, and sustainable, in no other way.
The Need to ‘See Around the Corner’
It is also essential to recognize that what we want in our lives right now might radically change once we have gained it. This recognition can help us remain open to re-calibration and adjustment of our goals over time.
It will help us to avoid the tragic recognition that many experience in later years, of having sacrificed things of the deepest importance to us for others that were trivial by comparison.
Setting Your Goals
Only when we’ve done the real work required to achieve clarity of vision and of the purposes that will guide our life, and an overall plan or strategy, is it time to move on to setting our goals.
Some of the common advice on goal setting – like the widely used SMART formula – can tie us up in unnecessary complexity while diminishing the potential impetus that our goals can provide.
It’s essential to keep all of this work as simple as it can reasonably be. Try setting your goals using the MET formula as per my article To Accelerate Your Growth, Make Goal Setting Simple. It’s both more straightforward and more powerful.
In my next article, I’ll expand on the subject of setting goals that can truly have a life-changing impact.