Ringing in the new year is a time to reflect on our lives and to set up our own improvement goals. These resolutions often include ways we can improve our careers, whether it’s developing a new skill set, setting ourselves up to find the next opportunity, or networking more. But achieving these goals is easier said than done. Studies have shown that approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail, often by mid-February. These failures can happen from a variety of internal or external factors, from feeling overwhelmed or impatient to unexpectedly taking care of loved ones.
Making Your Resolutions Stick
No matter what situation may come your way, there are still ways you can set yourself up for success. Here are some tips to make you aware of potential pitfalls and how to make your resolutions stick.
1. You’re trying to do too much.
It’s pretty easy to reflect on the year and play the ‘what if’ game. What if I pursued that certification? What if I attended a local networking event? What if I spent two hours each week looking for new roles? These ‘what if’ scenarios can often bring a sense of urgency to correct the ship and to take on multiple resolutions at once. The problem with this scenario is that your attention is tied up in too many projects and you don’t have the time to devote to each goal effectively.
A better approach: Narrow down your focus.
Spend a few minutes to reflect on the one or two goals that are most important to you and build out an action plan that’s needed to achieve them. By narrowing your focus, you’ll be able to devote more time over the coming months and you’ll see progress at a faster rate.
2. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.
If you’re looking to make a significant habit change, you’ll need to accept that it’ll be a process. Although the I want it now! mentality is sexy, the truth is that it’s not effective and it’ll leave you feeling defeated.
A better approach: Take it slow and steady.
Pro basketball Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant was famous for his on-the-court skills. However, it was his work ethic that made him legendary. In one famous story during his career, Kobe once held a workout from 4:15 am to 11 am and refused to leave the gym until he made 800 shots. Kobe’s success was directly equated to his understanding that success isn’t quick and his commitment to respecting the process.
3. You’re thinking too much.
Has this ever happened to you? You reflect on a situation in your life and have identified the problem. You digest self-help books left and right only to realize that the same problem you tried to tackle three months ago still exists today. It’s the perennial self-help loop and for most of us—I bet—it’s common in our lives.
A better approach: Take action.
Although seeking inspiration and knowledge is important in your quest, it’s only helpful if you can realistically apply it to your life. Even if you don’t know all the answers, it’s important to take the first step and force yourself to be vulnerable.
4. You don’t track your progress.
When you tackle goals as a marathon and not a sprint, you may not see the fruits of your labor right away. And that’s okay. However, success isn’t defined from not achieving a goal to achieving it, it’s also the progress you’re making along the way. But if you’re not realizing that the hours you’re spending studying for a certification test will equate to a higher passing percentage or the connections you’re building with your employer will lead to a promotion, you may give up too quickly and feel discouraged.
A better approach: Define clear, action-oriented, and measurable goals.
In 2015, Benjamin Harkin, Ph.D., of the University of Sheffield and his colleagues sought to find out just how effective measuring the progress of goals correlates to achieving them. The team completed a meta-analysis review of 138 studies comprised of 19,951 participants in intervention or treatment programs relating to losing weight, quitting smoking, and changing diets. Their findings weren’t a shock. Those who monitored their progress were more successful.
You may not be trying to lose 30 pounds by December, but you can still set clearly defined goals to help track your progress.
5. You are scared of or resistant to achieving your goal.
Sometimes the things we want to achieve the most are the same ones that may seem the most out of reach. It may be because the goal feels too daunting or maybe it pushes us a little too much of our comfort zones than we’d like. It may also be the fear of failing and/or letting your supporters down. No matter the situation, it’s important to identify the root cause for wanting to pursue this goal and use it as motivation to embrace the uncomfortable.
A better approach: Be brave in your goal setting.
A few years ago, I presented a new project to a former boss of mine that I was convinced would revolutionize our team. I was nervous to shake things up, but felt like it was the best thing to do. Fast forward to six months later and the results were underwhelming, to say the least. I was frustrated, upset, and was a little perplexed by the results. After sharing my disappointment with my manager, he quickly asked, “Did you learn anything from your project?” After shaking my head yes, he chimed in, “Good. Then this project wasn’t a failure.” After hearing those words of affirmation, I used those lessons to bring greater value to my team that I wouldn’t have been able to do prior.
No matter what professional goal you’re trying to achieve, it’s important to recognize that there’s always a risk of failing. It might even be unachievable. And that’s okay. It’s more important to start the process and fail than to stand still and wonder. You might even be surprised at the result.