By now, most of our New Year’s resolutions are long lost memories. How long did it take you to abandon your goals? A study by Strava, a social network for athletes, identified January 12th as the day when people start failing their resolutions. If highly motivated runners, cyclists and swimmers abandon their goals by mid-January, how can the rest of us turn our wishes and desires into actionable goals?
There is no right way to create new habits or achieve your goals. My personal experience is that using a combination of different strategies is effective. In 2016, I set a goal to run a half-marathon. I worked with a running coach to set up a training plan. We also spent time at the outset exploring why running this race was important to me. My goal adhered to the principles of SMART. My coach encouraged me along the way and helped keep me accountable.
The key to effective goal setting is measurability. According to author and motivational speaker, Jack Canfield, without a way to measure our progress, a goal is simply something we want, a wish, a preference, a good idea. Unfortunately, goal setting involves a bit more than simply saying you want something to happen. To improve your chances of success, you need to define what you want and know why you want it.
Get Smart (Goals) in 2019
In 1981, George Doran, a corporate business consultant, developed the main principles of SMART goal-setting. Goals needed to have 5 key elements: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
So, if 2019 is the year to find a new job, you’ve got to:
- Specific: the kind of job, salary, location and, whose help you may need?
- Measurable: what are the milestones to finding your next job? How many phone calls/meetings/networking events do you need to achieve?
- Achievable: do you need to acquire new skills to get this job? How will you get them?
- Relevant: how is a new job relevant in your life, for example, will it bring a higher income or lead to better career prospects?
- Timeline: what’s your deadline for acquiring the needed skills or contacts to start your job hunt?
What’s the Science behind SMART?
- Turn the goal into a habit. Convert “goals, wishes and ideas” into habits by being consistent in working toward your resolution. This new behaviour will eventually take over from the former routine.
- Change the environment. We associate a specific environment with a specific behaviour. A change of surroundings may just the thing to help break a bad habit and rewrite a better one in its place.
- The dopamine advantage. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter that our brain releases when we get what we want. Break larger goals into smaller ones. Each time we hit a sub-goal, it feels good. We get a dopamine hit and that motivates us to keep going and eventually reach the bigger goal.
Another way to reach our goals is to ask for help. Many elite athletes and successful businesspeople work with coaches. As a team, the client and coach can set achievable goals. Coaching holds you accountable. You now have someone who knows what you have committed to and acts as an accountability partner.
“The greater the awareness of why your goal is important to you, the greater your chance of success,” says Danielle Miller, a Toronto-based executive coach. “When you arrive at your own insights, your brain literally creates new neuropathways and releases a rush of endorphins, like adrenaline, which motivates you to take action.”
Miller highlights the importance of spending the time up-front when setting goals. In her experience, people want to rush to the next step, “How am I going to get there?” Before you set a goal, you should get clear on a few important facts.
- Whose goal is it? When it is somebody else’s goal for you, you’ll likely drop the goal.
- Why does this goal matter?
- How will achieving this goal make my life better?
- Why now? What’s changed to make it timely?