The start of a new year always brings a renewed hope and positivity for the year ahead. Last year took a toll on everyone across the world. And while there are still some big hurdles we have to overcome and divides we need to mend, I, for one, am still hopeful for 2021.
Most new year’s resolutions focus on a lofty, non-specific goal: to eat healthier, to travel more, to be more adventurous. While those are admirable things to add to your life, they’re going to be hard to track and therefore, hard to accomplish. More than 80 percent of people give up on their new year’s resolution by the second week of February.
So what are they doing wrong?
Well, it’s easy to set over-ambitious goals at the beginning of the year. It takes supplementing those lofty (yet still achievable) large goals with smaller, more manageable steps. If one of your goals is to start your own small business this year, break that down into more easily achievable goals like:
- Talk with one possible mentor or business contact every week for advice
- Read one entrepreneurship book every month
- Take an online course on how to build a website
These are much easier to check off throughout the year, keeping you excited and motivated about reaching your final end-of-year goal. If you ever start to slack on those smaller goals or get discouraged, the goals are designed to motivate you to accomplish one another. For example, reading an entrepreneurship book will encourage you to talk to mentors, mentors will get you excited and tell you how they manage their own websites, and building a website will help you ask good questions to bring to your entrepreneurship books and your mentor.
With a little though, it’s not hard to see how you could create a similar network of goals in the fitness space, the parenting space, the education space, or any space! There’s power in specificity. And there’s power in distilling difficult, hairy goals, into actionable, small ones.
Some people like to talk about working towards your goals like you would when eating an elephant: one bite at a time. Let’s use a different analogy. The Golden Gate Bridge was (and still is) an amazing feat of engineering. Any massive engineering project like a bridge will need support systems so it doesn’t bend and break halfway across the water. The helix-shaped wire rope cables that the Golden Gate Bridge uses may not seem strong enough to hold up thousands of tons of weight. But looks can be deceiving. Those cables are made up of dozens of smaller internal cables, braided and wrapped together to provide additional support.
Any one of those ropes by itself would immediately snap under the massive weight and pressure. But when working together with other individual ropes for the larger goal of keeping the bridge supported, they can withstand massive amounts of weight.
If you’re always struggling to achieve your goals, it might be because you’re not breaking up your bigger goal into smaller, more manageable steps. In other words, don’t set goals that are outcome oriented—set goals that are action oriented. More short-term goals that you can easily (and satisfyingly) check off a list can keep you going even during the difficult times.
This isn’t to say that outcome-oriented goals don’t have a place in your new year’s resolutions. But the year is longer than it can sometimes feel, and it can be easy to get distracted, discouraged, and disinterested if you don’t have those actionable goals. Don’t beat yourself up or give up if you are moving towards your goals slower than you initially wanted. Like one Chinese proverb says, “Not having a goal is more to be feared than not reaching one”. You should be proud of yourself and your accomplishments no matter if you reached an arbitrary goal at the end of the year. At the end of the day, any progress is progress!