1) Keep your goals in front of your face. Do you remember last year’s resolutions? Probably not, if you didn’t write them down. Don’t make verbal resolutions. They are easy to forget.
2) Set quantifiable goals. A vague “I will be a better person” is a set-up for failure. How will you determine whether you achieved this? “I will visit Auntie in the old folks’ home once a month” or “I will volunteer X hours this year at the food pantry” can be measured.
3) Include methods for achieving your resolutions. Getting in shape, writing a novel, or advancing your career sound great. How are you going to get there? Joining a gym or running club? Taking a creative writing class or joining a critique group? Going for a certification in your field?
4) Don’t define a setback as a failure. If your resolution was to start an exercise program, and you haven’t yet, this is not a fail. It is a delay. Start now.
Write down goals that are quantifiable, and include a defined route to achievement. Here is how I put these keys to work in my writing.
The Spreadsheet – I have an Excel file I name Writing Log 20xx, updating it for the current year. There is a tab for each month. I save it to my computer desktop. Every time I work on my fiction, blog, do promotional work, or volunteer with a writing group, I open the file so I can log those hours. If I am working longhand, I jot my time at the top of my paper, to be logged later.
With a spreadsheet, you can see at a glance when you are productive, and when you are slacking off. By the way, I did a similar spreadsheet a few years ago when I decided to run a marathon. I kept track of the miles I ran, the time, gym workouts, and race stats.
My writing log satisfies the quantifiable part of goal setting. I also have an annual goal list. Write X number of short stories, finish a novel-in-progress, submit X times, attend a conference. As I achieve a particular goal, I strikethrough it. By keeping my log on my desktop and using it on an almost daily basis, I keep my goals in front of my face.
And the setback part? Sometimes I set too many goals, or life interferes with serious business that must be attended to, like illness in the family. I don’t count that as a failure. At the end of the year, I evaluate my goal list. Did I reach too high? Was part of my goal (like making a sale) out of my control?
I did finish my first marathon, but not before the official cutoff time. I evaluated my goal, and decided my training program was more suited for a 5K runner. I was lazy. The next year, I upped my miles and hours, and stuck more closely to a defined training program. I finished within the cutoff time. Not a lofty goal in the wider world of athletics, perhaps, but achievable considering my age and fitness level.
What if you’ve already gotten off on the wrong foot with this year’s resolutions? You can adjust your list, or scrap it. Start a new one. New Year’s Resolutions should not be a perpetual failure tradition. Think of them as tools to guide you to achieving your dreams.