It is deeply appealing to see a brand new year stretched out ahead of us like an expansive field of fresh snow, not a footprint in sight. We set bold bright resolutions for ourselves, personally and professionally. This year will be different. The trouble is, by mid January, that once-virgin field is already a confused patchwork of tracks heading every which way. The horizon of possibility has closed in. We've lost our sense of direction along with that burst of renewed energy. Those resolutions that seemed so imperative only a few weeks ago lie buried beneath some snowdrift.
Why is it that so many of our New Year's goals are never realized? According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the likelihood of achieving our goals depends on HOW we set ourselves up.
Identify a goal: 6-8%
And write it down: 25-30%
And share it out loud: 55-60%
And enlist an accountability partner: 85%
Most of us complete the first step, and maybe the second. Then we keep our goal a carefully guarded secret until we can show the world we've made some concrete progress. No wonder we're not ultimately successful. I wouldn't bet on 30%, would you?
Setting a goal implies that you know where you want to go. That’s only partially true. The beautiful thing about actively pursuing a goal is that it can lead you into unforeseen territory. I’m reminded of Goethe’s famous quote on commitment, except that in my research I learned that the part I was recalling wasn’t even written by Goethe but by W.H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951. No matter. I’m sure Murray knew a thing or two about the role of commitment in extreme mountaineering.
“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too…a whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”
This last year I set an ambitious goal for my business. It required an elaborate plan and being very public in the execution of that plan. The goal and the plan completely fell through. Yet there were providential “unforeseen incidents” that were born of that commitment. Once I recovered from my disappointment, I realized I now had time to pursue another significant opportunity, namely creating marketing videos for our signature programs, EQuest and SeaQuest. That project in turn forced my team to finalize our curriculum, clarify the message, and solidify the brand. We are now in a much stronger position than we would have been had the original goal been accomplished. Go figure.
Here are a few additional goal-setting tips:
Draw a clear picture of success. This can be through articulating a goal in a SMART format: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound. It can also be accomplished through answering some basic questions: What will success look like? What do I need to do differently? What resources do I need to do that?
Build infrastructure that will provide extrinsic support when your own willpower inevitably flags: join an exercise group, enroll in a course, work with a fitness/executive/life coach. (One reason coaching can be so productive is that the necessary steps to move from a success rate of 6% to 85% are embedded into the coaching process itself.)
Keep it simple: focus on one goal at a time, maybe two, and never more than three.
Let’s raise our glasses and join Goethe in the words that are indeed his:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
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