Tony Robbins says goal setting and achieving goals come down to two things: “You need a vision that’s large, and you need a plan that’s achievable”.
I’m guessing that you’re thinking about making your New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you’ve been looking in the mirror and decided you’ll lose a few pounds before spring. Or you’ve seen your bank account shrink over the last year and determined adding a few dollars each month won’t be a stretch, so you add saving $20 a week to the list. Maybe you’ve watched one of the “get healthy” TV shows and decided this year you’re going to get your diet under control and eat better. And who hasn’t passed the treadmill in the spare room and considered dusting it off and using it to exercise rather than a place to stack plants?
After Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, family and friends sit around the table rubbing their bellies and talking about how they are going to get on the latest diet after the first of the year. And everyone laughs, then shares their own commitment, all the while knowing it won’t get done. Everybody knows resolutions are just part of the year end celebration.
New Year resolutions are the quintessential perennial promise to yourself. In January you’ll put in a few miles on the treadmill, cut back on sweets, put an extra twenty dollars in the savings account, and make a few healthy meals. But by the middle of February you’ll start giving up on whatever goals you set so that by the end of the month, your life is back to normal.
Not that you weren’t sincere about your commitments to yourself. You intended to lose weight, start savings, eat healthier, and hit the treadmill. But the busy-ness of life puts the brakes on resolutions, grinding them to a halt.
What resolutions did you make last year? Did you resolve that you would do what you promised yourself? Did you commit to yourself that no matter what came into your life that you would accomplish your goals? By the end of the year, did you even get close to completing your objectives?
Let’s dig into resolutions.
The process is as important as reaching the goal
For a goal to be transformative, it needs to be big. Lose 10 pounds and no one notices. Lose a hundred pounds, and your friends and family will want to know how you did it.
When deciding upon your resolution look at the changes you want. It’s great to lose those unwanted extra pounds or to become a consistent saver or to eat healthy meals and exercise more. But it’s equally important to grow as a person. Have you ever known someone who has lost a lot of weight or made a lot of money who became unlikeable? Maybe they became egotistical or snide. Maybe they even looked down upon you?
While reaching a goal is important, so is becoming a kinder, stronger, more generous, loving person. As you strive to reach your goals, be sure you grow intellectually, physically, and spiritually so your life will benefit others.
Make your resolution achievable
Having a big vision in your goal setting is important. But resolving to do something that is so big, so ambitious, but it isn’t achievable is defeating. The result of having unachievable goals is you tear yourself down rather than build yourself up.
If you listen to people’s resolutions you will hear them overestimate their goals. Instead of a reasonable goal for a year, they chose something that will take years to accomplish. Losing 5 pounds a month takes effort, but it’s doable. But losing 10 or 15 pounds isn’t sustainable for most people. You don’t want to feel overwhelmed and end up quitting. It’s better to underestimate and succeed than to overestimate and fail. If you get discouraged about losing weight, you’ll end up grabbing a bag of Duritos to eat while you think about what happened to your “lose 20 pounds a month” goal.
Keep your focus on the positive reason for the goal
What is the why behind your goal? Knowing the answer to this question keeps you from falling off the rails when you feel the benefit of reaching your goal isn’t worth the effort.
So each day you want to focus on the realistic goal you’ve set using positive reinforcement. You should remind yourself by saying, “I’m exercising so I can have the energy to play with my kids,” rather than “I’m exercising because my goal is to work out every day just like my neighbor,” or “I’m saving $20 a week so I can have money in the bank,” instead of “I’m adding to my savings so my family has more security.”.
Using negative reinforcement isn’t a good motivator, either. If you say, “I need to lose weight because I’m afraid my spouse will leave me,” you are pushing your success or failure upon someone else. Or saying, “I have to exercise because I’m afraid I’ll have a heart attack,” isn’t taking responsibility. If you fear having a heart attack, make an appointment with a doctor to have your heart tested. If there is a problem with your heart, you can work with your physician to set realistic goals to resolve the condition, or at least make it better. Change your narrative from “I’m afraid of having a heart attack,” to “I’m exercising to reach a healthy weight and strengthen my heart so I will feel better and enjoy life more.”
Keep going after you’ve met your goal
A benefit of giving yourself big goals is, by achieving them, you set yourself up to making the next target even bigger. If you’ve lived a sedate life, you may feel running a 5k marathon is a big event in your life. You feel it will be a stretch, but you know you can succeed. After you’ve run a 5k marathon, you’ll feel excited and alive. And you’ll have the confidence to go to the next level and run a 10k then a 20k.
A trick to reach ever greater goals is reinforcing your thinking by reading biographies. Learning about people’s lives gives insight into their “why” and “how”. And knowing about how other people struggled and overcame obstacles will strengthen your resolve.
If you want to run marathons, read about Paula Radcliffe or Haruki Murakami. Or if you want to be a saver and investor, read the biographies of Warren Buffett or Mary Kay. Whatever your vision you for yourself, someone has already been there and shared their story. Take advantage of their success by reading their biography.
Don’t stress if you fall short of the goal
There is a risk when having a big vision for yourself: you might fall short. And that’s ok. Properly done, your ambitious resolution is transformative. You set a goal to call your adult children once a week just to talk. And at the end of the year, you realize some months you reached out to them once. But over the year, your bond with your children grew stronger. You and they are better for it. So even though you fell short of the goal, your life has transformed, and so has there's.
In closing, I want you to think of one more thing. Ask yourself, “How can I take my goal and make it even better?” For example, how can the simple goal of giving a kiss to your spouse each night be even more transformative? How about after giving a kiss and then telling partner one thing that makes her or him important to your life? Would telling someone 365 reasons he or she is special to you change your relationship? Do you think your spouse will love you more? What if your spouse did the same for you. Would your relationship undergo a life-changing transformation?
Having a big vision and achievable plan is transformative. Knowing the “why” of your vision will drive you to keep going until you reach your goals. And it will also change your thinking, your relationships, and maybe the world.