New Year's resolutions: We love to make them. And, statistics show, we almost never keep them. (Eighty percent of people who make New Year's resolutions abandon them by the second week of February.)
As I explain in my new book, The Motivation Myth: How Highly Successful People Really Set Themselves Up to Win, even if you're trying to achieve a huge goal, the difficulty of achieving that goal isn't really the problem.
The problem is your approach.
So let's fix that.
1. Make your goal extremely specific.
Say you want to get in better shape. "Get in better shape" is an admirable notion, but what does it mean? Nothing; it's just a wish.
"Lose 10 pounds in 30 days" is a specific, measurable, objective goal. Not only do you know what you want to accomplish, but setting a goal that way also allows you to create a process guaranteed to get you there: You can set up your workout schedule an your diet plan, and then all you have to do is follow the plan.
Another example: "Grow my business" sounds great but is also meaningless. "Get five new clients a month," on the other hand, allows you to figure out what you need to do to land those clients.
Make sure you set a goal that allows you to work backward to 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.
If you want to get in better shape so other people will think you look better at the beach this summer, you're unlikely to follow through. 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 to set an example for your kids, or to prove something to yourself, then you're much more likely to stick with it.
Why? Because now your goal has meaning -- not to your doctor, not to strangers on the beach, but to you.
That's true even if it's a silly goal, like when I did 100,000 push-ups in a year. You could say that's 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 saw myself -- which made it a lot easier to stay the course.
3. Make your goal a positive goal.
"Stop smoking" is a great goal, but it's a negative goal. It's a lot harder to give up or stop doing something than it is to embrace a new and positive challenge.
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 of constantly needing to choose?
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.
I know: We're told to focus on our goals.
Yet one of the biggest reasons people give up on huge goals is the distance between here, where you are today, and there, where you 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, because there's no way you'll get from here to there.
That's why almost all incredibly 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.
And they feel good about themselves, because they've accomplished what they set out to do today. And that sense of accomplishment gives them all the motivation they need to do what they need to do when tomorrow comes -- because success, even tiny, incremental success, is the best motivation of all.
When you savor the small victories, you get to feel good about yourself every day, because you no longer feel compelled to 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 that's why the most important step is to...
5. Focus not on the goal, but 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 proved 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.