A month into 2016, do you still care about your goals as much as you did on January 1st?
Research conducted by the University of Scranton showed that of all the people in the US who regularly make resolutions only 8% of them manage to fulfil them.
I get that; last year I made five big yearly goals based around my freelance work and lecturing. By the end of the year, I’d only truly fulfilled one of them.
It wasn’t because I hadn’t tried. It was because I hadn’t set the goals in the right way.
But I only understood that at the end of the year, when it came to setting goals for 2016. The rest of the year I’d been tough on myself for not hitting those goals, even though I’d been doing loads of other stuff I really loved.
Reconsidering how and why I set goals before writing down my aims for 2016 meant I’ve been able to make goals which are not only achievable, but actually enjoyable too.
Here I’ll share with you what I’ve learnt from experience and reading so you can reclaim some of the same passion for your goals and enjoy fulfilling them throughout the year.
Find areas of focus, rather than SMART goals
All of my goals last year used the SMART method, which people generally think is a good way of making goals and helping you achieve them. The SMART method means your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
The problem is, life isn’t SMART. Lots of types of goals aren’t SMART. You can use SMART steps to achieve a goal (more on that later) but often our big goals aren’t going to fit neatly into these boxes.
I found that when I articulated my goals in SMART ways, I ended up doing the bare minimum to fulfil the terms of my goal’s ‘contract’. I didn’t really enjoy it either, as it felt like I was just ticking a box.
As an example, here’s one of my goals from 2015:
By the end of the year I will have written at least two blog posts a month from March to December on fashion, communication or sustainable business.
This felt like a huge chore. When I couldn’t write two posts a month I felt awful about it and when I did write two I wasn’t that excited because it was just part of my ‘to do’ list.
For 2016, I skipped the SMART description and looked at bigger areas of focus. Articulating my goals around these areas has made them much more enjoyable and – so far – immensely achievable.
The difference between the two is the scope of what your goal encompasses and the phrasing you use. Last year it was about “at least two blog posts a month”. This year, my goal is to:
Create meaningful content and an engaged audience on my website
By giving my goal a focus area I have the freedom to try a range of things to achieve it, rather than tie myself down to a specific output. And I’m focusing less on getting it done and more about whether I’m enjoying what I’m doing.
These sort of goals are about quality, not quantity – for what you’re achieving and the process of doing it.
Choose the right language to phrase your goals
As a writer I’m obsessive over which words to use and when – but in writing my goals for 2015 I now realise I didn’t consider language, and the impact it would have on my goal-getting process, as closely as I should have done.
Last year, the key verbs in my goals were things like “written”, “lectured” and “organised”; all accurate but pretty dull words. The language wasn’t inspirational or enjoyable, and so my goals weren’t either.
For 2016, I described my focus area goals much more carefully. The key verbs are “enjoy”, “reflect”, “develop”, “strengthen” and “create”; a set of inspiring words that also encourage direct action.
There are more words about what I’m gaining from the goals, like “experience” and “knowledge”, and more value-driven words (like “meaningful”).
Choosing the right language for your goals is very important to help you enjoy and achieve what you set out to do. You’ll remember your goals more easily, and you’ll be more interested in working on them if you feel enthused each time you read them.
Make goals across all areas of your life and give them equal priority
Often we set goals in work and education, as part of professional development, but very rarely do we set goals in every area of our life – including family, relationships, health or wellbeing.
Last year all my goals were about work and lecturing, and it meant that I missed out on friendship and personal growth. Reflecting on this, I decided two of my focus area goals in 2016 would be:
Develop my spiritual understanding and knowledge
Strengthen my family relationships and friendships
I chose these goals because they’re two areas I tend to neglect. I enjoy spending time by myself with my head stuck in something fascinating. Yet doing this too much means when I need to tap into that inner strength or external social circle, it’s not there.
These goals aren’t SMART and they’ve got nothing to do with work, but they will have a huge impact on my ability to achieve my other, professionally-focused goals and on my overall quality of life.
Setting focus area goals across all parts of your life, and giving them equal priority, is an important way to gain balance, replenish your energy and enjoy the complete goal-getting process.
Give yourself a head start with simple tasks
Setting goals using the SMART method can be limiting, but breaking down goals into simple, SMART-style tasks can be incredibly useful; the same University of Scranton research I mentioned at the start also found people who planned steps to achieving their goals were 10 times more likely to succeed.
I used this method last year, where I broke down each of my SMART-articulated goals into SMART tasks. Because the goals were a like a tick-list to start with, I found that I wasn’t excited by completing the tasks – I was a bit bored.
I also forgot to make all of my tasks completely SMART. More like SMAR.
I missed out the ‘time bound’ aspect because it can be hard to judge when you’ll be able to do something, or how long it might take. Because none of the tasks had time limits, I felt no urgency to do them while at the same time freaking out that I needed to do them now.
While I was achieving things by ticking tasks off, I never felt like I was achieving them.
From this experience, once I’d set my focus area goals for 2016 I created a series of simple SMART tasks which focused closely on the T and were designed to give me a head start on achieving my goal.
I set three SMART tasks for something which I could do…
- That day
- That week
- That month
- That quarter
- That year
…which would help me achieve my goal.
I found this process really helpful: I was brainstorming ways to fulfil my goals which I could use later on in the year, plus that day I did three things to help me get a head start on each of my big goals!
Taking a focus area goal and breaking into simple, SMART tasks is a useful way to get a head start on goals which can feel particularly nebulous in January – like setting small milestones for the rest of the year.
Reflect on your goals every day
When we’re setting goals for work or education, they tend to be quite far apart; three months is maybe the minimum gap for a PDP meeting. That means we return to our goals to reflect on them only four times in a year.
In 2015, I was reflecting in a similar pattern on my goals. I returned to them to reflect when there was a big change, or I had a spare half day.
Because they were so specific, so tick-listy and a little bit boring, I didn’t want to reflect on them too closely, so I often skipped it completely.
The result was that I didn’t really experience any joy in working on my goals, or any pride when I had hit small targets. It was only at the end of the year, when I was considering goals for 2016, that I finally saw what I had achieved and fully reflected on what I had been doing.
This year, my aim is to reflect on my goals – along with all elements of my life – on a daily basis through reflective writing. Plus, my focus area goals and simple SMART tasks are in a document I look at least three times a week.
By doing this, I’m regularly thinking about what I’m enjoying, what’s not working and what small milestones I’m passing, making the whole process of achieving the goal much more pleasurable.
My goals for 2015 were exactly what I needed that year to help me manage my work.
But what I learnt from them has helped me to create goals for 2016 which I actually want to achieve – and I feel like I am achieving them in a small way each day.
Here are the five ways to do the same:
- Switch to focus area goals
- Use inspirational, value-driven language
- Make equal-priority goals across each part of your life
- Get a head start with simple SMART tasks
- Reflect on your goals every day
To help you rethink your 2016 goals, I’ve created a free workbook to print out and fill in. It takes you step-by-step through each of the things I’ve learnt, plus gives you plenty of inspiration for setting goals.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear about your goals for this year and your progress – let me know in the comments or drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.