Right about this time each year, many people suddenly become very “goal-oriented”. Yes, it is that time again when people sit down and craft their New Year’s Resolutions, setting goals and planning for the improvements they wish to make, or the things they would like to accomplish during the coming year. I am a huge fan of goal-setting, so it is a very exciting time for me. I enjoy discussing goals with others, sharing with them the things I hope to accomplish, and I especially enjoy listening to the goals others set. To be honest, I get a lot of energy from hearing others discuss their dreams and aspirations.
However, in one aspect, I dread this time of the year. You see, my gym gets extremely crowded during the first few weeks of January, and it gets very difficult to secure my favorite treadmill or get some work in on my favorite weight machines or free weights. However, after years of observing this phenomenon, the one thing I can count on is that by February, things begin to calm down. By no later than March, the gym is back to its normal, peaceful self. While it is always nice to regain the ability to move about the gym freely, the goal-junkie in me is troubled by the quick turnaround in many people’s motivation. After all, most successful people will declare that goal-setting is a major component to success. So, with so many people setting goals this time of year, why are so many well-meaning goal-setters unsuccessful in achieving what they set out to do? A study out of the University of Scranton indicates that about 45% of Americans usually set New Year’s Resolutions, yet only about 8% of people are successful in achieving their resolutions. Here is a quick link to the stats: http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.
So, what is the deal? Are people lazy? Do they lack the motivation or the resources required to achieve their goals? I personally do not think so. More likely it is that people go about the goal-setting process the wrong way. Most well-meaning people start with a vague idea of what they want to accomplish, and then proceed to plan out how to get there. A few tweaks to the goal-setting process can drastically increase the odds of success. Most importantly, I think the entire concept of goal-setting has morphed into something people feel like they HAVE to do without really understanding the purpose of setting goals.
The purpose of setting goals is simply to create the energy to accomplish things in our life that help us grow. Our brains have something called a “Reticular Activating System” or RAS. In short, the RAS filters out everything we deem unimportant to help us concentrate on what is important. (Ever made a big purchase and then noticed EVERY sale on the item after you bought it? Blame your RAS). Goals work because they “program” what we really want into our RAS so that our brains can focus on getting them. Think of the brain as a GPS system, with the goal being the address you punch in to help the GPS calculate the route. If goal-setting is done properly, your brain will work with you to help you get it, filtering out the things that we see as obstacles and focusing on the paths to help us reach our goals.
Many people go about the goal-setting process by starting with a vague idea of what they want, and then planning step-by-step the ways to get there. That is a little like only knowing the general location of where you want to go on vacation, and then using your GPS to travel street by street and hoping you bump into the right destination. Vague ideas are a great way to start a brain-storming session, but when it comes to setting and achieving goals we have to know exactly what we want and be able to visualize it in vivid detail to punch the address into our RAS. Even if you don’t know how you’re going to get there, your brain will start to calculate and look for ways to get you there.
Here are few more bullet-points to assist in setting more achievable New Year’s Resolutions for 2014:
- Don’t stop with that vague idea of what you want. Focus until you can visualize exactly what you want, and keep refining the goal until it is SMART- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and has a Time-limit, and tied to some emotion. (i.e., I want to lose some weight vs. I will lose 25 pounds before June 1, 2014 in order to feel happier, healthier, and more confident).
- Focus on progress, not perfection. As Bruce Lee once said “A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim at.” You are bound to slip up here and there. If perfection is your goal, you risk throwing your hands up at the slightest misstep and forgetting why you set the goal in the first place. The idea is to grow and move forward.
- It is ok to adjust a goal on the fly if it feels overwhelming or not challenging enough. If you have to adjust your time limit from June 1 to July 1, is it really a big deal in the grand scheme of things?
- Do not get so caught up with the specific goal that it becomes more important than the purpose for setting it. As long as you are moving in the right direction, you are accomplishing the spirit of your goal.
- Write your goals down, as specifically as you can, and revisit them often. This makes them concrete and keeps them fresh in your RAS. Also, if you can find a picture of your goal, use it to help you visualize your achievement and create that energy and emotion.
- Share your goals with those you trust. It helps keep you accountable, and others may offer resources and/or encouragement. If your friends know your goal is to lose weight and see you eating cheeseburgers every night for a week, they are probably going to say something.
- Finally, we have a tendency to develop resolutions based on past failures or weaknesses and forget about our strengths. Could you imagine Peyton Manning in his prime neglecting football in order to work on another sport he considered a “weak” area? Try picking a few areas that are already strengths and craft resolutions to further develop and become extraordinary in those areas.
Great luck in 2014 and beyond!
2-15-1977 to 5-18-2014-
John Mazi is an attorney, educator and motivator from Akron, Ohio. He graduated Cum Laude from Kent State University in 1999 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice. He then went on to study law at the University of Akron School of Law, graduating in 2003 with a Juris Doctor degree. He took and passed the Ohio Bar Exam later that year and is currently licensed to practice law in the state courts of Ohio, as well in the Federal Court in the Northern District of Ohio.
For several years John practiced law exclusively, focusing on the areas of real estate, civil litigation, juvenile law, and business law. He is currently the Legal Studies Program Director at Miami-Jacobs Career College in Independence, Ohio, and practices law as a solo practitioner. Because of his passion for law and personal development, he has been teaching legal, criminal justice, and career/success courses at Miami-Jacobs Career College campuses in Cleveland and Akron with the constant goal of motivating others to reach their potential.