As you can likely guess, the most common New Year’s resolutions are not work related, and they are usually anything but specific. They are: Exercise More, Diet and Save More Money. Now, imagine another common resolution — eating healthier — and doing that for six months and then giving it up. Is that a failure? How would you feel at the five-month mark if you had set that resolution in a previous year and quit at six months? Would you be motivated or would you be waiting to inevitably fail? What if you found you were eating healthier sometimes, but at other times you were a junk food junkie? Would that be success or failure? What if you fall of the healthy food wagon for a week? Is that it? What if you get back on track? Most people find it hard to stay motivated when they set such vague goals. Now, imagine setting a career resolution that can be even more open-ended. A goal like, “this year I will work smarter” probably won’t help you accomplish much in the long run.
By making your career resolutions as specific as possible, you will be much more likely to achieve them. Start by identifying specific examples of the kind of behaviour you want to achieve. Using the ‘work smarter’ example, you might say, “When I need a break at my desk, I will read a work-related article”, “I will let others know when I need to get back to work” and “I will volunteer for special projects”.
Next, be specific about how much you have to achieve for each goal to be a success. For example, you might say you will achieve a specific goal at least four days a week. This is like giving yourself a ‘cheat day’ on a diet. It allows you to achieve realistic results rather than unattainable perfect ones.
Finally, frame your career resolutions so that you can reach a point where you have achieved them overall. (You can always set new goals once you have done so.) For example, for the three ‘work smarter’ goals, you might say, “I will try this new strategy for a week to start.” With that accomplished, you can up your goal. Keep your timeline tight and realistic. You will know exactly where you are, and much more likely to keep going.
“Don’t be such a downer!” Well, that’s a motivating goal, isn’t it? When we want to do better or change our behaviour, we often think in terms of the negative thing we don’t like. However, thinking of ending a negative can keep your focus on something you least like about yourself. In subtle ways, it can get you down and actually be demotivating. Framing career resolutions positively is a better strategy. Let’s say you feel you get caught up in office gossip too much and you want to do less of that. Think of ways you can replace unhealthy conversations with positive behaviour. Instead of saying you are going to gossip less, you might say, I am going to find something positive to say about three different people everyday. When you focus on the positive, you will find you start to re-frame your whole mindset. It’s likely that you will be less inclined to want to engage in negative behaviour. Furthermore, not only will you have dropped a bad habit, you will have a gained a great new one.
Imagine you would like to achieve something in your career like getting a particular job or landing a promotion. You could turn that into a resolution — “This year I am going to work on getting that promotion.” If you truly want to achieve such a goal, it’s probably not enough to identify the end point. You need a plan to get there. You have to identify not just ‘where’ you want to get to, but ‘how’ you are going to get there.
- Part of your plan can simply be having more specific goals. For example, you might say, “I am going to take a specific relevant course in the next quarter.”
- You can also identify and set interim milestones or targets. For example, if you wanted to get professionally certified, you might identify the course work and the professional achievement requirements as separate sub-goals.
- You can set minimum and stretch goals. For example, you might say you are going to spend at least five minutes a day on reading work-related books and have a stretch goal to read for at least an hour. Having five-minute or even two-minute tasks as part of your plan is a great way to make sure you keep moving forward towards your overall goal.
The number one reason people don’t achieve their dreams is that they never start working on achieving them. Nike says, ‘Just Do It.” Even more basic, is “Just Start.” You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have everything figured out. Start with a small step. The main thing is to start. When you start towards a goal you have already overcome a major roadblock to success — inertia and tapped into a key aspect of achievement — momentum. So, start today. If you can, start right now. It doesn’t matter how small the step — just start.