This might shock you, but, it turns out the majority of people don't keep their New Year's resolutions. University of Scranton research suggests that just 8% of us achieve our New Year’s goals. In fact, only 46% of resolutions make it past the first six months. The odds are not in your favor. Or mine; I am also part of the 92% (of people who do not achieve their goals). That said, this year my first resolution is to break that trend and set goals, no matter how small or specific, that I can realistically keep. To help with this, I tracked down some experts in goal-setting. The results are ahead.
It might sound obvious, but the first step is admitting your goals — your real ones. I spoke with Betsy Capes, a career coach at Capes Coaching, who has helped some stars (including Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of Broad City) find their footing. I've also worked with Capes myself, and she recommends you start goal-setting by “clarifying your bigger visions. In other words, think about what you really want and why it's meaningful to you.”
She explains that we often fall into traps when we set goals, because we don't let ourselves admit what we really want. Instead, we pick things based on what other people have or want, and that's why we don’t achieve our goals — because we never really wanted them in the first place.
It may already seem obvious, but when you picture where you want to be by this time next year, make sure your goals are ones you’re really connected to, even if admitting that makes you feel a little vulnerable.
Once you have your heart’s desire locked down, it’s time to make an action plan. But, don't confuse goal-setting with goal-getting. Capes says she sees a lot of people mix up the two, which is detrimental to achieving the goal. Goal-setting means deciding what you want to accomplish. Goal-getting is the action plan that will let you achieve it.
Capes explains, "Goal-setting is coming up with a statement that explains what you want to accomplish, i.e. 'I have completed the first draft of my novel.' Goal-getting is the process of how you take action toward reaching your goal. This is the strategizing, i.e. 'review notes...schedule time to write, meet with writing coach,' etc.” It’s important not to confuse the two. The "what" is something you write in pen and keep in your sight. If you hold on too tightly to the "how," you're more likely to get flustered by road blocks — a missed morning of writing here, or a day of staring at a blank page there. Write the "how" in pencil.
The next step is keeping your goal in front of you. Some people recommend using a vision board to literally keep it in your sight. I prefer working with a partner, but the idea is the same: You have to create accountability. Capes puts it like this: “[The more] your attention is being pulled, the more you need to keep goals in front of you," whether "in front of you" means literally hanging on the wall over your desk, or with a friend who won't let you forget.
Capes recommends person-to-person accountability: “Having a champion alongside you makes all the difference.” If you can, find a friend — ideally a friend who's setting goals of his or her own — and report to each other each week on your progress.
These check-ins can just be quick emails, or they can be more in-depth — whatever works for you. All that matters is that the sense of responsibility is there.
You can’t possibly achieve your resolution without a single mistake. You'll sleep in when you wanted to get up early, or skip the gym the first morning you promise to go. Don’t get distracted by blunders — instead, try to forgive yourself and keep moving forward. “No matter what happens, stay in action," Capes says. "Feel that forward motion, even if you only made baby steps that week.”
In other words, don't let "perfect" be the enemy of "good." In the end, your goal may not be achieved within your ideal timeline — and that’s okay. Capes explains that “most [goals] don’t happen exactly when you want them to. The most important thing is to have something to work towards.” Forgive yourself — and then try again tomorrow.
When I asked Capes about the most common mistake people make when they set their goals, I was expecting to hear that we often overreach, or focus on the wrong things (which are indeed things Capes admits people often do). But, Capes says the most common mistake is delaying happiness.
“People will say, 'Once I get X, then I’ll be happy,'" Capes explains, "when in fact, happiness fuels success — not the other way around. See what you can do to get happy, and do that.” While your goal may seem like the most important thing, it's not more important than letting yourself be happy.