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New Year, New Thoughts – How to Set Goals that Matter and Drive Change that Sticks

It’s a New Year and by now most people are rolling back into the office in a mix of holiday highs and New Year dread. Inboxes are flooded with newsletters capitalizing on New Year resolutions, as are the TV ads that talk about the magic powders and pills that will magically help you drop 7 kilos in a matter of weeks!

Even if you are not the New Year resolution type, it is hard not to be reflective as the start of a new year brings new beginnings. For years I have had a mixed relationship with goal setting, clear that it has helped me consciously create my year ahead (and life) as opposed to unknowingly allowing the current of life take me where ever it pleases.  My challenge, like most people, is I have set goals that have been a struggle to stay committed to and felt the frustration of letting myself down.

So, I thought I would share some of the things that I now do as part of my New Year goal setting and planning process.

Step 1 – Take a top line view and ask yourself some bigger picture questions about the road ahead in 2015….

  • What is your word or theme for the year?

  • What is important to you – know your values and ensure your goals move you toward them

  • What are you learning in 2015?

  • Who do you invite onto your Team as an advisor/mentor or to help you achieve your goals?

  • How will you make 2015 simpler?

  • How will you make 2015 bigger?

The above process was shared with me by one of my Mentor Matt Church. I love the ‘balcony’ context it provides in helping you take a helicopter view of the year ahead.

Step 2: Get clear about the areas of focus for the year ahead.

We take clients through a simple and awesome process called the Wheel of Life, which is one of the first ever, personal development processes I was involved in. This radically changed my view on ‘life’ and helped me to see my life as more than ‘just my career’ and reflect on what else I wanted to achieve in the year ahead.

YPWA are running a webinar that will take you through this process on 4th Feb – Details and registration can be found at .

Step 3 – A cliché I know but I have only just grasped the absolute importance of SMART goals.

Create a SMART goal and put it through a rigorous testing process. It is often in the setting of the goal that many people set themselves up to fail. I am going to share my thoughts on this

S = Specific – State exactly what you want to achieve, it’s all about the W’s – Who, What, When, Where. It is important that you are very clear about what you want to achieve i.e. Work distraction free (no emails, phone calls, social media, meeting or people) for 60 minutes once a day. The importance of specificity is the ability to be certain about the goal and not waste time thinking about if you are making progress or not on the journey towards achieving the goal.

M = Measureable – This is essentially the answer to the objective question, “how will you and someone else know you have successfully achieved your goal”? I.e. 60 minutes once per workday. How can you measure your starting point and end goal?

A = Achievable – You want to set a goal that you can achieve based on the person you are, the nature of the habit you are wanting to change and the environment you operate in. We often caution people about setting radical targets or ‘stretch’ goals when undertaking this process. Stretch goals have largely been discounted as a strategy as most people not only failed to achieve these goals because the end point was simply unachievable, these people also became so disheartened that they lose faith and confidence in their ability to sustain change. Far more success is achieved with smaller shifts such as 5%. One of the fundamental premises behind our sustainable behavior change methodology is small steps. Why 5%?

The chances of a smaller change sticking are higher and the brain energy required to navigate the process to where it is easy (self-regulation) is lower. This increases the chances of success and with that the potential for you to implement a second 5% shift 3-6 weeks later. So instead of committing to getting up and running 5 mornings a week, we may water it down to twice a week for the first step. The ability to make those these initial two runs a week a priority against the backdrop of everything else going on will increase when the number is smaller which increases the probability of sustainability. Repeated over 3-6 months you may easily find your self running every morning but it will feel easy and sustainable.

R = Relevant. Here ask yourself the question why am I doing, this what is the purpose? The importance of this one is HUGE. Unless the goal is relevant in an important way to your journey, why bother at all, because of the significant physical, emotional and mental energy required to achieve success. This is all about the why and without a compelling reason, motivation is likely to wane. Make sure your ‘why’ matters.

T = Time Bound, By When? This is all about setting a completion date or deadline. Again be realistic with this date and perhaps even set small goals or milestone dates so that you can achieve success on a more frequent basis.

Step 4 – Set Yourself up for Success

The goal setting part is easy – the making it happen is when roadblocks can get in the way. I have shared some of my favorite tips that have helped clients really make traction in achieving their goals and drive sustainable behavior change.

  • Chunk the goal down into milestones, so the way forward is visible and achievable. I like to take annual goals and break them down into 3 x 90 day periods. From this I essentially plan each month or so. There are some schools of thought that say you should start at the end and work backwards, in my experience it’s rare that I can step out the way forward in detail in the beginning – often the way reveals itself over time.

  • Ask for help, one of my words for 2015. It has taken me awhile to embrace this concept having learned over my career that getting things done on your own was perceived as a strength whilst asking for help a weakness. When you reframe this to understand that we can achieve more and have a greater impact in life, and on others, if we ask for help combined with the fact that helping makes people feel good.

  • Hold yourself accountable and make it as easy as possible to be successful – utilize all the resources available to make this happen ie apps, friends, facebook, peers & colleagues. I also like to complete weekly or monthly reviews to make sure I am on track.

  • Don’t stretch too much at once – If I know some goals will be challenging to achieve I select one – set that as the priority focus for a set period. For example every February I participate in a community cleanse where we spend 4 weeks investing in our health and well-being. During this time I manage other areas of focus in my life proactively so that I will not be tested too much that may result in compromising this goal.

  • Think about roadblocks and be proactive in building strategies to remove them early. What could the roadblocks or barriers to success be, with regards to this specific behaviour change? What are some of the scenarios that could come up and make it hard for you to stay committed? The opportunity to think about these scenarios in advance rather than react in the moment will increase your chances of success.

  • Measure your progress. The ability to track progress through measurement is important and there are loads of smart phone applications (e.g. Lift) that allow you to ‘check in’ to stay committed and accountable to a goal.

  • Modify if required – If success is a challenge, get real about what’s going on with you and the environment. If it feels you are likely to give up, review the intensity of the goal and scale back. Remember achieving our goals is not always, and in fact rarely a straight line to success, sometimes we have to zig-zag our way to the top. For example if daily is tough review the A (achievable) in your SMART goal and consider scaling back to 2 or 3 times a week.  The goal is success that sticks.

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