Out with the old and in with the new | Online Education“I’m going to stop eating sweets.” “I will lose weight.” “I will write a 2,000-page novel.” “I’m going to stop watching Jerry Springer.” ‘Tis the season for resolutions. You know how the cycle works. You stuff yourself at Thanksgiving and Christmas so you feel like a gravy-drenched blimp by the end of the year. You get stressed out at work because of the typical year-end crunch. You get stressed out because of holiday shopping and endless parties to attend. It’s no wonder that, by the end, all of us feel like we have weight to lose, bad habits to break, and things to do better. So when Jan. 1 rolls around, you break out your brand new planner and jot down those things that you will do the next year to be better, skinnier, or less irate.

Setting goals is never easy. There always seems to be so much at stake in setting the wrong goal. I mean, why send yourself into a downward, self-defeating spiral by setting goals you can’t reach or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, goals that are far beneath your abilities? To help you set goals you can keep, I provide the following four questions to guide you through the process:

1. “Is this resolution attainable?” Pardon me for stating the obvious, but you should set goals that you can actually reach. I should not, for example, make a goal to have Brad Pitt’s physique by the end of the year. Not going to happen. Even with the miracles of modern plastic surgery. Similarly, I should not set goals to give up red meat, stop playing video games, or invent a viable teleportation device, at least not within the next year.

Know thyself, the saying goes. Know what you are capable of. Expect great things of yourself but also realize that most real changes come in small increments. Therefore, refrain from setting impossible goals. Doing so only erodes your confidence in your ability to reach goals. Go with something you can set your sights on and move toward steadily throughout the year.

2. “Is it measurable?” Although it is a good sentiment, it is not enough to resolve to promote world peace. Why? You would have a hard time measuring your progress from day to day. You may help an old lady across the street in January. Does that mean your goal has been met? You threw a peace sign to some guy at the store. Are you finished? The truth is, you would never know when you finished or how far you had come.

You can make your goals measurable by making them more specific and assigning numbers to them. For example, instead of just promoting world peace, resolve to volunteer at a homeless shelter once a week. Or resolve to raise $10,000 to help victims of genocide. Resolve to take out your neighbor’s trash every week. As long as you can track or count your progress, you have greatly increased your chances of keeping your resolution. It also has a tendency to reward you as you go along, instead of holding out for one grand finale.

3. “Do I have a plan?” You know how they say, “A dream is just a dream until you have a plan and start working”? Well, maybe you don’t, but they do- you know, they… those people to whom everyone should listen. Regardless of who they are, it is common sense that most goals that do not also include plans usually don’t get reached. It’s like saying to yourself, “I want to go to Panguitch, Utah. I want to go to Panguitch, Utah.” Simply saying the words will not magically convey you to the small, isolated town of Panguitch. No, you need to get the map out, find the right roads, and start driving. It is no different with any other goal.

You will not reach your goal by merely writing it down. You need to create a plan whereby that goal will be obtained. For instance, if you want to lose weight, make a plan that tells you what days of the week you will exercise, what foods you will eat, or how you will reward yourself for milestones reached. The more specific, the better.

4. “Am I committed?” Going into a difficult resolution with only lukewarm commitment almost guarantees failure. And then you put yourself into the awkward situation of resolving to better keep resolutions. Therefore, only resolve to do things that are important to you enough to stick with for a whole year. For instance, if you’re thinking of resolving to refinish the kitchen cabinets, but the cabinets are about as high-priority to you as knitting your cousin’s dachshund a sweater, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Resolve to do something you are significantly excited, passionate, or concerned about. Pick something that will keep your attention. If the doctor just informed you that you are in danger of developing heart problems if you don’t lose weight, then that is probably sufficient incentive to stick with your resolution. If you just decided that you want to look like the Rock because he has cool pants, your commitment may not be solid enough to stay the course.

All four of these questions involve setting yourself up for success, instead of failure. Learn how to set and plan for realistic, measurable goals that you can commit to and you will find yourself actually writing down new resolutions this time next year.

About the author Marcus Varner earned his BA in English from Brigham Young University with a Creative Writing emphasis. He is currently in his second year at BYU’s lauded MBA program studying Marketing. He blogs, writes fiction and screenplays, loves movies, and can’t resist playing superheroes with his kids.

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