Whether it's a new year's resolution, a work goal, or a personal mission, the new year often brings with it, hope and a chance to do something better or new. So why are we so damn bad at the follow through? Studies show that less than 1 in 10 people actually complete their new year's resolution. As a mater of fact only 1 in 4 are still going strong after only 30 days past the new year. Why are we all so miserable at achieving what we want to achieve? We're the ones setting the vision and defining success and so many of us still come up short.
By now we've probably all heard of SMART goals, and the benefits of ensuring your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound. I love SMART goals, even if they are only the flavor of the week, and will be unseated by a trendier acronym eventually. SMART goals, or any other for that matter, won't ensure you achieve them, yet they do ensure you put more thought and intention into setting them. So what do we do to ensure we get to that finish line? What's the difference between those that accomplish their goals and those that hope no one remembered they set them in the first place? The difference is the expectations you're setting for yourself.
In his book "Finish", Jon Acuff does a great job calling out why we fall short of our goals and gives advice on how to actually accomplish them. I feel the majority of the 3 in 4 of us that fail our resolution in the first 30 days, fail "the day after perfect". Acuff describes the most important day in your plan to accomplish your goals is the day after your streak of sticking to your goals ends. Maybe you skipped a gym day, didn't journal, crushed half a pizza or took a drink of alcohol, your response the day after perfect is directly tied to your ability to accomplish your goal.
Are you the person that says "well I ate my body weight in pizza last night, I should probably just say forget about the diet and grab a package of Oreo's for breakfast" (I often fall into that camp). Or maybe you have a goal to workout 30 minutes before work three times a week, but for the second straight week you have only hit the gym twice so on Monday of week three you don't even bother setting the alarm early. If this is you, you've probably set your expectations on what it takes to achieve your goal too damn high and need to reconsider your approach.
If you are one of those people, STOP IT! We're not perfect, you're not perfect, and goals aren't easy to accomplish or we wouldn’t have to be so intentional in creating and achieving SMART versions of them. Give yourself a break, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and get right back on that goal wagon the day after perfect! If you're accomplished 150 days straight of writing in your journal, and you miss the weekend you decided to visit family, yes your streak of "perfect" is over, but the purpose behind your goal is not. You can't let a lack of perfect stop you from accomplishing that goal!
Jon Acuff's book is full of ideas on how to finish the goals you've set, but here are the top three that have worked the best for me:
Double the timeline. We all fall victim of the planning fallacy, where our optimism bias leads us to believe the amount of time it takes to complete a task is much less than actually required. Knowing this, question the "timebound" element of your goals. Can the deadline be moved back? Have you just self imposed a huge hurdle by giving yourself an unrealistic timeline? Consider doubling your timeline.
Leave your noble obstacles. Noble obstacles are virtuous sounding reasons for not working toward your goal. Is your goal to put out a Lead Your Career article every week, but during the time you're supposed to work on it you decide to clean the garage? Noble obstacles give you your "I've accomplished something fix" without actually accomplishing what you're supposed to be accomplishing. Your goal.
Choose what to bomb. This is my favorite one. Throughout his book, Jon Acuff addresses many lies and lie #3 is "You can do it all". Spoiler: you can't. Choosing what to bomb is about identifying green light and red light activities. One moves you closer to your goals completion, while the other stops or delays you from making progress. You must identify those red light activities and choose to bomb them. Put another way, you must say, "I'm not going to do that". It's fun.
I ask two things of you this week:
If you're interested in actually achieving your goals this year, get the book "Finish". It's a short read, and I barely touch the surface of the valuable information the book offers in this article. Or if you're not in the mood to read a full book, I made a cliff notes page at the bottom of this article.
Think about the last couple of goals you've given up on, or the one that's on the cusp of seeing a white flag soon, and tell yourself that the path to achieve your goal is NOT easy. Think about why you're doing it. If you mess up, be ok with messing up, and start again. If you need more time, double your timeline. If you find yourself being too busy, reprioritize and get it done!
Your goals are not accompanied with a step-by-step how to manual that addresses every curve ball you're going to receive. If you want to accomplish what you set out to accomplish, you must be ok with messing up along the way. You must be ok with getting derailed, reevaluating your objectives, modifying your game plan and moving forward. The goal of accomplishing your goals is not perfection, it's completion.
Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.