It's that time of year again.
Soon we'll see gyms swarming. Healthfood aisles stripped bare. Newly polished resumes flying through the air. And social media buzzing with new campaigns for running shoes, meal replacements, online classes...
Whether business goals or personal, the start of the new year is a time for reflection and dedicated growth. Whatever that means to you.
The purpose of making New Year’s resolutions is to start down a 365-day path of self-improvement. Replacing bad habits with good ones.
Self-improvement, like any other exploit, is a matter of practicing tactics to support a strategy.
When’s the last time you ran a year-long strategy?
Here's how I think about goalsetting for business, health/fitness, and personal success.
How to not fail at your goals
You know about SMART goals, right?
SMART goals are:
The trouble starts with specificity. Most people promise themselves something hopelessly generic like:
Build my business and clientele
Get back to writing/painting/music/dancing
And they’ve forgotten about it a month later. Back to the same old habits. Why? Because they didn’t narrow the focus. The scope was too big.
So let’s break it down:
Let’s say I want to lose weight.
Great, how much weight?
Ohh, 15 pounds should do.
That’s specific and measurable. Just hop on a scale at intervals and watch the lbs melt off.
Is it achievable? Certainly. I have plenty to spare. And there's a lot of fun ways to lose 1.25 lbs in a month.
Relevant? Of course. I’m a confirmed glutton. I need good goals to keep myself healthy.
The crucial next step (and where most people fail) is breaking the goal into timely increments.
Taken all at once, any goal can seem daunting. But if you break it down over 52 weeks, it's a whole lot more manageable.
Here’s the process:
Each pound of bodyfat stores about 3500 calories
So 15 lbs means 52,500 extra calories stored
Impossible all at once—that’s a month without food
But across 1 year it breaks down to 1000 calories per week
Can I cut 1000 calories each week for a year? Of course. Any American can.
Run 5 additional miles = 500 calories
Quit daily soda/coffee drink = 500-1000 calories/week
Fast for 24 hours = ~2000 calories
Walk the dog for 30 mins = 100-200 calories
Ok so let's say you're an entrepreneur or small business owner...
Your goal is to fix up your website and get more regular with your marketing.
There's a lot involved in that process, in terms of outlining strategy, picking platforms, researching SEO, writing, rewriting, etc—but for the purpose of goalsetting, most of it falls into various types of reading and writing.
Here are some tasks to break it down:
Read 20 pages of a good book about marketing/writing
Read 2-3 articles about website elements (and take notes)
Find 2-3 existing websites and take notes on what's compelling or otherwise
Write for 20 minutes
Write for 2 hours
Write 10 taglines
Set up your own system of requirements and repetition. How often will you do each task? Are different tasks worth more or less than others?
Develop a sensible tracking system to make sure you're ticking tasks off one by one each week. Whether elaborate spreadsheet or tallymarks in your planner, an organized system will work for you as a reminder and support for the mental patterns you're rewiring.
Once you’ve broken down your goal into manageable terms, now it’s time to craft your resolution to help you nail down those increments week after week.
To do that I add another couple elements to the SMART goal equation:
That's right, smartass.
Accountability: outsource your willpower
I’m privileged to have a merciless core of friends driven by honor, creative competition, and self-improvement. All of us with different strengths and weaknesses and ambitions. Every year we organize our Enclave Resolutions Pool.
The rules are simple:
Weekly reportable and reasonably challenging;
Ante up an appropriate wager;
Last one standing gets half the pot;
Finishing the year wins the remainder.
We report in each Sunday via WhatsApp, and periodically someone declares defeat. And everyone else redoubles their determination. No one wants to be the next one down.
My friends and our honor system hold me accountable to my resolutions and give structure to my resolve. Every day I know that if I give in, I’ll have to announce that I’m out.
Your version may not be as intense as that—but telling someone you trust about your goals and checking in periodically can help set you up for success. You can also declare relevant goals in your social networking groups.
Involving a community fortifies your willpower. But it’s the stakes that fuel the game.
Stakes: intrinsic vs extrinsic
The key to incremental achievement is separating the goal from the strategy. Which means adding an extrinsic reward to your gameshow of one.
Of course it’ll feel great to lose 15 pounds—but that’s not a tangible process. Healthy weightloss is achieved slowly, methodically. You can’t feel yourself burning stored fat gram by 9-calorie gram. Weightloss is a result. A goal.
Resolution is the steps you’ve decided upon for getting there. So here’s what a SMARTASS weightloss resolution might look like:
Goal: Lose 15 pounds by 2023
Resolution: Each week I will exercise 80 minutes total and pick one day for a 1000-calorie limit
Stakes: If I mess up a week, I'll donate $50 to the local food bank and rollover any remaining exercise minutes
Same is true for small business marketing goals:
Goal: Write 5 website pages, and then each month post 1-2 blogs and a newsletter
Resolution: Each week I'll do 2 long writing sessions (2 hours) and 4 short ones (20 mins). And each week I'll read relevant material for 20 minutes at least 5 times.
Stakes: Any time you miss a week, everyone on your staff gets a 1% raise
Separate the result from the reward, and it becomes a game instead of a chore. And the weekly structure allows for day-to-day flexibility and planning ahead.
Because SMARTASS goals also take into account how real life can get in the way sometimes, and you just can't meet your achievements for the week.
Second-chances: gamify your habits
It's easy to quit when it's all or nothing. And it's easy to justify quitting when something reasonable keeps you from fulfilling your weekly tasks. Getting sick, for example. Or going camping.
That's why I always build in a penalty clause with something additional for the next week that's doable but annoying enough that I won't let it happen often.
My weightloss goal from 2020 included limiting my liquid calorie intake to 6 drinks per week. But I knew there would be some weeks I might want to indulge a bit more, so I added a clause that for every drink over six I'd have to run 2 miles the next week.
Knowing my limits as a runner, I had to be mindful and strategic or face the consequences.
When it comes to writing for your website—your second chance could involve hiring a copywriter to make up for lost time.
Real-life example of SMARTASS goalsetting
These are the resolutions I'll be wagering on for this year's pool. I'll keep track in a simple spreadsheet so I can chart my overall progress.
In a moment of gladiatorial delusion I decided to sign up as a participant in the 2022 World's Toughest Mudder, which is a 24-hour obstacle course race of 5-mile laps. Needless to say I have a lot of running to do, considering I've barely run 5 miles the past month—so my resolution this year must build toward that November goal.
Climb or functional training 2x per week
Run 5 + 2x miles per week (where x is the current month)
1 week rollover allowed
I won't tell you my business growth goals, but here's my weekly resolution for continuing education. Because otherwise I'll read only novels.
Read 40 pages of a good business book per week
Spend 30 minutes with a copywriting course per week
This one doubles as a health goal, but for me it's more of an enforcement of willpower. My own personal Mr. Hyde is a ravenous late-night snacker and sipper, and it's a habit I'm always trying to break.