We’re quickly heading into that brief window of time each year when far more people will casually discuss their goals with others: New Years. People at work who seem loath to accomplish much for eleven months of the year, will suddenly start talking about self development goals like seasoned veterans! And yet, the cliche is how short-lived such “resolutions” tend to be. Those who don’t proudly announce their new-found discipline will instead proclaim their defeatist cynicism: “I quit making New Year’s resolutions years ago when I realized I couldn’t keep them for more than a few weeks.”
So why are New Year’s resolutions so commonly broken? Is it that the necessary enthusiasm and intent isn’t really there? Sometimes. But I think it happens just as often that while we’re setting the types of goals that an experienced veteran may hesitate to declare, we proceed to implement them like real life rookies. This year, why not try to set and achieve goals from the seat of experience, paying particular attention to the types of obstacles that need to be avoided, and with a plan for surmounting the obstacles we can’t.
Every goal involves potential obstacles. We can admit this because the very notion of a goal implies action on our part, and if nothing else we all face the potential obstacle of inertia. The tendency to do nothing and remain as we are is a powerful and subtle obstacle. For purposes of discussing our New Year’s resolutions, lets assume that inertia is sufficiently overcome by our enthusiasm to truly make a change in the new year. We are still left with all of the things you can imagine or have experienced in the past that can go wrong. A major impediment to accomplishing our goals is not giving any thought to what can go wrong. What could potentially and totally threaten the accomplishment of our goals?
Let’s say your goal for the coming year is to get up earlier every day. What could so completely derail this goal such that your resolution is only a memory by January 9? One answer is, “Staying up late.” The next question you ask yourself should be, “How can I arrange my life such that it is unlikely that I will be forced to stay up late this week?” (This is obviously an obstacle and a question that has to be addressed every week, if not daily.) From here, you can begin planning to anticipate and avoid each of the obstacles that might prevent you from achieving success.
Using our prior example of wanting to get up earlier every day, what if something totally unexpected and unavoidable happens such that we have to be up later than we would otherwise prefer? That is when we have to confront an obstacle and the confrontation is far more likely to go well if you already have a plan in place for such circumstances.
In this example, perhaps you’ve previously planned that if a night comes when you have to stay up later than usual you will take the following actions to make it easier to get up early the next day:
- Turn up the volume on your alarm
- Program the coffee maker to start brewing at the earlier hour
- Ask someone else for assistance in making sure you get up
- Have a large glass of water before bed to assure you of discomfort once the alarm goes off
(Okay, that last one is kind of silly, but you get the point: BE PREPARED, SCOUT!)
By putting some focused thought into anticipating the obstacles you may face on the way to your goals, and by implementing simple steps to avoid or confront them, your likelihood of success will increase dramatically. Try to avoid making unrealistic goals followed by nothing but inspiration-inflated effort. Give some advance thought to what has taken you off track in the past and what could take you off track in the present and then take action to prevent or address these things.
Best of luck to you in the New Year!
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? And if so, do you have a plan for achieving them that considers potential obstacles? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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15 thoughts on “How to Achieve Any Goal”
I’m going to write for an hour each day in the quest to finish my novel. I’ve sacrificed preparing an elaborate evening meal for myself and my partner and this has freed up the extra time. As a bonus, I have been eating less (just having a sandwich or toast for dinner) and feeling much more energetic! And he has even started making the most beautiful meals while I focus on writing. Isn’t he great? :)
Really he is great! you’re the greatest to do this!
Possible obstacles: being distracted by cooking responsibilities, TV, internet and my new box set of supernatural. Solutions: let Jed do the cooking (as above), turn off the garbage on the TV at the moment, switch off the modem, and only allow myself to watch an episode of supernatural after I’ve done enough writing for the day.
Laziness and busy excuses seem to always be the most common obstacles.
I get through them by having tiny tasks (A few minutes) set up that I know will get me closer to my goal providing I do them everyday. They are small so it is easier to ensure I do them.
An example is my goal to be able to read Japanese, so in the next few months I want to learn the 2000 common ones. The little task I use is to always learn atleast one a day (which generally turns into atleast 5 once I start). Another is to just review kanji until the next 5 minute segment of time is up.
Do not discount the extra water before bed trick. I use that to make sure I wake up early enough to have time to record my dreams, journal my to-do list for the day, and meditate. It is hard to get comfy and go back to bed when the bladder is full! I think that might be a Buddhist saying- well maybe not…..:-)
Another option is to have children: nothing like a slap in the eye and a facial-hair tug to get you up and moving ;-)
@Jessica – That’s awesome that you can kill several birds with one stone: more time to write, eat less, and feel better! I need to find some of these small changes that impact multiple areas!
@Jarrod – I use the break-things-into-baby-steps strategy a lot myself! Most often by telling myself I will work on something for “x” amount of time and then turning on a timer.
@Jay – That’s too funny. I hadn’t heard of that before and thought I had made it up. So much for being original. ;)
Good point about the obstacles.
I’ve joined in Zen Habit’s 30 day change a habit challenge with the goal of 10 minutes yoga daily. Just this morning I was thinking of the obstacles – not something I had considered when signing up ;)
I have had this goal for some time and have not done anything about it!
A mere challenge is not going to make it more achievable.
So, your post has come at a great time!
It is encouraging and motivating. I will think of those obstacles.
Thanks for the guest post Rick.
I always enjoy this time of the year. The extra time off work gives me time to reflect on the year that is drawing to an end, and also to think of what I want to accomplish in the future.
I know a couple of my resolutions will not be new, ie I have set them in the past and not yet completed them. I think the key this time will be to implement Jarrod’s suggestion of breaking the resolutions up into tiny goals and tasks. And I will also be sure to follow your advice and give some thought to potential obstacles that may arise!
When we know our obstacles before we set our goals, it will help us to know about what will stop us from achieving our goals and how to tackle the problem. Great article Rick.
Personal Development Blogger
great post, i also think that when people set goals just because of the new year and not because they have an inner drive to achieve them then their motivation will fade away as they forget about the new year
i have set up a goal to wake up every morning at 7 am. i am actually the quintessential owl. i had a study schedule that usually comprises of sleeping at 4 am and getting up at 2 pm. i hate the fact that i dont get anything done by lunch. i have been feeling very lethargic the last 6 months, also added due to stress ( i am in an econ grad program).
i am starting small, i hate being a night person, i know its hard to change but i want to feel like i have accomplished something by night instead of only beginning.
lets see, i have many obstacles to face, but if i keep going at it, i hope i can achieve it!
Hi Rick, great article. I like your point about try to avoid making unrealistic goals because goals must be S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, Time base)
Thanks for sharing.
Micro-resolutions are certainly the way to go. It’s like if you asked someone
“Can you climb 500 small hills with a gentle slope? If so then that actually adds up to Mt Everest”
I reason people can’t keep most resolutions is because they are often to big, too hard to imagine, and too out of touch with the world around you.
I’m a neuroscientist and the brain really has a hard time assigning meaning and memory to things that don’t sync with the sensory input it gets everyday. It’s why it’s so hard to believe in unicorns – you just never see any in day-to-day life.
Micro-resolutions get around this by getting rid of the big goal as the only point and merely making the last step on a path of slower change.
I set a simple resolution to smile more in 2009. In addition to the resolution I set intentions for myself in areas of health, personal development and business building.
I am a huge Wayne Dyer fan and highly recommend people read The Power of Intention. It is a MUST READ.
With intention we call things into our life and we give permission to the Universe/God/Spirit to help us on our path.
When we take time to put ourselves first and make a commitment to living authentically, I find it easier to stick to resolution or to manifest intentions.