For the last five years or so, I have set goals for the new year in January and tried to realize them throughout the year. I’ve had goals like lose X pounds, write a book on topic Y, and read an Z number of books. My success rate has been somewhat underwhelming, to be frank.
The first reason for my lack of success was that I didn’t understand the power of habits and how they can make or break your new goals. I explored this crucial key to successful new year’s resolutions in a previous post.
But there was another reason: I didn’t consistently translate the goal into actionable items with a deadline.
I’ve discovered that this is actually key to executing my goals. For me, this is a three-step process.
Step 1: Create Year Goals
Step 2: Create Monthly Goals
The next step is to translate the big year goals into month goals. I don’t do this for the whole 12 months at once, but do it at the end of every month for the next month.
The key thought here is to ask yourself what steps you need to do next to get closer to your year goal. Let’s make this practical with an example.
Say your year goal is to ‘Invest in important friendships’. This is itself a vague goal, which is fine with me (though others will urge you to be more specific—I say do that works for you!). Because I focus on habits, I ask myself which habits I can develop in the next month to help me get closer to my goal. And I look for concrete actions I can do to grow as well.
So, for the next month this could look like: Invest at least two hours in the friendship with each ‘important’ friend. You may notice that this is still not a concrete action. You can’t put this on your to do list for instance, because it’s not an actionable item.
That’s where the third step comes in.
Step 3: Create Weekly Actionable Items
The third step is to translate your monthly goals into concrete, actionable to do’s on your to do list—and give them a deadline. It’s the only way to make sure your goals become to do’s and not just a pie in the sky.
For my example, this means putting some actionable items on my to do list, for instance: write friend X an email, set up a lunch date with friend Y, check if friend Z wants to go to the movies with me.
Do you see how this works? You take the lofty, somewhat broad and vague year goals and translate them into more specific goals for the next month. Then you translate these into concrete, actionable items on your to do list—and set a deadline.
Now, if you do what’s on your to do list, you will execute actions that help you realize your monthly goals and thus your year goals. That’s how you execute your year goals and make them a reality.
Why Not Make a Specific Year Plan?
Others say you need to make your year plan more specific, thereby skipping step 2 and 3. My problem with a year plan that’s already highly specific is that it boxes me in from the start. It feels inflexible to me—which it may not be, because you can always change your year plan when something doesn’t work, or when your circumstances change. But I’d rather keep my year plan the same, and simply change my strategies.
Also, and this is a more psychological reason, some research suggests that setting specific goals and communicating these to others makes you less likely to execute them. That’s because you already experience some satisfaction from visualizing the end result and thus lose motivation to get there.
I’m not saying this is cold, hard science, but I do think this is something that has hindered me in the past. Which brings me to my last bit of advice when it comes to executing your year goals: find a method, an approach that fits your personality.
I’m a highly structured person by nature, which means that a structured approach fits me well. I like the process of translating goals into smaller goals and then actionable items. Heck, I even have a color-coded system to keep track of my goals! For some of you, my approach may work and for others (the more chaotic types for instance—and you’re worthy and lovable as you are!) a different method is needed.
This may sound very postmodern, but I’m gonna say it anyway: experiment and find what works for you. Find ways to motivate yourself to reach your goals. Find methods that fit your personality and style and thus enrich your life, instead of creating friction. That may be a year goal in itself!
Do you have a certain approach or system for executing your year goals?
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