Just like that, January is over. Now that it’s February, where is the list of goals and resolutions you set for yourself a month ago? Have you made progress towards any of them? Have you forgotten any of them?
With the best of intentions, we all strive to improve ourselves personally and professionally. But it can be very challenging to keep those efforts front-of-mind on a regular basis! Don’t get frustrated if you’re one of us who has lost track of the things we wanted to do better this year. In addition to clarifying exactly what you’re working on, the best tool for achieving it is finding an accountability system that works for you.
BE SMART ABOUT SETTING GOALS
In order to see meaningful growth, it’s important to focus on two or three goals per year. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to make too many changes at the same time. Download our SMART Goals Template to fill out for each of yours!
First, you have to get specific. Define what your ideal outcome is, and what success looks like. Second, decide how you will measure that you have achieved success in a clear and finite way. Ensure that this goal is truly attainable for you by evaluating the obstacles that may stand in your way, and making a plan from the beginning to overcome each of them. Who can you ask for help? How can you avoid the pitfalls? Last, it’s important to know the true reasons motivating you to accomplish each goal. Why is it relevant for you to bring in additional income, or why do you want to lose weight? If you can focus on making progress to improve your health, or to be able to participate in an activity that now feel overwhelming to you, you’re more likely to stick with your plans than if you are just watching numbers on a scale. If the reason you want additional money this year is to plan an exciting international adventure next year, you’re more likely to find motivation to work harder than if you’re simply tracking your bank account balance.
Once you’ve gotten clear on what you’re working towards and why, map out a timeline for the specific action steps that you need to take to make progress. Is planning meals at the beginning of each week going to help you eat healthier and support a fitness goal? Is reaching out to five prospective clients every day going to help you fill your leads funnel in support of a sales goal? Set dates that you need to have crossed each milestone in order to move the needle in the direction you want to go.
Use these action steps to create habits around the things that will move you towards your goal. Schedule regular time to work on the things you know need to happen to achieve each goal – add it to your calendar and dedicate that time to pursuing your goal! It’s also helpful to set aside ten minutes once a month to review your goals and recap the progress you have made. Sometimes this calls for a celebration, and sometimes it is motivating to realize you haven’t made as much progress as you’d like, and you need to set aside more time to focus on your action steps in the coming weeks.
The most effective way to hold yourself accountable to anything is to find a community to support your efforts to follow-through on your commitments. According to the Association for Talent Development (formerly the American Society of Training and Development), the likelihood that you will achieve your goal increases by 95% when you have a specific commitment to another person related to working on that goal! This may mean joining(or creating) a group intending to share goals and highlight progress on a regular basis, or just finding one person you trust to encourage you.
There are also two approaches to motivation, and I’ve found that each of us tends to respond best to one of them. Some people are driven by rewards – their motivation is contingent on earning a treat, while others are more motivated by the need to avoid negative consequences.
One of the women in a goal-setting workshop I led last year had a creative approach to this that motivated outstanding results. She decided that she wanted to train for a marathon, and throughout our course she selected the race she wanted to run, researched the training she wanted to do, and mapped out a calendar of workouts that she needed to complete every week leading up to the race. We discussed accountability partners, and since she didn’t have anyone in her life willing to commit to the same rigorous workout schedule, she came up with a personal plan built around avoiding negative consequences. This lady is very liberal and actively engaged in several democratic forums. She found a colleague who identifies with conservative politics, and wrote him a check for $1,000. She gave him a copy of her training calendar, and told him that any week she did not complete all of the scheduled workouts, he was to write a $50 contribution to any conservative cause he wanted. At the end of the training, she would get back whatever money he didn’t spend. These stakes may sound high to some of you, but guess what – there was only one week that she did not complete all of her planned workouts, and she completed the marathon and got back $950!
In his book The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson explores the idea that you are either moving forward (making progress creating the life you desire), or moving backward (not making progress). He challenges his readers to make decisions that will move them towards their goals, no matter how small of an effort it is. What can you do today that will take you forward – even if it’s in tiny incremental steps? Any movement forward is positive!