You're probably familiar with New Year's resolution statistics. If not, here's a summary: Most people don't keep them. Approximately 80 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions have dropped them by the second week of February.
But what may surprise you is that the problem doesn't lie with the goals we set. Whether it's a small, (seemingly) easily achievable goal or a huge, life-changing goal, people tend to fail at the same rate.
While it is obviously harder to achieve a BHAG goal than a micro-goal, the difficulty of the goal you set isn't nearly as important as whether or not you create the right process to achieve that goal -- and whether you follow the process you create.
Otherwise, you're just wishing and hoping. You have great intentions, but without a real plan to follow... your chances for success are almost nonexistent.
Which is why the very first thing you should do after you make a New Year's resolution -- or after you set any big goal -- is to create a process that will allow you to actually achieve your goal.
In short, don't make your goal your New Year's resolution. Make your plan your New Year's resolution. Do that, and you'll succeed whether so many others fail.
So how do you create the right plan?
1. Make your goal extremely specific.
Say, like many people, you want to get in better shape this year. "Get in better shape" is a great goal... but what does that actually mean in practice? that actually mean? Without more detail... nothing.
A better approach might be to "lose 10 pounds in 30 days." That's a specific and measurable goal. Not only do you know what you want to accomplish, but now you can create a process guaranteed to get you there. Set your workout schedule, lay out your diet plan... then just follow your plan.
Another example: "Grow my business." Sounds great, but also meaningless. "Land five new clients a month," on the other hand, allows you to determine the steps you should take to meet that goal.
The key is to set a goal so specific that you can work backward and create a process designed to achieve it.
It's impossible to know exactly what to do when you don't know exactly what you want to achieve.
2. Make your goal personally meaningful.
You're unlikely to follow through if you want to get in better shape so other people will think you look better at the beach next summer. Ultimately, who cares what other people think? And besides, you can just stay covered up or avoid the beach altogether.
But if you want to get in better shape because you want to feel better (and feel better about yourself), or because you want to set an example for your kids, or because you want to prove something to yourself, you're much more likely to stick with your goal. Now your goal has meaning -- not to strangers on the beach, but to you.
That's true even if you set a silly goal, like when I did 100,000 push-ups in one year. You could say it was a meaningless goal, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could stick with something hard. That goal meant something to me, because it made a difference in how I see myself -- and that made it a lot easier to stay the course.
3. Make your goal positive.
"Stop smoking" is a fine goal, but it's also a negative goal. (It's a lot harder to stop doing something than it is to embrace a new, positive change.)
Plus, setting a goal like "stop eating sweets" means you constantly have to choose to avoid temptation, and since willpower is often a finite resource (although there are ways to develop greater determination and willpower), why put yourself in a position where you constantly need to make the right decision?
Always pick positive goals. That way you'll be working to become something new (and awesome), rather than to avoid being something you no longer wish to be.
4. Set your goal. Then forget your goal.
Conventional wisdom says you need to maintain a laser-like focus on your goals. Yet one of the biggest reasons people give up on huge goals is the distance between here, where they are today, and there, where they someday hope to be.
If today you're able to run only a mile, and your goal is to run a marathon... the distance between here and there seems insurmountable.
So you give up. It seems impossible to get from here to there.
That's why almost all extremely successful people set a goal, and then focus all their attention on the process necessary to achieve that goal.
Sure, the goal is still out there. But what they care about most is what they need to do today -- and when they accomplish that, they feel happy about today. They feel good about today. They feel good about themselves, because they've accomplished what they set out to do today.
That sense of accomplishment gives them all the motivation they need to do what they need to do when tomorrow comes -- because as I explain in myh book, The Motivation Myth, success, even tiny, incremental success, provides the best motivation of all.
Why? When you savor the small victories, you get to feel good about yourself every day, which means you no longer compare the distance between here and there. You don't have to wait for "someday" to feel good about yourself.
If you do what you planned to do today, you're a winner. And you get to be a winner tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.
Which is why the most important step is to...
5. Focus on the process.
The key is to create a process that guarantees a series of small improvements. Usually that means that what you do won't be that different from what other successful people do. (That's why one of the chapters in my book is called "Do What the Pros Do"; I show you how to choose the right person to emulate, and even how to connect with that person.)
Pick someone who has achieved something you want to achieve. Deconstruct his or her process. Then follow it.
Along the way you might make small corrections as you learn what works best for you, but never start by doing what you want to do, or what feels good, or what you think might work.
Do what is proven to work.
Otherwise you'll give up, because the process you create won't yield those small successes that keep you motivated and feeling good about yourself.
Which, if you think about it, is the perfect definition of success.
And the best way to actually achieve your New Year's resolution.