Setting Goals (Not Resolutions) for the New Year

December 31, 2014

One of my biggest fears in life is being older and looking back on my life and feeling a series of regrets -- regrets for all the things I wanted to do and didn’t. Over the last few years, I have started to look at what I can do about that.  Life is short and there will never be a perfect time to accomplish what I want to accomplish, so I'm now placing a greater emphasis on goal setting. And, with 2015 quickly approaching, what better time to start setting goals for next year?

Notice I said GOALS, not RESOLUTIONS which is what we typically think about at the start of the New Year. Resolutions indicate a change in the current way of living such as getting healthy or quitting smoking.  A goal has a measurable end result or outcome -- such as weigh 185 pounds or pay off my school loans -- that encompass all areas of life such as finances, career, family or social life, spirituality, physical health or fitness, etc.

So how do you set your goals so that you will have the most success?  Here are five strategies of goal setting: 

  • Write them down.

Writing down your goals will actually give you a better chance of achieving them.  It makes them more concrete.  It gives more of a commitment.  Write them on wide-ruled notebook paper using crayons or type them on your computers using different fonts (no comic sans please) but whatever you do, write down your goals!

Gail Matthews of Dominican University did a study on goal setting and found that those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals.  I personally have done this over the last two years and when I look back over the year, I actually have accomplished what is on the list including making a move back to Colorado and writing a children’s book.

  • Make them specific, measurable, and include a deadline.

What is the difference between these two goals?

a) I want to go on vacation.

b) I want to go to Australia in August 2015.

The second one is specific (it offers a place), gives a timeframe (when it is to be completed) and can be checked off when completed.  It also offers the ability to define clear action steps to start working on the goal since you have a location and a date.  You can start looking at the cost of the trip, asking for time off work and taking steps to save for the trip.

Here are some other examples of specific, measureable goals with a deadline:

Lose 15 pounds by the end of March instead of lose weight.

Pay off my American Express credit card with a balance of $8,000 by June instead of pay off debt.

Have a date night with my significant other every week instead of spend more time with my significant other.

  • Tell others.

You know what they say about making fitness goals -- if you work out with a friend, you are more likely to succeed.  Why?  You have someone who holds you accountable.  Someone who will nudge you in the right direction.  Someone who gives you the motivation of – they-would-be-REALLY-mad if they get up to walk with you at 5 am in the cold and you didn’t show up. The same is true of any goal.  Let others in and you are more likely to succeed.

In the study mentioned above by Gail Matthews, the participants were put into 1 of 5 groups:

Group 1 – Asked to think about their goal

Group 2 – Asked to write their goals down

Group 3 – Wrote goals and created action steps

Group 4 – Wrote goals, created action steps and told a friend

Group 5 – Wrote goals, created action steps and sent weekly progress reports to a friend

Which group had the most success?  You guessed it - number 5.

You want to know why I finished my children’s book?  It was because of these six words:  “How is the book coming along?”  These are the words my friend and asked me at least once a month.

  • Keep them where you can see them.

Writing your goals but then keeping them under several file folders on your hard drive is probably not going to help you accomplish them.  It’s not going to be helpful to write them and look at them for the second time at the end of the year to see what you wrote.  Find a place like your refrigerator, desk, car dashboard, or bathroom mirror to read them daily.  This will help drive your daily activities since your goals will be fresh on your mind.

  • Make them fun and interesting.

I recently put on Twitter that I wanted one unique goal on my goal list and asked for ideas.  One person said “scuba diving certification” and another said “rent a lamborghini."  Ironically my daily deals on Living Social the next day was a Lamborghini driving experience for one.  Maybe a Lamborghini experience was in my cards or Living Social has excellent marketing skills.  Regardless, goals that are interesting and compelling are going to be easier to accomplish.

Think “I want to go skydiving” versus “I want to make sure the trash is taken out every week.”  Make sure they are things you want to do, are interesting to you and not something someone else would want for you.

So, what is your dream?  Traveling to Europe?  Paying off that school loan?  Writing that book?  Learning how to knit?  Leave your dreams in the comments below. 

This post was written by Misty Hymel, a Field Education Representative for Colorado PERA. Would you like to submit a guest post to The Dime? Email us at dimecontact@copera.org