Get more out of the New Year's Resolution

Tuesday, 31 Jan 2023

The New Year has come and gone and it is a bit of a cultural habit to set some goals for the next 12 months. This article is designed to help you and your children take that step from wishes to reality. 

You may have heard of the dinghy metaphor before when it comes to goal setting and getting results. To move that dinghy in the direction and with the speed you want to you need to use both the rudder and the oars. The rudder is your goal setting tool it focuses on that target but it is nothing without the momentum or the pull of the oars (the system or that set of actions). 

Some simplified examples are:

  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a PB at the park 5k run at the end of summer. Your system is your training schedule for the month using interval running techniques daily but also do a 5km run each week until the big day.
  • If you are a student your goal is to move that “C” in Maths to a “B”. Your system is to get specific feedback from your teacher each lesson and then practice that one skill for 30 minutes that night.

In all these cases you are setting a defined goal that you wish to achieve but you are also breaking up into daily actions a system that can make progress towards that goal. 

Goals are useful for setting the direction. Systems are great for actually making progress. In fact, the primary benefit of having a goal is that it tells you what sort of system you need to put in place. However, the system itself is what actually achieved the results.

There are many ways to develop goals and to create a system to focus on improvement but I believe the first step is to articulate what those goals are and then be prioritise (be ruthless) what are your top 3. If you have too many more than 3 you are diluting your actions. From that step a system is required. You need to take time for your research here because that effort of “rowing” needs to yield results.

Research has shown that you are up to three times more likely to stick to your goals if you make a specific well researched plan for when, where, and how you will perform your behavioural change. These goals and this system need to be written down (on your phone, or on a piece of paper stuck to the bathroom mirror or in a journal that you read every day).

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. That study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. With that knowledge, you can create change using your systems and make them habitual within a couple of months. 

The last part of any goal setting is also to evaluate your progress. It is important to track your success towards that goal. Finally, I will mention the most commonly used acronym

SMART. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) these are a great way to set goals because the expectations are clear, and it is easy to visualise what success looks like. 

What most goal-setting process don’t take into account are the potential pitfalls. I will address these with some dot points as they are mostly self evident.

  • Fear of success and/or failure (what if you actually attain your goal? What if you don’t?)
  • Lack of understanding about the goal-setting process (is my goal clear, attainable and SMART?)
  • Lack of commitment to the goal (Is this goal really in my top 3?)
  • Inactivity (does binging another show on Netflix actually help me?) 
  • Analysis paralysis (action in your system more important than analysis of the measurables)
  • Lack of a real destination (you need to commit to that goal. This is the first step!)
  • Failing to plan (you need that system. Do your research and create the plan - it is the oars of the dinghy)
  • Having too many goals (you will lose focus if you have too many)
  • Feeling unworthy of the end result (you are worth it - the only person you can change is yourself)
  • Lack of motivation to change (start your plan today!)

I challenge you to take that New Year’s resolution and move it to a goal and a system over the next two months and see where you finish up. 

Nick Johnstone