It’s yet again that time of the year when we hear friends and families, or even ourselves, talk about new year’s resolutions. You have probably written your goals for the new year, and said to yourself: “this year I will stick to them”! If you are like millions of other people who sing to that tune every year, then maybe you need to ask yourself how you can realistically quit smoking, get fit, lose weight, learn a new language, or find a new job.
For many years I dutifully wrote my new year’s resolutions. Those were the things I really wanted to change and learn in my life. Year after year I found myself accomplishing very few of the things on my list. Yet, I never truly questioned the reasons for failing to do what mattered.
This, however, changed the summer I graduated. I had less than two months to find a job or meaningful internship while doing my summer job and enjoying my last months as a student. I tried three principles then, and I still apply them today: 1) I set and wrote down a clear goal; 2) I planned how to achieve it, 3) I learn to be disciplined to succeed. As a result, before I moved back to London from Brighton (uni), I had secured a number of job interviews.
Let’s break down each one of these principles
1. Set and write down your goal (s)
They could be short term or long term. If you are serious about achieving your personal or professional goals, this exercise will give you a clear vision of where you are heading. It will also give you something against which to measure your progress. Professional sports men always have goals that drive them. Usain Bolt’s top goal, for instance, is to become the greatest in his sport. He actually said that setting goals was key to his success in a 2013 interview with ITV news.
Writing down goals is also a common exercise amongst other successful people such as Sir Richard Branson, who put “setting yourself new challenges” as one of his 10 top tips for success. In fact, he believes that “the first of the year is a good time to write down your goals for the year”.
New year’s resolutions are great goal setting because they are often based on previous year’s performance (personal as well as professional). So if you’ve written yours, you are one step ahead in the road to success. If not, it’s not too late to start.
2. Plan how to achieve your goal (s)
Have you heard of the saying “a goal without a plan is just a wish”? Well, goal setting and planning go hand in hand. In his interview with the BBC, Sir Richard Branson warned that if you are unorganised, you are less likely to achieve your goals.
Planning is what helps us move closer to our goals; it’s like defining the steps that will take you to your destination. Plans are mini goals towards your main goal, they may therefore consist of challenging yourself daily, fortnightly, or even monthly. It’s your call. My plan to achieve that summer goal, for example, was to apply for at least two jobs a day.
Depending on what you want to achieve, it’s always best to ensure that your plan involves realistic steps. For instance, if you plan to lose weight you may want to gradually cut back on sugar rather than stop all at once. As you make progress, you may wish to consider harder challenges (always related to your goals).
Planning also keeps us focussed on our goals. This is especially necessary as we are surrounded by too many distractions, such as social media and games, that easily divert our attention from our goals. So think about the steps that can help you reach your new year’s resolutions or other goals, and write them down somewhere safe.
3. learn to be disciplined
Discipline is probably the most important tip in achieving our goal. It’s about attaining the self control to stick to our plan and ultimately reach our goals. In other words, being disciplined means doing what needs to be done even when you don’t feel like it. Imagine having to wake up an hour early in a winter/cold morning to work out or write a blog entry. I have never been an early riser so I know how hard this could be. Discipline is about overcoming the thought of the unpleasant in order to achieve your goal.
Learning to be disciplined helps us build the traits we need to succeed. In ancient Greece, this line of thought already existed. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist, said ” we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. Today, many modern successful people have developed their own discipline to succeed in their respective field. Serena Williams, for example, wakes up at 6 am every morning, and she started this when she was a child!
We can all achieve some form of discipline in our lives, be it going to bed early, reading daily, or hitting the gym twice a week. It requires willpower, and techniques that minimise risks of being undisciplined. These often involve distancing ourselves from anything that may stop us from completing our plan. When I was working towards losing my pregnancy weight, I stopped baking cakes and found substitutes for a number of unhealthy foods. This helped me stick to my healthy diet plan, and ultimately lose the weight in five months. For more guidance on discipline and self control, see the two Ted talks at the end of the post .
If you struggle to achieve your new year’s resolutions or your goals, and would like to try something new, then these three tips are definitely a good starting point. I hope they work out well for you in the months to come.