When I lived in Venezuela, I welcomed 2008 with the locals by making traditional New Year's “wishes” and celebrating with colorful superstitions like wearing yellow underwear to summon wealth, carrying a suitcase to bring travel opportunities, and gobbling down 12 grapes at midnight for good luck.
In the States, of course, we make “resolutions,” which sound more intentional than wishes, though they are rarely more effective. Like Charlie Brown and the football, we charge energetically toward our goals as part of this annual rite, but most of us land on our backs before the end of the month. In fact, according to a 2015 article by US News and World Report, an estimated 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.
So, now that mid-February has arrived, it seems an appropriate time to ask, “How are your resolutions progressing?”
If we don't shed 10 pounds or sleep eight hours each night, we're only letting ourselves down. But what about our professional goals for the year? After all, we have responsibilities to our Boards, staff, and communities that make the stakes higher. And, our ability to set and achieve goals is a critical reflection of our leaderships skills.
Whether you set your goals at the start of the New Year, the fiscal year, or a strategic planning process, the following are a few suggestions that can help set you up for success as you chart the path forward.
It may surprise you to learn that the word resolution comes from the Latin, “resolutionem” or “the process of reducing things into simpler forms.” Often our goals are lofty and daunting. Take the top three New Year’s resolutions: eat healthier; exercise more; and save money. These goals are so broad that they are hard to begin, let alone sustain. Breaking down ambitious goals into manageable steps will feed your need for early gratification and build the momentum necessary to keep you on track.
Put it in Writing
Writing down goals can help you in several ways. First, writing will clarify and organize your thoughts. Second, writing makes your goals tangible, and putting them within your daily view will hold you accountable. (I have a list next to my computer screen that is impossible to ignore.) Third, according to neuroscientists, writing improves our brain’s “encoding,” which is the biological process that helps determine what we remember. Basically, if it’s important enough to remember, write it down…and be specific!
How often have you thought of your resolutions since January 1st? Yup, that’s what I figured. Once the holidays are behind us, our attention gets scattered, and those resolutions get shelved along with the leftover wrapping paper. As you set your goals, pick dates in advance, at least every three months, and do a quarterly assessment of where you are and how to advance the goal from there. Scheduling regular opportunities to check up on your goals is a chance to evaluate your progress, adjust your planning, and renew your commitment.
By way of example, this year the Harmony Program kicked off our second decade of service with a plan to expand and innovate. We identified specific goals to move us in that direction, including, for example, launching our first after-school choral program in the fall, in the borough of Queens, to serve 20-30 students. The goal was modest enough to manage with our current staffing and budget, specific enough to provide us guidelines for its realization, and tracked regularly as part of our written agenda at weekly staff meetings.
It's never too late to get back on track. If you’re already a member of the 80 percent who have given up on their New Year's resolutions, ask yourself if these suggestions might be worth trying. The year is still young!