If you Google “when do New Year’s resolutions fail” you will see several stories including a popular one from U.S. News and World Report stating 80% fail by February and another by Strava sharing a specific date and it’s worse…January 17 being the day people drop off. The U.S News and World Report story also states only 8% feel they were successful in achieving their goals. Has this been your experience?
I can’t remember a single successful New Year’s resolution of my own earlier in my life. I haven’t made any in probably 15 years but I have learned how to set goals and execute plans. I struggle to achieve some and accomplish others but in either case I do have a process. There are so many things to consider in this space so I will share highlights that may help with achieving the goals and plans you put in place with a theme of – it’s hard work. How bad do you want them and are you willing to put the necessary work in to achieve.
What and Why
I think the easy question when setting goals and planning is the what. The question I believe gets overlooked often is the why. But in this why you have to be brutally honest with yourself. A popular technique to get at the root cause or depth of a topic is to ask, ‘the five whys.’ Ask yourself why you want to achieve your goal/plan and continue by asking why four more times. If you believe the why, I believe it’s easier to anchor behaviors and activities to them.
Start planning from a macro perspective. I think one year is a good general rule of thumb. It makes what you are planning to achieve real. If you have goals outside of one year that’s fantastic and you can get more specific as they come closer. I have some over one year but for today I’ll focus on one year as a starting point for planning with these considerations:
- Write down what you want to achieve (everything)
- Categorize them (family, home, finances, health, etc.)
- Prioritize (identify which ones are must haves, should haves, and nice to haves, etc. – whatever ranking system you use)
- Break out what you can do on a quarterly basis
- Plot out what you can do on a weekly basis to achieve the quarterly milestones (I do this at the end or beginning of each week…referencing back to the quarterly goal)
What has worked for me once I have my goals in place is to then have a daily document that has two columns. The left column lists my categories and the right column is completely blank to capture notes. The notes document what I’m doing to meet my weekly goals. I try to limit myself to one item in a category maximum per day. A particular category may be blank on day.
Whether you want to get to this level of detail or not try in some way document your goals and plans. Identify a regular cadence to check back on them, progress you have made, and what you need to do next (change, stop, keep going…).
The Easy Part
I believe the easy part is setting goals and plans. Anyone can write down and commit to goals and plans. As what is demonstrated in the context of New Year’s resolutions fails mentioned above, the planning part isn’t what goes wrong. That’s the easy part. Many people come out of the holidays feeling they need a spark to address things they want to change in the new year. It’s easy to have the spark and want to change.
The Hard Part
The hard part is the execution of goals and plans. The term, hack, has blown up over the last decade. Hack in the terms I have observed is a shortcut to a desired outcome. There seems to be a hack for most things. I am all about efficiency but in many cases I think this has compromised our ability to achieve our goals because if it’s not easy, “I’m not doing it.”
With the goals and plans I set I know to achieve them my activities could be hard, time consuming, painful, and suck. The key goes back to the why. Why do I want to do what I’m doing? It’s not everything but it’s the foundation to anchor to when I’m feeling the suck.
Ask yourself the why question again. Know that life isn’t easy and if you want to change or achieve something it’s going to be hard and could flat out suck at times.
Process vs. Result
I’ve stated much about goals and plans and now I’m going to address the counter side. As much as I have documented goals and plans I am not obsessed with them. This is a key distinction.
Focus on the Process, not the Result.
Use your goals (the results) as a beacon you are aiming for but be careful to not get solely hung up on them. Use them to identify the actions, activites, knowledge, and behaviors you need to execute on to achieve.
Then focus your efforts on the Process.
Ex. One of my goals for 2019 was to qualify for the Duathlon World Championships. This is a race where competitors run, bike and run. If all I did was focus on qualifying, what does that really mean on how to actually do it? It doesn’t mean anything. I researched the heck out of what it was going to take for me to get my run and bike good enough to qualify and then set a plan in place to get my body and mind ready for the National Championships.
I had my why, a five month plan, and checked progress throughout the way to tweak what I was doing. I did everything I could (in my mind) to prepare for Nationals. If I failed to get my result I would have been extremely disappointed but would have comfort knowing I was as prepared as I could have been and would learn from the event for next year no matter the result. Nothing is guaranteed and failure is okay too…I fail all the time. I failed the year prior to reach my goal at Nationals. I learn from my failures all the time…
Clear distinction here too. I failed to reach my goal last year but that does not make me a failure. Separate the two or it will lead to trouble.
Understanding and executing the Process is work. Just documenting the process in my opinion is still somewhat easy. I documented my typical weekly requirements as part of my plan. Documenting it while thinking of what I wanted to achieve was eye opening from what it was going to take from a commitment perspective but many times when planning we are in a fantasy land. We think we can do anything until the time actually comes to execute.
Back to the why. Ask yourself if you are committed to achieving your goal, know it could be difficult as s$%t, and balance that with being realistic. Don’t over commit yourself to the process if it’s unrealistic that you will be able to execute. Consider other commitments that come into play – work, family, friends, special projects, vacations, etc.
If you have read or seen Dr. Phil you have probably heard his popular phrase, ‘Get Real.’ This line hits the point here. ‘Get Real’ with yourself…be brutally honest.
- What am I committing to?
- Why am I doing this?
- Do I understand how I will approach the process vs. result?
Identity and Creating Habits
This could be several blogs in itself. I have referenced in previous posts some of the work of Jame Clear, author of the New York Times best selling book, Atomic Habits. I will dig deeper in a future blog but for length considerations I’ll share a couple highlights in the context of our topic here.
One topic James addresses is how we can use identity to shape our decisions. To help us achieve our goals if we can anchor to an identity we want to have for ourselves it can help with point in time decisions we face.
Ex. I wanted to have the identity of an elite duathlete who wanted to qualify for the World Championships. When I would be in situations that would question this I would ask myself, “What would an elite duathete do?” I love this brutally honest technique from James. If I made choices that an elite duathlete wouldn’t make I would have nobody to blame but myself. All on ME!
- It’s 4:30 AM and I don’t want to get out of bed
- A group of my friends and I are in a bakery one month from the race
- It’s 9:00 PM and I’m a bit hungry
- It’s raining outside and I have a big workout planned
- There is a football game I really want to go to but would compromise a key workout the next morning
- I am four hours into a five hour Sunday workout and not motivated or feel like I can complete the final run interval
Now, I could buckle on any of these situations and I’m not perfect so I could fall on one these situations from time to time but if I wanted to be in my own mind, an elite duathlete qualifying for the World Championships, it better not become a theme. No excuses, that’s BS. I own my actions to all of these situations and how I respond. Back to the why.
I love the Identity element. I use visuals in my home to remind me of these things. I have a picture on my refrigerator of fruit with a caption that states, “Eat more whole foods.” A reminder to myself that if I want to achieve my goals, I need to consider the decisions I’m making…and I’m a pretty darn good eater to begin with.
I have to bring this to a close with one more component. With all of the concepts here it’s still hard to create and stick to the habits we want to start and eliminate the bad ones. James shares the following five steps to build a new habit and how I applied this to a personal challenge to help my core by planking daily:
- Start with an incredibly small habit
- I started day one with a one minute plank
- Increase your habit in very small ways
- I increased duration each day by a minimum of one second
- As you build up, break habits into chunks
- This started on day three as I could not hold my plank for the entire duration
- I split the exercise into two parts but I did it and increased my overall time
- When you slip, get back on track quickly
- This was my second attempt as I started the challenge and missed a day
- James advises we all mess up but don’t beat yourself up…look forward and to sustain, try not to miss two days in a row. Life happens…look forward
- Be patient, stick to a pace you can sustain
- I started out with one minute on day one and went up gradually knowing I didn’t want to set myself up for failure by doing too much too early. It didn’t feel overwhelming this way.
There are so many additional things to consider with habit formation and elimination. I highly recommend his book and the podcast episode where he was a guest on the Rich Roll Podcast. There are tools and techniques we can apply to all aspects of life.
You may want to share your goals and if so share them with people who support you. You know who you can trust. These people can also be your accountability partners. I share some of my goals and there are others only I know.
I hope you achieve all the goals you set out for in 2020 but if you don’t, learn from it and move forward. We can’t achieve all our goals but we sure can try and do things to enhance our chances.
– Add Health to Your Life
Blog Photo Note – that is my alarm clock. I get up daily at 4:30 AM with my alarm going off at 4:21 AM. I do struggle many days getting out of bed and I consider my why. When I’m done with my morning workout I’m ALWAYS thankful I rolled out of bed. It’s such an invigorating feeling starting my day off with exercise. #actionsetsmood
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