Finding resolve in your resolutions

Every year about this time, scores of people sit down to write out their goals for the new year — for their family, for themselves, and for their business. It is an important exercise that clears the cobwebs out and has the potential to jump-start real progress.

So why is it, according to the New York Post, most resolutions are abandoned within 32 days? Another study reported in Inc. magazine suggests we fall off the wagon by “Quitters Day,” Jan. 19. Holy tights, Batman, that sucks!

There are many reasons we lead with the best intentions and then bobble badly, including:

  • Lack of a clear vision of what it is you really want;
  • Not being realistic about where you’re starting from; and
  • Setting silly goals in the first place.

Consider my friend, Samantha. She has a vision of herself when she was in her mid-30s. She’s set a goal to lose 20 pounds this year and keep it off, so she looks like that again. She even has a photo of her mid-30-year-old self to help her manifest her goal.

On its surface, it may seem like a reasonable goal. The vision, however, has a few flaws to it. First, the reality is that Samantha is never going to be her mid-30-something self again. It doesn’t work that way. More importantly, she hasn’t zeroed in on what she’s yearning to recapture to have now. If I zoom the camera out on the picture, I see a frazzled young mom working a kajillion hours a week at that time. She may have been thinner but was much more stressed and pressed. What she really sees for herself now isn’t going back to that. She must fine-tune her vision and why she wants it.

Realism also comes into play. There are scientific facts that influence the probabilities of what is healthy. A lot depends on what physical shape and condition she’s in right now. If she’s been a couch potato, watching soaps and eating bonbons, there’s likely a lot of room for improvement. Conversely, if she consistently eats a healthy, junk-free diet and exercises well, the probability of major improvement looks a bit different.

Add to the fact that, throughout her entire adult life, her weight varies only within a relatively tight range. The 20 extra pounds arrived stealthily over a 20-year period. We joke about the “COVID-19” pounds of 2020, but we’re joking. Sure, she added a few more than she’d like, but they’ve backed down. She’s again within her relative range.

The reality is that Samantha is an avid and disciplined athlete, exercising a minimum of four times a week and she eats a well-balanced diet. The target goal of a 20-pound loss is, well, silly and, frankly, unhealthy for Samantha. Five or 10 is more realistic and healthier.

Does this feel familiar to you? It does to me, and I see it spill over into how we manage goal setting in our companies.

In a recent client strategic planning session, we were discussing what the vision and goals were for where they wanted to be at in five years. The leaders had worked together to come up with a list of what they wanted to accomplish. Their list was made up of the important tasks of things they wanted to do. The list was the means to an undefined end, focusing on what to do rather than what the end result was they wanted. They had gone directly to the “how” and blown by the “what” and “why.” This happens to us all from time to time and under the pressure of getting things done.

This tendency is the crux of “Quitters Day.” We set our goals without a clear vision of what it is we want to accomplish and why. As such, we sacrifice the buy-in to our own goals. Without buy-in, there are half-baked intentions and even lower motivation to hold ourselves accountable.

There’s still time. Reconsider your New Year’s resolutions and the business goals you have. Give yourself the space and structure to think about it like this:

  • Reconfirm and establish your time horizon. Are you goal setting for the year, like a New Year’s resolution, or is this planning more strategic, so you’re looking out on where you want to be in three to five years?
  • When you look out to your goal date, what does a “day in the life” look like? In your company, what do you want it to look and feel like? Are you working with the same customer, product, and/or location profiles? What does the face of the company look like? How are you interacting and functioning as a team? If it’s personal, envision a day in your life at that goal date. Take the time and close your eyes. See it. Feel it. Write it down as a stream of consciousness.
  • Review what you wrote and identify what needs to be accomplished to make that vision a reality. Be very specific.
  • Do a sanity check and ask yourself why this is important. Challenge your answer with repetitive “whys” so you get to heart of what you want to accomplish and why. For example, a company wants to double in size. Why? To be stronger in the market? Because it fends off the competitive threat of the industry roll-ups. So, why is that important? Because it brings more opportunity to serve your customers your way and provide security to your workforce. Why? Because it’s a circus out there and we need to retain our employees through better opportunities for their growth and well-being. And so on. Channel your inner 3-year-old and relentlessly ask “why?” until you clarify what the core purpose is for the goal.
  • Translate what needs to be accomplished by your goal date into specific, actionable, and measurable goal statements. Define them in ways that stretch you and the organization and are, with that stretch, attainable. Circle back to confirm that the goal statement, as written, is relevant to your vision.
  • Now consider what needs to be in place for the goals to be accomplished. If your time horizon was strategic, where do you need to be a year before your goal date? To meet that, where do you need to be a year before that? When you are within 12 months, start thinking about it in months or quarters. Break it down to manageable chunks that you and your team can begin to see “what” needs to be accomplished by when.
  • Now you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get to “how” you will accomplish the “what.” Assign tasks or projects to individuals with clear timetables and defined deliverables.
  • Have an accountability model. When we don’t have one, we set ourselves up for joining the masses on “Quitters Day.” When we know that we have to report back to someone on our progress, we are more likely to do what we need to. Set this up from the get-go.

The idea of being a quitter is distasteful for most of us. The surveys on sticking with our goals and resolutions, however, suggest that we can all do better. This is one framework that works, if you work it.

The question is — whether personal or business — will you?

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