How do you set your annual goals? Do you wrap up your year in December, take a few days off for the holidays, then throw together a list of resolutions (lose weight, change jobs, go back to school, find love) so you have something to aim for come January 1? If so, you'll probably find yourself putting the same old things back on the list the following January. But thinking about your New Year's Resolutions now can help you set meaningful goals that you'll stay committed to long after January has come and gone.
Here are some tips to help you consider your long-term goals now so you're ready to hit the ground running before the New Year's Eve champagne wears off.
Take your time
Between now and the end of the year, plan some time alone with your thoughts...and your goals. Grab a notebook, take a walk, or even get out of town and away from your daily routine. Setting long-term goals over the course of a few months will allow ideas to settle in and give you time to figure out how to reach those goals. This will be much more valuable than announcing you're going to lose weight on January 1 with no clue as to how you're going to do it.
"Change jobs" is a short-term goal that won't be meaningful if it's not supported by long-term thinking. Bailing out into the first job that comes along could mean you'll be in the same unfulfilled position a year or two down the line. Take some time now to think about your long-term goals for the next five and even ten years, and then set stepping stone goals for the coming year.
Explore what you really want
According to the U.S. government, some New Year's resolutions make people's lists year after year. If "lose weight, quit smoking, drink less, and get a better job" are always on your list, ask yourself why. Try taking a look at why you want to lose weight or why you want to make six figures. And why do these goals never get checked off your list? If your goals are things you think you should be doing, or worse, things other people think you should be doing, they're never going to be a priority for you. Setting a goal to lose weight to lower your blood pressure/cholesterol/blood sugar so that you can live longer will be a lot more motivating than trying to lose weight to fit into a favorite pair of jeans.
Set S.M.A.R.T. goals
Why is "get skinny" a poor goal? Because it's not S.M.A.R.T., i.e. it's not Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. What does this mean?
Specific - The what, when, where, why and how of the goal. Paint a mental picture (then commit it to words) of how you're going to accomplish your goal. For example, what changes will you need to make to your eating and exercise habits and how will you go about implementing those changes?
Measurable -How will you know when you've reached your goal. Set a target that can be measured, such as "Lose 25 lbs." or "Finish the New York Marathon in under four hours" so that you can measure your progress and reward yourself when you hit milestones along the way.
Attainable - Goals need to be high and worthwhile in order to keep you motivated, but they also need to be possible. You could lose 25 lbs. in a month, but the drastic steps you'll need to take means you'll likely gain it back not long afterwards. Losing a pound a week for 25 weeks is still a tough goal that requires work and commitment, but is probably attainable.
Realistic - "Get skinny" isn't a realistic goal, especially if means that your health suffers from drastic dieting. Set a realistic goal that won't conflict with your other goals or be counter-productive to other aspects of your life.
Timely - Set a deadline for your goal, so you can break it down into smaller monthly or weekly sub-goals. This will keep you moving forward and the small victories will keep you motivated.
When your "get skinny" goal gets S.M.A.R.T. it becomes something like "Exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week, and develop healthy eating habits to lose 25 lbs. by August 1." Check out this article for more on setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Finalize and plan
Once you've brainstormed ideas, and taken a look at which goals really resonate for you, draft up a list and then a plan. Break down the goals into smaller bites, keep a record of where you're at and where you need to go next, and reassess frequently (see this post for ideas.) And don't forget to reward yourself for your successes to keep you motivated.
As the nights begin to draw in and the autumnal air turns crisp, take some time to look back on the year and then start to think about what next year (and the years after) could hold for you.