This post was originally published in Forbes Magazine on February 13, 2020. You can read the post on Forbes website here. Laura Maloney is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council.
February can be a challenging month for those seeking personal and professional development. Statistically, 80% of those who set resolutions at the beginning of the year have, by now, lost commitment to their goals and returned to old thoughts and behavior patterns. But, while it may be tempting to put a failed resolution behind you, now may be a good time to revisit your intention and uncover the obstacles blocking your progress.
Often, life gets in the way of achieving goals, and re-engineering our external environment can be key to our success. But our internal environment also plays a role, and sometimes peeling back complex thoughts and emotions reveals competing commitments that are holding us back. Listening inward, we might even discover that we’ve been striving toward goals we think we should prioritize, instead of those we actually do.
With this in mind, here are a few guideposts that can help you reassess unmet goals and uncover a path to success.
Set clearly-defined goals.
The concept of SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goals has been around since the 1950s, and research continues to illustrate the effectiveness of clearly-defined aspirations. For instance, a 2015 study found that people are 42% more likely to achieve a goal simply by writing it down.
Even though it’s highly effective, many people resist SMART goal-setting, because getting specific about a goal makes it seem more real. For example, it’s much easier to set a goal “to get healthy” than it is to set a goal to lose five pounds in five weeks by eating 500 fewer calories each day.
Being clear about exactly what your goal is and exactly how you plan to achieve it substantially increases your likelihood of success. It’s also an excellent litmus test for determining whether or not you actually want to achieve that particular goal. For example, when outlining a marathon training plan, if you don’t want to do the math on paper, you probably won’t want to run the numbers in real life.
A goal is something you have to work toward every day. During this process, it’s useful to think of a goal as the work that goes into achieving the end result and not simply the end result itself. When you break a goal down into a series of individual commitments, you’re much more likely to create holistic, sustainable change.
Select someone to hold you accountable.
Many people find that enlisting the help of an accountability buddy or mentor helps them achieve their goals, but it’s important to choose wisely and set the right parameters. While we should first and foremost be accountable to ourselves, we can regularly enforce our commitment to ourselves by being accountable to others.
A good accountability buddy is someone who’s achieved and maintained a similar goal and is willing to check in with you once a day by text for at least the first 30 days of your effort. Close friends and colleagues are usually good choices, but it’s helpful to maintain boundaries so your mentor doesn’t feel overly taxed.
If you ask someone to be an accountability buddy and they say no, don’t be discouraged. Ask someone else. Each and every one of us is working to maintain healthy and productive habits; ideally, accountability buddies will forge a mutually beneficial relationship.
Harness the power of words.
Words matter. The words we consciously and unconsciously choose to talk about our goals can be our North Star. Journaling is an excellent way of using words to help us understand and change our behavior. Many find journaling particularly useful in the morning, after our brains have spent the night actively cataloging information, processing thoughts and consolidating memories.
Try keeping a notebook next to your bed. Each morning, before you look at your phone or visit the bathroom, take a few minutes to write whatever comes to your mind. It doesn’t need to make sense. You might recall a dream you had or simply write about the day ahead. Over time, you’ll likely start to notice patterns in your conscious and unconscious thoughts that elucidate your actions and motivations.
Similarly, the words we choose to outwardly talk about our goals can affect how much power and autonomy we feel. If your goal is to ride your bike to work every day, saying “I choose to ride my bike to work every day” can be much more efficacious than saying “I should ride my bike to work every day.”
Pay attention to your energy.
Working toward a goal takes effort, of course, and may even leave you physically exhausted. But working toward a goal you truly desire should feel spiritually energizing, not depleting. Considering how invigorated you feel working toward a specific goal can be a great barometer to assess whether or not that goal is something you truly desire.
A goal you set for yourself should be something you want with every fiber of your being. Ultimately, working toward a goal isn’t about becoming someone else; it’s about uncovering who you are at your absolute best. And when you are this in tune with your resolution, there is truly nothing stopping you from making it your reality.