2 Secrets to Keep on Track with Your New Year’s Resolutions

In my last blog I talked about three tips to help you stay on track to achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Now that you are a few weeks into the process, you might be struggling a little bit, so let me make another suggestion. Over the years, I’ve realized that the people who have the most trouble accomplishing goals and sticking with resolutions are the people who are the busiest. The problem with these people is that too often they go through the motions of day-to-day busy work instead of focusing on the most important things first.

You have probably heard the theory that we all have two selves—the external, task-oriented self that focuses on getting the job done, and the internal, thoughtful, reflective self that considers things before acting. The task-oriented self is the first to wake up in the morning, of course, and is only focused on task achievement. You read email while you are eating breakfast, then jump in the car, head to the office and start attacking your to-do list in order to get everything checked off before you go home. It’s so easy to get caught in this kind of activity trap—you’re so busy doing urgent but unimportant tasks you don’t have time to think about the important goals you may have set.

So how do you get out of this trap? How do you help yourself focus less on task achievement and more on goal achievement? I suggest that in the morning, instead of jumping out of bed and right into task achievement, you enter your day slowly and thoughtfully. Take 20 or 30 minutes to think through what you really need to accomplish for the day. Remember how I suggested you write down your New Year’s resolutions and read them every day? Now is the perfect time. Look at your resolutions to see where they can fit into the day’s plan. Entering your day slowly gives you the opportunity to plan your day out so that you can both accomplish your tasks and fit in time to work toward your resolutions.

Then, at the end of the day before you go to bed, jot down a few notes about your day in a journal. If you don’t want to take the time to write in a journal, at least give yourself the gift of thinking about your day for a few minutes. What did you do during the day that was consistent with your New Year’s resolutions, and what got in the way? Soon you’ll be able to spot both positive and negative patterns so that you can make changes in your schedule to get yourself back on track toward goal achievement.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to spend twenty minutes in the morning to plan and more time at night to reflect.” But I guarantee that if you take that little bit of time, you’ll set yourself up for success in achieving your goals—and your New Year’s resolutions. And you know what? You’re worth it!

3 Tips for Achieving Your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions

I read an article recently stating that 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions are not met. I wasn’t surprised by that figure because of two very common facts:

  • Accomplishing the goal is usually more difficult than we think it will be
  • We rarely ask for help from others who can support us

That’s why it makes so much sense to use the three principles of Situational Leadership® II—goal setting, diagnosis, and matching—to make your New Year’s resolutions stick. This highly successful model for setting and achieving work goals applies to reaching personal goals, as well.

For years, I’ve shared the benefits of writing SMART goals. I truly believe this acronym provides a powerful method for making sure your goals are Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. So I’m not going to go over the best way to write goal statements today. Instead, I’m going to strongly suggest, once the goal is determined, that you write it down. Sounds simple, right? In the working environment, writing goal statements are usually part of a performance planning process. However, many times when people are setting personal goals, they think about what they want to do but they don’t write anything down. If you can’t make the effort to write it down, you probably won’t be committed enough to actually change a behavior.

Write each goal on a separate sheet of paper and read each goal every day. It won’t do you any good to write something down and file it away. When you read your goal statements each day, you remind yourself of your priorities and match your behavior to meet the goals—or adjust your behavior if goals are not being met. This simple process will help you be accountable for your own goal achievement. I read my goals first thing in the morning, just to get my day off to the right start and get myself in the right frame of mind.

Next, it is important to diagnose your development level on each goal. What is your competence (your skills and experience) and what is your commitment (your motivation and confidence) to this goal? Once you determine your competence and commitment, you need to ask for help.

For example, let’s say you are excited about your goal but are not competent yet. You are an enthusiastic beginner and need to find a helper who can coach you—someone who can provide a lot of direction on how you can achieve this goal. If you lack competence and confidence on a goal, you are a disillusioned learner. In this case you need a coach to provide direction as well as a supporter to cheer you on. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the same person. If you know how to achieve your goal but your commitment varies, you are a capable but cautious performer. In this case, you need extra support to help you stay committed but you don’t need much direction. Finally, let’s say you have both high competence and high commitment to the goal. A self-reliant achiever, may not even need to write the goal down—you are well on your way to goal achievement.

The third step is called matching. This means finding the right person or group of people to help you reach your goals. You may have different helpers for different goals because you want to choose people who will offer the right combination of direction and support for you. For example, if you set a goal to exercise three times a week, find a friend who is already dedicated to exercising and is willing to join you at the gym instead of one who rarely laces up walking shoes.

Be systematic about checking in with your helpers. Set up a specific time each week to talk about how you are progressing. This can be as simple as a ten-minute phone call or even a quick text. Or use the check-in as a way to get face to face with your main supporters. How you get together doesn’t matter—what you talk about is the biggest factor that will keep you on track toward achieving your goals. I often ask people, “What is the best diet?” Of course, the answer is “The one you stick with.” Think of these check-in meetings as the way to stick to your plan.

So, don’t fall into that 92 percent failure group. Set yourself up for success by setting your goals, diagnosing your development level, and surrounding yourself with helpers who will provide the right amount of direction and support to help you flourish throughout the year!

One Minute Goals: Are You Keeping Score?

In The New One Minute Manager, Spencer Johnson and I share that setting One Minute Goals begins with the belief that everyone is a potential winner. They just need to understand what they are being asked to do and what good performance looks like.

When setting goals, managers work side by side with each direct report to write a goal statement for each of their areas of responsibility, including the standards that will be used to evaluate their performance. This provides clear direction on what the direct report needs to accomplish and how they will know they have done a good job.

Ensuring that direct reports have a way to monitor their own performance and measure progress is an important component of motivation. To explain the motivating nature of creating clear goals, in the book we share a story we heard from Scott Meyers, a longtime consultant in the field of motivation.

One night when Scott was bowling, he saw some people from an organization he previously had worked with. Everyone in this group had been described as disinterested and unmotivated. Meyers watched as one of the men who had been identified as unmotivated approached the line and rolled the bowling ball. Soon he started to clap and jump around with delight. Meyers had never seen the man so animated. Why do you think he was so happy? Because he got a strike and he knew he had performed well.

Meyers contends that the reason people in organizations are not clapping and jumping around at work is, in part, because they aren’t always clear about what is expected of them. In bowling, this would be like rolling the ball down an empty lane without any pins at the end. With no pins to knock down, there is no goal and no performance to measure. That wouldn’t be much of a game, would it?

Yet, every day in the working world, people are bowling without pins. As a result, they can’t tell their manager how they’re doing. When managers assume wrongly that the people on their team know what the goals are, no one is set up for success.

Never assume anything when it comes to goal setting. Set your people up for success by working with them to write clear One Minute Goals. Then check in occasionally and see how they are scoring. Keeping goals top of mind will help people focus on the important work and achieve higher levels of performance.

A New Twist on SMART Goals

Business man pointing to transparent board with text: Goals forThis is the season when many companies begin to prioritize strategies for the coming year. Those strategic plans usually involve setting goals for departments as well as individuals. But how much time do you really spend defining clear, measurable goals? Most leaders agree with the importance of setting goals, but many don’t take the time to work with their people to clearly develop goals and write them down. As a result, people tend to get caught in what I call an “activity trap” where they are busy working on projects—but not necessarily the most important projects.

We’ve all heard the term SMART goals. Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements in the SMART acronym, which we define as:

S = specific

M = motivating

A = attainable

R = relevant

T = trackable

Here’s the twist: I’m going to ask you to think of this familiar acronym in a new way—as STRAM. Why STRAM? Because the most effective way to write a goal statement is to start with the Specific and Trackable elements first.

  • The leader should describe the Specific goal and when or how often it needs to be accomplished.
  • Now the leader needs to make sure the goal is Trackable.  How will progress or performance be tracked or measured?

To give you an example, take a look at these two similar goal statements.

  1. Produce monthly financial reports.
  2. Submit accurate and timely financial reports on a bimonthly basis for the next 12 months as measured by end user feedback.

Which of these is the SMART goal? The second one. Why? The first is a goal statement, but it isn’t specific or trackable. The second goal statement provides precise outcomes for accurate and timely financials on a bimonthly basis. And the results will be measured by end user reports. So the second goal is specific and trackable.

Once the S and T are in place, the leader and team member can review the other three elements—Relevant, Attainable and Motivating—to check if the goal is truly SMART.

  • The leader has the responsibility for making the goal Relevant by ensuring the goal is important and that accomplishing the goal will make a difference to the organization.
  • The leader and team member work together to make sure the goal is Attainable. It must be realistic and achievable. When a goal is too difficult to accomplish, people may give up—but when it is too easy, people tend to procrastinate.
  • Ultimately, each team member determines for themselves if the goal is Motivating by considering if it is exciting and meaningful. Will it drain energy from their work experience or add enjoyment? Will the goal help build competence, relationships, or autonomy?

If you take some time up front to write SMART goals, your team will be able to focus on the most important projects that will support not only organizational goals but also each team member’s personal needs. This will create an energized and motivating work environment that supports both great results and human satisfaction—a winning combination for success.

What are America’s key national goals?

(This is the sixth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America)

In the past several weeks, I have gone into detail about the first secret our government leaders need to know to improve our system in Washington:  Have a compelling vision.  For a compelling vision to endure, all three elements—a significant purpose, a picture of the future, and clear values—are needed to guide behavior on a day-to-day basis. A perfect example of this is the way Martin Luther King, Jr. outlined his vision in his “I Have a Dream” speech. By describing a world where his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he created powerful and specific images arising from the values of brotherhood, respect, and freedom for all—values that resonate with those of the founding values of the United States. King’s vision continues to mobilize and guide people beyond his lifetime because it illuminates a significant purpose, provides a picture of the future, and describes values that resonate with people’s hopes and dreams.

Once you have a clear and compelling vision, you can establish goals that help people determine what they should focus on right now. In his book Educating Voters for Rebuilding America, Jack Bowsher suggests six potential national goals that would achieve the picture of the future he proposes:

  • Peace with strong defense and Homeland Security systems
  • Prosperity and a rising standard of living with high level of employment
  • Adequate and affordable health care system for all
  • Superior and affordable education systems
  • Efficient and affordable government
  • Decent retirement for senior citizens

I think Jack is really on to something with these goals. I would love to see each of our presidential candidates identify the key goals he wants to accomplish nationally, and then spell out his plans and programs to achieve those goals. Rather than debates, candidates could participate in goal accomplishment sessions: First they would have to agree on the key goals to accomplish in the country within the next four years, and then each would give his own strategies to achieve each goal.

Wouldn’t you love to hear our candidates lay out their specific goals for America and then clearly explain how they expect to accomplish those goals? Do you think this idea is realistic, unrealistic, optimistic, idealistic, or something else?

Next time, we will move on to the second secret for how our leaders in Washington can turn things around:  Treat citizens as their business partners.