New Year is such a wonderful time of the year not only because we can get together and enjoy the company of our nearest & dearest, but also because we finally manage to find some quality time with ourselves – to break out of a day-to-day routine and look back to reevaluate some of our life choices and adjust the direction where we are going. New Year is like a new page and making New Year’s resolutions has always been the perfect opportunity to start making changes that we wanted to start next week, next month, or perhaps when winter starts.
However, the overall concept of New Year’s resolutions is rather controversial since only 3,2% of us can actually achieve it. Unfortunately, there is no wonderful shortcut to get right there – it is not about being lucky or special, otherwise, it is mostly about daily hard work and making sacrifices. But I do believe that proper planning and smart goal setting will significantly increase our chances to succeed.
If you do not believe in planning, I think that reading this post by Tim Urban and doing the exercise he suggests will help you to realize the importance of making the most out of each year, month and even day.
In this blog post, I would like to share with you some of the best practices and my personal findings regarding the next year planning, introducing New Year’s resolutions & making it all work. My strategy is based on the following logic:
- Assess the context
Any strategic planning process should be started with an in-depth current situation assessment. Therefore, it is simply impossible to talk about unlocking the best version of yourself without taking a deep breath and reflecting on your current self.
First of all, make sure that you have a good understanding of where you are in your life at the moment and how satisfied you are with what is going on. Finding right answers is not easy at all and it can take days. months or even years. However, there are several techniques that can at least guide you in a right direction.
For example, start with identifying the core areas of your life – think about how you spend your time, where does your energy go and with whom do you interact on a constant basis. Probably your selection will cover all commonly accepted values like your career, family relationships, love life, health, sport, financial situation, self-expression, fun or side project. Then give the importance level (from 1 to 10) for each category. The choice will depend mostly on your personal preferences and it is normal if it varies significantly from one person to another. The next step -to rate each core area from 1 to 10 based on how happy and satisfied you are with it right now. The average ranking will show you what spheres should become your priorities and where the intervention is the most needed.
Even though this exercise seems a way too simple to assess your whole life, it could be quite a good start providing that you give it some thought and you are not trying to fool yourself and your own feelings.
- Evaluate the progress
Secondly, let’s look back at the passing year and reflect on what you have already managed or failed to accomplish. Start by asking yourself three simple questions: What went well last year? What didn’t go well last year? Why or why not? If you have already come up with certain resolutions or self-development plan earlier – use it to assess your progress, if not – just go through each of the earlier identified spheres of your life focusing on the recent developments. It’s a very simple but useful exercise that also shows where you’ve already built new skills for success and where there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
- Create a vision
After a clear-eyed assessment of your overall life perception and your last year, you’ll be in good stead to think about your vision and reflect on your future self. Based on your recent findings, try to understand what type of person you would like to become in a year and what progress you want to achieve in each of your life spheres. At this moment, still keep it broad and focus on the characteristics of your future self rather than actions.
- Select priorities
The next step is goal setting: it is time to turn your priorities and intentions for the upcoming year into clearly defined goals. Do not underestimate the importance of writing everything down: a goal that isn’t written down is nothing more but a fleeting dream that you hope will come true someday in the future.
Do not go to extremes trying to become a completely different person starting next week – it will never work. Select only several categories of your life (with the highest priority and the least progress made) and then introduce new meaningful goals that will help you to bridge the gap.
Never set goals just to impress anyone or prove your point – it will never work anyway due to the lack of intrinsic motivation. Otherwise, all your goals should be built only on your own desire to reach your vision and improve your overall level of life satisfaction.
- Use SMART
I hope that you all are already familiar with the basics of goal setting – the SMART approach: all goals you set should be S – Specific; M – Measurable; A – Attainable; R – Relevant; T – Time-bound (more).
Also, stay positive – plan what you want to start doing (positive goal) rather than what you want to stop doing (negative goal). It is simply impossible to learn not to do something, therefore if you focus yourself only on stopping behaviors, you will never develop new habits that will eventually lead to the final aim.
- I want to eat better -> During the whole year I want to cook a healthy meal with vegetables (max 400 calories) at home at least 3 times a week.
- I want to exercise more -> I want to go to the gym to do strength and cardio at least for an hour twice per week during the whole year (excluding holidays) and in summer also start running at least one mile in the morning before going to work at least 4 times per week
- Identify the subgoals
Once you are done with your major goals, for each point you need to create monthly/quarterly sub-goals that will allow you to track the progress along the way. Use a calendar year as a working unit and weeks and months as its smaller measuring milestones. For example, if you have decided to learn Spanish and pass B2 certificate by the end of the year, you could introduce the following subgoals:
- 31 Mar: to complete at least 50 hours of lessons with a teacher and at least 30 hours on yout own
- 31 Jun: to solve at least 50 practical exam tests and to finish the video exam preparation course
- 31 Sep – to spend at least 1 month in Spain practicing the language and to read at least 3 books in Spanish (min 100 pages)
- 31 Dec – to solve another 50 practical exam tests and pass the exam by 15/12
- Develop a launch plan
Continue your work with an annual calendar with developing a launch plan to spread the starting point of your resolutions over the whole year. The “new you” doesn’t have to be COMPLETELY new in January. Attack one behavior change at a time: start with several new routines and then when you get used to them, continue with introducing others. It will help you to avoid early burnout and feeling overwhelmed, which always results in leaving New Year’s Resolutions forgotten for another year.
For example, if you are working on your diet – take it step by step: slowly reduce the amount of sugar in January, and once you’ve started to get the hang of that, move on to less alcohol in February, start bringing healthy food to work in March and later introduce weekly detox days.
Keep in mind the dates when you have already planned something. If you know that during certain weeks of the year you will be super busy with your university exams or you have already organized several trips abroad – cross it off your calendar right away, because probably you can not rely on this time to make any significant progress with your goals.
- Analyze the resources
It might be also very helpful to build a resource list for each goal you set. Think about the following questions: Do I need any specific resources to make it work? What about time/money/energy/place/people? Will I need any other specific tools? Would gaining more experience/knowledge about something help?
Think carefully about resource allocation – schedule a certain time for your resolution, select a place and prepare all the necessary things so you would not have any possible excuse to skip it.
For example, if you want to start going to the gym more often, it is not enough to say that you want to go to the gym three times a week. Where is that going to fit on your calendar? You need to pick specific days and time slots and add that to your agenda.
- Keep records
It is extremely important to keep records of your goal and track the progress along the way to stay accountable and keep the resolution fresh in your mind. The more often you do it – the better. Therefore, I would suggest daily or at least weekly goal tracking. Habit trackers, different apps or programs, notebook or excel file – it does not matter how you do it unless you get back to your resolutions on a constant basis and monitor where you perform well and where – not.
- Review the performance
The idea of your weekly/monthly performance review should be to understand not only in which areas you perform well and in which – not, but WHY this is happening and WHAT are the ways to solve it.
During this larger review (monthly/quarterly) try to take a broader look at the process itself also considering the goals you set, actions to be taken and metrics you track. If something is not working or you think could be improved, then it’s OK to go back and modify it. Resolutions are all about becoming a better version of yourself, not a perfect one and the system to achieve it will be also improved with time.
- Create reminders
Maybe it is hard to believe, but introducing reminders really does help. Think about a clear visual way to demonstrate your goals: it could be a poster, ppt presentation or a mind map. Make it bright, colorful, noticeable and eye-catching. Hang it on the wall above your bed, leave a copy at work and in your agenda, maybe even set it as a wallpaper on your phone or laptop. Every time you see it, you will think about your resolutions and even if you have not performed as great as you have planned, you will find strength to try again.
- Introduce a stimulus
Do not forget to encourage the new habits: old beloved carrot and stick method might work well. Following the commitment for a certain period of time should be rewarded and breaking it should lead to a certain type of punishment. Introducing a set of positive and negative stimulus for each goal and sticking to it will give you an additional strength and motivation to work harder. For example, positive reinforcement (for running 5 days in a raw I am allowed to eat a small bar of chocolate on Saturday) and negative reinforcement (Every time I miss a run, I will save $5 to give to charity at the end of the month).
- Involve people
Everything is easier when you are not alone and self-development is not an exception. Ideally, the whole “new year resolution” planning should be done together with another motivated person so you could support and motivate each other along the way, track progress and conduct reviews together and of course make sure that another person is following the introduced stimulus system.
Even though there is a great desire to do this whole “becoming better together” thing with your bf/gf, best friend or family member – I would say that this is not the best idea ever. To keep things serious and professional and do not let them affect your personal relationships with the most important people in your life, it is better to do this “new year resolution” planning with someone not very close to you, but who you definitely respect.
It does not mean that you need to keep all the process away from your nearest and dearest. Otherwise, verbalize your goals to others. If some of them want to go on the journey with you, accept it. It is always fun to have a buddy with whom you can share healthy recipes or spend evenings in the gym together. You can also find a great support online – do not underestimate different online groups and communities based on common goals and interests.
If you want to go to extremes and increase your accountability to the highest level, you can always make your resolutions public, maybe even start a blog about your journey constantly sharing your progress with others.
- Work on your mindset
Your mindset is the most important thing that usually stands on the way to success. Try to kill this “all or nothing” attitude. Keep in mind that New Year’s Resolutions and annual planning is not about results – it is about making progress along the journey and staying accountable for your choices, decisions and actions no matter what.
Be honest with yourself and do not look for pitiful excuses. Be ready to experience not only victories but also setbacks and when things are going to get tough, it’s important to focus on the process of consistently developing critical habits required to achieve your goals. If you want to learn more about introducing new habits to your life & ways to make it stick, I recommend you to check this post.
Thank you for reading and I hope you found this post helpful. Now you are 100% ready for your 2017 resolutions. Feel free to share below your thoughts on long-term planning and your own hints & tricks to stick to your New Year’s resolutions.
I wish you all to have a great time with your family and friends! Happy New Year and of course have a productive planning 🙂
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