As we approach a new year, we tend to think about new beginnings. For many, January 1st suggests a time for starting some new habit, starting a new project, or simply starting over. The idea of setting new year’s resolutions has become cliché.
Yet, most of us have things we would like to improve about our lives. We think about changes that could make us happier or more comfortable. Unfortunately, our wishes or dreams don’t seem to be enough to change our reality.
So, what can we do to turn those dreams into reality? How can we most effectively improve our lives? The answer is deceptively simple. We get more done, create positive change, and realize more of our dreams when we start with written, specific, and measurable goals.
In “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School,” Mark McCormack relates a study in 1979, where graduating students were asked whether they had set clear, written goals for their future, and made plans to accomplish them. Only 3% of the students had written goals and plans, 13% said they had goals, but not in writing, and 84% had no goals at all. Ten years later, the 13%, who said they had unwritten goals, were making twice as much as the 84% who had no goals, while the 3% with written goals were making ten times as much. Other studies have shown that people who set specific, written goals accomplish much more than those who don’t.
But, it’s not quite so simple. Here are a few guidelines if you want to tap into the power of goal-setting to improve your life.
- Your goals need to be specific. A goal of “I want to lose weight” is too vague. A specific goal like, “I want to lose 25 lbs.” is much better. The subconscious mind seems to connect to a specific number or amount, in a way that charges our motivation and determination.
- You need a deadline. You will be much more motivated by a goal of “I will clean out the closet by 5:00 Saturday,” than you will the goal “I will clean out the closet.” Try to make it a reasonable deadline, but set one.
- Make the goal measurable. This may be accomplished by making the goal specific, but it may not. There needs to be no question whether you met the goal. Anyone should be able to tell whether you succeeded.
- Determine a strategy to meet the goal. Make a plan. How do you plan to accomplish the goal? What are the intermediate steps you will have to take?
- Post the goal where you will see it. To be successful, you will need to be reminded of the goal. I’m sure that this is the reason someone invented refrigerator magnets.
- Tell a supportive, encouraging friend. Having an accountability partner can really help. They may be aggravating, but nonetheless helpful.
Give it a try. You have nothing to lose. See if goal-setting can work for you in changing your life for the better. And there’s no better time than the beginning of a new year!