In the media, the new year is the time for resolutions: promises you make to yourself. If you’re like most of us, these promises are ultimately broken, usually before winter turns to spring.
I’ve historically done something different: every year, usually on New Year’s Eve itself, I come up with a motto for the coming year. Usually it’s very broad and doesn’t mean anything. Past years’ mottos included “there you go” and “acknowledge and move on.” Not exactly earth-shattering stuff, but mildly amusing.
But there’s one other annual opportunity to affect positive change in your life that works better than a resolution or mantra, and it all starts with a few pieces of paper.
Start With a Review
Go somewhere quiet and bring with you a pen and a notepad. The first thing you want to do is to review your past year. Start with 10 things you accomplished or did well this year. Then list 10 things you wanted to accomplish but didn’t, and what you could improve.
Be honest with yourself. It’s hard to write things like “didn’t meet any new potential girlfriends” or “over-ate far too much and gained 50 pounds,” but seeing it in black and white is sometimes the trigger you need to set positive change in motion.
Set Workable Goals
Now make a new list of goals. How many depends on the difficulty of the goals, as well as your ability to stick to a plan to accomplish them. Again, be honest here, and err on the side of fewer goals. If you achieve all of these goals in three months, you can always set more!
Goals can be personal or professional, and as small or large as you like, as long as you can reasonably expect to achieve them. Some starting points:
- Begin and maintain a workout program to lose weight or build muscle.
- Eat a healthier diet through grocery lists and recipes.
- Upgrade your appearance through new clothes and grooming habits.
- Travel to one or more foreign countries.
- Create something.
- Improve your job skills or start a business.
- Take classes to learn a new skill or hobby.
- Make a difference by helping those less fortunate.
- Improve your living space.
The goals you set must be positive: you should feel good when you accomplish them. In fact, you should feel good while you’re on your way to accomplishing them. Nothing great comes without some sacrifice, but unless you’re used to sacrificing for future benefits, make it easy on yourself.
Plan for Success
Now that you know what you want to do, it’s time to plan how you’re going to do it. On a separate sheet of paper, break each goal down into steps. The first step must be something you can do right now to advance towards that goal.
For example, the first step to beginning a fitness program might be to put on your sneakers and walk one mile around the neighborhood. The first step to improving your job skills could be to look up the job description for the ultimate position you want, and then select one qualification to sharpen.
From that first step, each successive step should be just as easy to accomplish. Break the goal down into as many steps as you need to make each one easily achievable.
Finally, visualize the day when you achieve the goal. How will it feel? What will you do then? Your goals should support the ultimate single goal of improving your life, and you should be able to picture that.
Remember that your goals and steps aren’t set in stone. If you discover something’s missing, put it in there. If it isn’t making you as happy as you thought, or isn’t taking you where you want to go, there’s no crime in setting it aside and focusing on a different goal. Review your goals often, note your progress, and remember to reward yourself for a job well done.
You should look forward to the whole process, not just the end product. Not every step will be fun, but you should be able to find motivation by reminding yourself of the ultimate goal and how it will feel to be slimmer, or to have a better job, or to sunbathe on a foreign shore.
And as you achieve these goals one by one, you’ll see how much more is possible. Then, sir, you’ll be unstoppable.