Read Time: 5 minutes
The New Years Resolution. For most people, this list seems to have a lower success rate than the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. If you fall into this category of failure, it is not because you are lazy, nor is it because you have no will power. It is simply because the process in place to accomplishing your resolutions is wrong.
Back in January of 2015, I set out to accomplish ten resolutions – by August, none were crossed off. Same old song and dance. Like many of you, I am a motivated and hard working individual, so this didn’t make sense to me. I reassessed, refocused, and in the last five months of the year crossed off eight of the ten I originally set out to do.
This essay is my attempt to document the three-stage process I used to accomplish this:
Get it down, Break it down, and Get down to business.
Its not the Event, It’s the Process
Before we begin, I want to outline why goals are not the best way to accomplish things. Many think that goals are all about the result, seeing success as an event that can be achieved and completed. For example, many people see personal health as an event: “If I just lose 20 pounds, then I’ll be in shape.”
The behavioural psychologist James Clear made the point that if you look at the people who are consistently achieving their goals, you start to realize that it’s not the events or the results that make them different: it’s their commitment to the process. They fall in love with the daily practice; with the repetition and boredom, not the individual event.
Back to our example, if you want to “be in shape”, then losing 20 pounds might be a good goal to have. But the only way to reach that result is to enjoy the process of eating healthy and exercising on a consistent basis.
Although the remainder of this essay will focus on goals, always keep the process in mind, as this is the key to success.
Step 1: Get it Down
A large part as to why you are not accomplishing or committing to your New Year’s resolutions has a lot to do with how you are framing the problem. Poorly defined goals are not actionable.
For example, which of the following resolutions sounds more appealing to you:
 “I want to lose 20 pounds so I can look good”
 “I want to run a half marathon on July 1st and must lose 20 lbs to do so”
Option  is no good to anyone. What does it mean to “look good”? Look good to whom? At what point do you know your goal is accomplished? When must it be achieved by? Such a simple statement leaves wiggle room for too many questions, leading to its inevitable failure.
Option  sounds a lot more defined and complete. There is a specific deadline, a consequence (not being successful in the race), and the goal is measurable. This example demonstrates that goals are most effective if they are S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timed.
Now how do you get from where you currently stand, to resolutions more actionable such as option 2? By using two of the oldest tools: pencil and paper.
Writing down goals is the first step towards making them a reality. Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand. When put on paper, you can help yourself stay accountable and foster a sense of achievement and progress, expanding your possibilities.
Additionally, writing is crystallized thought. It is easy to ramble in a conversation about whatever is on your mind, but writing it down makes you think about what you are saying and actually understand it. If they have an idea or a problem to solve, Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder and CEO) makes his team write a six-paged narrative, forcing them to actually think about it, not just brain dump and waste his time.
So write down what you want to accomplish and think about how to make your goals measurable and timed.
Step 2: Break it Down
“Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.”
After you have written down and committed to certain objectives, use the goal as an end point and work your way backwards. Your goal is now the deadline. The objective is to break this large goal into manageable chunks.
Let's say your goal spans 1 year. Break it down by what you have to achieve each quarter. Furthermore, break this down by month and then by week. From this, you will know what you have to do each day to accomplish your weekly goal to complete your monthly objective in order to reach your quarterly goal that will get you to obtaining your year-long resolution.
For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds by July 1st, every month you would have to lose just under three and a half pounds. That is less than one pound per week. Now doesn’t that sound a bit more manageable than dropping 20 pounds? You can now design a diet and exercise process that works for you in order to lose around a pound per week. Remember, you have to fall in love with the process, not the goal, and breaking a long-term goal down will aid you in doing so.
Finally, ensure you have traceable metrics throughout. If you don’t have an objective way to measure your progress, you will never keep yourself accountable. Accountability is key to behavioural change – what gets measured gets managed. Check out the app “Way of Life”, it is an effortless way to track and measure your goals.
Step 3: Get Down to Business
“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.”
At the end of the day, you can have as intricate a plan as you like but you are the one that has to do the work. Hard work is hard, that is why so few do it. So don’t delay your actions with planning, because that won’t get you anywhere. Let good be good enough.
If you find it hard to stay on track, try using positive reinforcement. Reward yourself for the small accomplishments. For example, if you are on a strict diet, eat what ever you want one day at the end of a good week. After a month, do it every two weeks. Eventually the old cravings are no longer present and you now have yourself a new habit.
As good as positive reinforcement may be, the stick is always better than the carrot. Negative reinforcement is a powerful motivator, and creating a consequence for inaction will motivate you more than anything. Think back to our half marathon goal. If you did not act and you already committed to the race, inaction will result in potential failure and humiliation.
A company https://www.stickk.com uses negative reinforcement for motivation. Stickk asks you to you sign up and allocate a certain amount of money to be donated to an anti-charity (an organization whose views you strongly oppose). The money is only donated when your goal is broken, as measured by a designated “referee.” Currently, the top ranked anti-charity is The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, just to give you some ideas.
If that seems too extreme for you, just simply tell your family and closest friends about what you are trying to achieve. Give them the authority to correct you if you are ever doing something that is contrary to what you are trying to achieve, keeping you on track and focused. Peer pressure: the oldest trick in the book.
This year, one of my goals is to run and compete in at least two obstacle course races. Now the whole world knows so I have to do it.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
The times when it is most important to persevere are the times that you will be most tested. Stay focused, don’t concentrate on the short-term gains, and actually achieve what you set out in your New Years resolutions.
At the end of the day, it’s all about getting it down, breaking it down, and getting down to business.