Originally posted on LinkedIn

It’s that time of the year again, when so many of us will arbitrarily make very broad, hard-to-measure New Year’s resolutions… “get healthy,” “spend more time with my kids,” “drink less,” “exercise more.” I’m not against New Year resolutions in principle. In fact, I’m a very big proponent of setting goals and working towards accomplishing them. But I’ve never kept a single New Year’s resolution.

I stopped making them about ten years ago because they held no power or real accountability over my daily life. It wasn’t the resolution’s fault, I just didn’t understand how to take some broad statement and then achieve it just because I thought about it one day in January.

One of my least favorite activities in my former job with the federal government was the annual review process. In the mix of trying to generate some quantitative value for the impact my work made over the previous 12 months, there was also this section where I had to list 3- and 5-year goals for personal and professional development. I always blankly stared at this screen before writing something similar every year. In 5 years I’d be promoted two levels higher, so that meant in 3 years, one level higher. I always wanted to be better at Korean, so I’d be a fluent ‘3 3 3’ (in government talk) in 5 years and at least a ‘3 3 2+’ in 3 years. (I never achieved any of these goals)

I sucked at writing goals, and I finally understand why.

I was lying in bed not long ago thinking about how I got to where I am today. Was it through great parenting, great teachers, sports, the military, sheer luck (or bad luck)?

I remembered being in 2nd grade when my dad walked into the house and told me he signed me up for football starting in a week. I cried. I didn’t know anything about football and was convinced I was going to get hurt. On the first day of practice, I remember very fondly how Coach Capo told us he was going to turn us into lean, mean, fighting machines. Our first few practices, we did nothing related to actually running plays. We did calisthenics, we dropped on the ground and got back up again (over and over), we did three- and four-point stances… I don’t even think I got to touch an actual football. Of course, his short term goals for us were to increase our basic skills and build our strength so that when the time came to run plays, we were physically able and instinctively able to perform. And even though it hurt, it was hard, and I didn’t always like it, I kept doing it because I wanted to be a lean, mean, fighting machine along with all of my teammates.

This is a very old memory and very basic to any athlete out there, but I realized I’ve known the formula for effective goal-setting ever since 2nd grade. In fact, I’ve been doing it ever since whether it be sports, dating, academics, military training, or hobbies. But I’ve always been horrible about it when it comes to my personal health, my family, and my career. And it turns out, this is where I focused most of my New Year’s resolutions.

When I played football in college, we ended our season and started our season with an assessment. This included a bench-press test, squat test, clean test, 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 30-yard lateral shuttle, and four-corner drill. At the end of my sophomore year season, I was pretty pathetic. I benched about 185, squatted about 300, ran a 4.9 on the 40, and had a 27″ vertical. But I lived with six other football players and spent a summer living with two of them and I set a goal of improving every one of those measures (I can’t remember my actual goals). I knew that in order to achieve that, I had to do certain workouts and drills very consistently and enlisted my roommates to be my workout partners. We all improved that year, but for me, it was beyond my expectations. My bench improved to 255 lbs, my squat to 475 lbs, my 40 down to 4.6, and my vertical went to 38″. I was actually recognized by the coaches as our “Most improved player over the off-season.”

How did I achieve that yet fail at all of my New Year’s resolutions?

  • My resolutions have never been specific or results-focused.
  • My resolutions have always been big-picture and high level without any thought to the short terms goals and plans that will help achieve them
  • I’ve never had a plan to measure my progress
  • I’ve never had a community around me–like in sports or the military–with the same goals

Here’s how to set better goals/resolutions and actually achieve them:

1. Start with a very specific, S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goal or resolution. This is your long-term goal whether it be for 2018, your 5-year goal, or just simply a life goal.

We’re usually ok with this part, but when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, try to be a bit more specific. For 2018, I have some specific goals/resolutions — By December 31, 2018, I will weigh 200 pounds or less, pay off all of my credit card debt, and enjoy at least six days a month of pure leisure time (with no work emails or career-related activities).

2. List out the steps and actions you will need to take to get there. These are your short term goals and where we often suck at goal-creation.

In order for me to weigh less than 200 pounds by the end of the year, I have to both eat healthier and do more physical activity. Those are the broad steps, in order to get there I have be much more specific. I will break it down into diet and exercise and list out the steps (these are the calisthenics or workouts, along with frequency going back to my football analogy).

3. Set up accountability and a team.

This may be my significant other, my co-workers, or just a group of friends I don’t even know right now. But if I don’t share my plan and try to get others on board with me, I know it will greatly reduce my chances of success. Everything I’ve done really well at in life was because I wasn’t doing it alone… football, the Army, my MBA program, PTSD recovery… I had a support system and others around me with similar goals. How you will find this is an entirely different topic, but if your goal is to lose weight and all of your friends drink heavily, eat cake for breakfast, and watch 6 hours of television a day… good luck.

4. Track your progress.

When I started at Fortive Corporation, I also started my ‘indoctrination’ on the Fortive Business System (also known as the Danaher Business System before the portfolio divided into two). Each course has had some variation of a quote attributed to Peter Drucker that “What gets measured gets done.” Remembering that your goal/resolution should be measurable, you can track this progress frequently. At work, we have daily visual management to track our progress and catch problems as they arise (because we’re watching it). Do you have a way to track your progress on a regular schedule? If not, think about ways to do it regularly and you will increase your chances of success.

5. Celebrate your success.

Set periodic benchmarks and celebrate (in a way that doesn’t self-destruct your goal progress) when you meet them! If your goal was to get a promotion and one of your short-term tasks was to complete three, small, office-level projects outside of the scope of your daily work, then celebrate your accomplishment when you achieve it with your accountability group/mentors/supporters.

Best of luck to all of you in 2018. LinkedIn can be a great source of finding like-minded people for your career-minded goals. I highly recommend announcing them (unless your goal is to quit your job or take your boss’s position 😀 ) and joining groups with people trying to achieve similar goals.