Since I was 18 years old, I've spent every New Year's going all in on resolutions. I'll decide the one big thing I need to change or fix -- eat healthier, drink less alcohol, exercise every day -- only to feel a massive sense of failure when I slip up. By the second slip, I usually give up altogether.
I've finally had a breakthrough realization when it comes to setting goals: change happens gradually. Going all in doesn't always work; you're much more likely to be successful if you make micro-changes every day.
To me, goal-setting is an ongoing tool for growth and development -- not a throwaway exercise that only happens once a year. This year, instead of making empty resolutions, ask yourself what small thing you can do today to work towards long-term goals. Here's a few tips to get you started.
1. Create a Vision for Future Success, Then Work Backwards
I'm a firm believer that to achieve any goal you need to look at the endgame first. I always had a goal to turn 1-800-GOT-JUNK? into the biggest junk removal business in the world. But it wasn't until I visualized our future -- in full technicolor -- that I saw how we could actually do it.
I called this vision our Painted Picture: a hyper-detailed look at where our business would be in the next five years. By creating a clear picture of our future, we were able to work backwards for how to get there. This practice has become integral to our ongoing growth.
Maybe one of your new year's resolutions is to run your first marathon. It's unlikely you'll be able to hit the road without any preparation. Instead, visualize yourself crossing the finish line first, and then determine what you can do now to make it happen.
2. Think "WTF" (Willing to Fail)
The biggest cause of failed goals is that people are too afraid of failure to set them at all. Fear of failure is debilitating, and it can halt your personal and professional development.
In our first Painted Picture, we had a goal to get on Oprah. It seemed too outrageous at first to even try -- but we realized we had nothing to lose. We went for it and did everything we could to get her attention. We finally landed a spot on the show and it catapulted the success of our business.
One of the core tenets of our company is the mantra "Willing to Fail." A WTF attitude pushes you to think outside the box and go big with your goals, even if you might not succeed. When you shoot for the moon, you might be surprised by what you can achieve.
3. Buddy Up With Someone Who Pushes Your Limits
Sticking to resolutions can be tough work, especially if you're trying to develop new habits (like eating healthier) or behaviours (like getting more sleep). You don't have to go it alone, though. It's a lot easier to stay on track when you have someone to hold you accountable.
My buddy and I recently committed to getting a personal trainer together. The only time that worked for both of us was to be at the gym by 5am. Neither of us missed a session for three months -- not one cancellation! The fact that I knew Dan would be waiting for me to pick him up made it so much easier to stick to the commitment. Sometimes it's easier to keep a promise you've made to someone else than one you've made to yourself.
Before you tackle your next big goal, find a friend or family member who wants to do it too (just make sure they're serious about it). When one of you is lacking motivation, the other is there to keep you going. There's power in numbers -- so buddy up and start kicking some goal-setting butt!
4. Use the SMART Method
The problem with most resolutions is that they're vague, broad and unrealistic. It's awesome if you want to learn to ski, but that's not a strong goal on its own. How are you going to learn, and when? You need to nail down the specifics of the goal before you can get moving on it.
I'm a huge fan of the SMART goal method: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Every goal or resolution you set should meet all of these criteria. Instead of saying "I want to learn French," I once made a goal to teach a business class at a university in Quebec entirely in French (and by next year, I should be able to do it!). See the difference?
5. Write Your Goals (and Your Progress) Down
Ever tried to follow through on a goal without mentioning it to anyone? Chances are, it probably didn't work out so well. This year, try writing your goals down, or share them with friends and colleagues. Putting resolutions down on paper or saying them out loud makes you more likely to achieve them.
Tracking your progress compounds the effect: seeing your improvement and development as you get closer to your goal will boost your confidence, motivation and pride. Every morning before I check email, I read through a list of my yearly goals. This gives me focus for the day and is a reminder of what's most important in my life, rather than letting urgent emails dictate my priorities. It comes back to accountability; what gets measured, gets done.
Setting goals can be scary; if we don't succeed, we think we're a total failure. But I think true growth happens when we lean into failures as opportunities to learn.
I've stopped making "all or nothing" resolutions each New Year's because I almost always fall off the wagon a few weeks in. Instead, I've learned to take small steps towards big goals, and to set them at times in the year when I know I'm ready to commit 100%. It's about creating productive habits and building momentum -- that's what sets you up for success.