If you have not already, soon you will start to hear “this year I’d hoped to…” or “my resolutions were …” Or, you’ll be thinking about the things you set for yourself.
There’s a lot of (positive) things to be said about having new year’s resolutions (or goals or visions). Of course there are those who perpetually propose and miss their goals, and others who avoid such pitfalls by not having resolutions in the first place – seeing them as pointless if they are never achieved (see The Thesis Whisperer post – Less is more?).
But, I reckon there are (at least) three things we could do to make sure setting (and achieving) our new year’s resolutions; or any goals intended to be achieved over 12 or more months:
- Eliminate distractions
- Have sharp focus
- Process matters, not outcome
1. Eliminate distractions
The evidence is well and truly in – multi-tasking makes us less efficient. The same is also true at a macro level when we try to achieve too much. Each year, we set a long list of new year’s resolutions or goals. Thinking about all of the different areas of our lives that we’d like to improve. All that does is create a greater number of opportunities for distractions. For things to take us away from achieving anyone goal, we (think) we can progress many simultaneously. It’s a bit like a bus, travelling down many side streets and backroads in order to pick up as many people as possible, sacrificing how long it takes to go from one place to the next, in order to (hopefully) collect more passengers. But all that happens is the route becomes inefficient for all. Very few people take the bus its entire duration, and the lengthy time of travel discourages more passengers.
It’s the same with our goals. When we have too many, all we do is tack from one to the other. Going down side streets and backroads to get (seemingly) closer to all of our different goals. But in the end, we only ever carry some the full distance and drop or change many along the way. We then look back on the year and feel (somewhat) dissatisfied with progress/achievement.
To put it more starkly, the great investor Warren Buffet uses a “two list strategy” to manage goals and their achievement. James Clear summarises it nicely in a blog. Basically, List 1 is your goals for the year (say 20 in total). List 2 are the top five. Buffet’s thesis is that the items in List 2 should be your priority and anything that comes up from List 1 should be avoided at all costs – as all it will serve to do is distract you from achieving list 2.
So, list your goals (all of them) for the year. Then prioritise the list, and focus on that priority list (say 3-5 goals) at the expense of all else (especially other items on the list).
2. Have a sharp focus
In the strategic planning work we do we are often confronted with a dislike for the use of vision statements, mission statements, statements of purpose or similar. And I understand the rationale – they are often highly debated within the strategic planning session and then never referred to again. However, I think they are essential to success, BUT must be used. These are the tools that ensure our focus on our goals is sharp. They are a bit like the lenses an optometrist uses to determine your required prescription – if they don’t help, take them out. But if they do help, they end up forming part of the final prescription.
In their book Will it make the boat go faster? Ben Hunt-Davis and Harriet Beveridge talk about the razor sharp focus the English Rowing Team had in their pursuit of gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Essentially anything they did, any decision they made was taken (or rejected) in the context of the question “will it make the boat go faster?” If the answer was “no” then they did not do it. If the answer was “yes” it was added to their regimen.
This vision of a faster boat, drove every decision they made. The same should be true for your new year’s resolutions or goals. Is there (or could there be) a guiding vision, mission or statement of purpose or lens through which all other decisions could be viewed? How can you make that into a very sharp focus and thus a better or stronger commitment to each of your goals?
3. Process matters, not outcome
Action precedes motivation, not the other way around. Essentially, we have to do things before we are motivated, not after. If we wait to take action until we are motivated, it will be too late or too long or not at all.
Furthermore, when we focus on outcome, achievement can lead to lack of focus. For example, in their book Will it make the boat go faster? Ben Hunt-Davis and Harriet Beveridge talk about analysing how they trained and their performance during an event, not the positon they came. In the first instance, this allowed them to fail (place last or near last). In the second instance, it allowed them to keep improving when they had (otherwise) achieved their goal of an Olympic record (in training). There is also something to be said about perfect/intelligent practice versus just practice. This idea is explored in Grit (Angela Duckworth).
When we apply that to goal setting it means we focus on processes (our actions) rather than outcomes (our motivation for doing something). As an athlete, that means we focus on what we do at training, not winning or losing or playing in grand finals. As an entrepreneur it means we focus on meetings and sales pitches, rather than obtaining funding or investment. As a researcher, it means we focus on experiments performed or words/pages written rather than the results (we hope) to find or the number of articles we publish. And if getting fit is your goal, you’d focus on running for 20 minutes three times per week, rather than running a kilometre in 5 minutes (or less).
Ultimately, focusing on process not outcome can help keep you motivated beyond what might have otherwise been your end-point (e.g. weight loss, or paper written) and it has a greater chance entrenching actions as habits.
There are other things you can do to achieve your new year’s resolutions, but these three (I reckon) will have the biggest impact.
If you’re interested, also have a listen to this Podcast on Resolutions by Zoe Routh.
Raven Consulting Group specialises in delivering high quality strategic advice to the education, research and government sectors. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His strategic approach to collaboration and research translation has been making the impossible possible for more than seven years. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality. To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org) or subscribe to our newsletter.