Hey there Zen Organizers,
2021 started almost three weeks ago. Did you make any resolutions for the New Year? How are they going so far?
Did you know research shows that people who make New Year's resolutions are ten times more likely to commit to reaching their goal compared to people who don't? However, only 40 to 46% of these people will succeed in attaining or working on their goals six months from now (Norcross, n.d.). And this percentage falls to 19% over two years (Norcross & Vangarelli, 1988-1989).
That's because to maintain good resolutions or goals in the long-term, you need to put into place a system that will lead to long-lasting changes:
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. - Atomic Habits, James Clear
Through reading various books and trying different methods, I've found five essential steps or elements that must be present to achieve your goals successfully:
a clear vision;
a list of the tasks needed to accomplish your vision, goals and habits.
I've found that achieving my goals and working towards my vision has become much easier with this system.
I go over all five following steps at least once a year, although I'd recommend reassessing your vision and goals at least twice a year. As for the habits and tasks, the more you evaluate your progress and consistency and make the required adjustments to accomplish them, the more chances you have to do so. I'd say to review them at the end of every month as a bare minimum, but every Sunday would be even better!
To help you implement this system, I've prepared a workbook that guides you through all four steps. You can download it by clicking on the button below.
1. Clarify your vision
Before even thinking about your goals, it's crucial to define your vision and your priorities. The reason for that is that they will be your source of motivation. Whenever you feel unmotivated by a task or feel like giving up on your good habit, remind yourself of what it'll help you accomplish: your dream life.
Let's first start with the vision. Your vision is what you'd like your life to be like in a certain amount of years. I usually do this exercise for the next five years, but you can do it for the next year, the next two, the next ten, etc. You can also define one vision for your personal life and one for your professional life if you prefer. The important thing is to try to picture your ideal life as precisely as possible in your head:
Where are you?
What are you doing?
Who's with you?
How do you feel?
How do you look?
It's crucial to be completely honest with yourself in this exercise. Don't be afraid to dream big. Don't let your fears in.
Write it all down somewhere so you can go back to it when you feel lost or unmotivated.
Another great way to record your vision is to make a vision board, which is a collage of images, quotes, words, etc., that represent your dreams or desires. It's meant to inspire and motivate you when you look at it. That's why you should place it somewhere visible.
2. Define your priorities
Once you've clarified your vision, define your life priorities. They should be in harmony with your vision. For example, if you envision yourself with children, then family will probably be one of your top priorities.
Here are some examples of priorities:
family and friends
health (both physical and mental)
work and career
physical environment (especially your home)
fun and recreation
Your priorities are where you should focus most - if not all - your time and energy. If it's not the case right now, then, in the next steps, you'll have to consider them when setting your goals and implementing new habits.
But remember, because you have a finite amount of time and energy, you can't have 30 priorities. I won't tell you what number is good because it all depends on you. But don't bite off more than you can chew.
3. Set SMARTER goals
Now that you know where you want to go and what your priorities are, it's time to set goals that will help you make it a reality.
As you probably know, there are countless methods to set goals like the Level 10 Life, the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise, the V2MOM, the WOOP method. But the most famous one is probably the SMART method. However, I prefer the extended version of this acronym: SMARTER.
A SMARTER goal is:
Specific → it has to be clear and precise;
Measurable → you must be able to track your goal and know when you've reached it;
Achievable → it has to be challenging but still objectively feasible;
Relevant → it should help you attain your vision, and it should be aligned with your priorities;
Time-bound → determine the moment at which you'd like to have attained it;
Exciting → it should be exciting, motivating and meaningful, so you keep working on it even through rough patches;
Reviewed → goals have to be assessed and readjusted periodically to make sure they still correspond to your vision and that you're on the path to success.
Let's take a classic example of a goal that isn't SMARTER: "I want to lose weight." It's difficult to achieve such a goal because it's too vague. How much weight do you want to lose? Is it feasible (and healthy)? Why do you want to lose it? When do you want to have achieved it? When and how will you assess your progress?
A much SMARTER goal would be: I want to lose 7 kilos within the next year (precise the exact date) because I want to be healthier. I will assess my progress monthly thanks to a weight tracker. For the "exciting" and "relevant" aspects of this goal, make sure they correspond to your vision and that it's a goal you want to achieve for yourself. In the case of weight loss, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons and not just because of societal pressure.
As for the number and complexity of goals to set, it'll depend on the period you've defined to achieve your vision. For example, it might be unrealistic to build a multi-million-dollar empire within two years if you're starting from scratch. But this goal is much more feasible over five or ten years.
When I clarify my vision and set my goals, I always keep in mind Bill Gates' quote:
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
So I suggest you divide your vision and goals into different levels: short-term goals, mid-term goals, and long-term goals. Keep in mind that short-term goals usually take less time and energy to achieve than long-term ones. As a result, you should have fewer long-term goals than short-term ones.
You also have to consider that you don't necessarily have to work on all your goals contemporaneously. For example, if your five-year vision consists of starting a business of your own and buying a house, you might want to start for the first two or three years with the business goal. Then, once you're on track with that one, you could start looking for a house. However, you can still begin to tackle some of your short-term goals associated with the house in the meantime. For example, you can start defining your budget, visiting houses, getting information on loans, etc.
4. Implement good habits that will help you reach your vision and goal(s)
In order to reach your goals, you'll have to put some habits into place. As James Clears says:
Success is the product of daily habits — not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.
So if you want to achieve your goals, and therefore your vision, it's essential to think about the daily habits that will help you get there.
Let's go back to our weight loss example. There are different habits you could put into place to reach this goal:
go to the gym three times a week;
walk 30 minutes every day;
eat healthily six days out of seven;
eat breakfast every day (if you don't already have this habit);
For every type of goal, you can find habits that will help you get closer to success daily. Here are some more examples:
If you want to build your own business but are still working full-time, you could dedicate one hour every evening to work on it.
If your goal is to save 1500€ this year, you could put 5€ in a saving jar every day, for example. Or you could decide on the maximum amount you can spend every day.
If your goal is to declutter your house, you could dedicate 15 minutes every day to declutter a specific drawer, cupboard, surface, etc.
Find habits that will motivate you and won't feel too overwhelming. For example, if you don't like to clean and tidy up, it's unlikely you'll be motivated to declutter your house for an hour every day for long. Or if you work full-time, it'll be hard to dedicate more than one hour a day to your business idea. It's also important to take some time for yourself and relax. Otherwise, you risk exhaustion!
For your habits to bear fruits, you have to commit to them in the long-term. There's no point in going to the gym daily for one week and then never go again. Start small, but do it steadily. That's how you'll enjoy the rewards of your efforts.
Along the same line, you shouldn't try to implement too many new habits at once. You shouldn't try to put more than one to three habits at a time (Clear, n.d.). But if you want to implement "big" habits, like going to the gym three times a week or work one hour a day on your business, I'd suggest you try to implement only this one habit until it's completely integrated into your routine. It might take a month, or it could take a few, but you'll have higher chances to implement it successfully.
To help you integrate your new habits more easily into your routine, here are a few tips:
Place visual cues that remind you of the new habit. When you implement a new habit into your routine, it's easy to forget about it. So it's important to place visual cues in tactical places to remind yourself of this new habit. If you want to implement a journaling practice in the evening, put your journal and a pen on your nightstand. If you want to save money, put a message in your wallet that reminds you of your goal. If you wish to work out first thing in the morning, put your training clothes next to your bed. The more you'll be visually reminded of your habit, the more likely you'll carry it out.
Take advantage of your established habits. Habit stacking is one of the tips I find most useful when trying to implement a new habit. It consists of performing your new habit before or after a habit you already have. Just remember to use a cue that's similar or done in the same space as the new habit (Clear, 2018). For example, if you want to start flossing your teeth daily, the most obvious and useful habit you could use as a cue is brushing your teeth at night or in the morning. It would be harder to remember to floss if your cue was "after I get dressed", which is usually something you do in your bedroom.
Track your habits. A habit tracker is a great tool to make sure you stick to your habits. It's very simple: every time you complete your habit, write it down in your tracker. This way, you'll have an accurate picture of how well you're implementing your habit. We tend to overestimate how good we are at sticking with our good habits. So the tracker provides proof of your assiduity. Plus, it can give important insights on why you're not sticking to a habit or what factors influence it. For example, if you see that you often miss your Monday gym session, there might be a reason for it. Try to understand what prevents you from sticking to your habit on Mondays. You might find this day or time isn't compatible with your schedule and obligations. Change the day or the time of your gym session accordingly and see if you stick more to your habit this way. Many reasons can influence your habits. By keeping statistics of your habits, it's easier to understand what's getting in the way. Additionally, the act of ticking a box when you've completed the habit is so satisfying and rewarding in itself. It gives a great motivation boost to keep you going!
Here's the monthly habit tracker I use in my Bullet Journal, for example:
And here are some tips to help you stick to your habits in the long-term, even on the days where you have no motivation:
Picture your successful self. One of the best tips to maintain your habits in the long-run is to picture your successful self once you'll have fully implemented your habit and reached your goal. Always keep your vision in mind and who you want to become with your habits when you don't feel motivated. After all, it's the reason why you wanted to implement this habit in the first place, so it should be your principal source of motivation.
Set different levels of accomplishment. This technique helps to maintain your habits even in the days where you lack motivation. It's easy to think that only one missed day isn't a big deal, but it sends the message to your brain that it's not a problem to skip on your habits. Instead, set three different levels of accomplishments so that you stick with your habits even when you don't feel like it. For example, if your goal is to meditate every day, you can have these three levels. 1) Meditate for 15 minutes, which is the level you should strive to reach most days and corresponds to the habit you want to implement. 2) Meditate for 5 minutes. Use this level when you have less time or your motivation is dwindling. 3) Meditate for 1 minute. It's the level for when you think about not doing it at all, but one minute is much better than not doing it at all!
Set out to do the habit just for 5 min (this technique also works with tasks). Like the previous tip, use it when you don't feel motivated to carry out your habit. When this happens, you can talk yourself into doing it only for five minutes. In my opinion, five minutes are just enough to be worth it to start doing something, but not too much to convince yourself to do it even if you don't feel like it. For example, if your habit is to go for a 30- minute walk every day, but you don't feel like it that day, talk yourself into going just for five minutes. It probably means walking until the end of your street and back. You don't need a lot of motivation to do that. I'm sure that 95% of the time (yes, this is a very scientific fact 😂), you'll end up doing more than 5 minutes! Remember, the hardest part is always to start. Once you have, the motivation usually comes naturally!
5. List the tasks needed to accomplish your vision, goals, and habits
Once you've defined your vision, priorities, SMARTER goals, and the habit(s) you have to implement, it's time to think about the tasks that will help you put your habits into place, reach your goals, and achieve your vision. The more specifically you deconstruct your vision, goals, and habits into small tasks, the less overwhelming this whole enterprise will look. And the more likely you'll be to succeed!
Let's go back to our weight loss goal once more: "I want to lose 7 kilos within the next year (precise the exact date) because I want to be healthier. I will assess my progress monthly thanks to a weight tracker". Also, I've decided to implement the habit of going three times a week to the gym (on Monday, Wednesday and Friday). What tasks could this goal and habit encompass? Well, maybe you don't have a scale. So buying one would be one of the first things to do. Then you'd have to subscribe to a gym. But if we want to deconstruct it into the smallest possible tasks, we should divide this task into two tasks:
research the gyms in my area and compare their prices and services;
subscribe to the one that fits my needs best.
I might also have to buy clothes because I don't have any training apparel. Finally, to assess my progress, I need to create a weight tracker.
Once you've determined all the tasks needed to accomplish your vision, goals and habits, plan them. If you don't set a precise date to complete these tasks, there's a big chance you'll procrastinate and won't get anything done.
In this example, there are relatively few tasks to accomplish; it doesn't seem too overwhelming. But when you have goals that require many more steps and have deadlines, it's paramount to list all the tasks you'll need to accomplish them. Otherwise, the goal on its whole will seem daunting and discouraging. Once you've listed and planned all the tasks, you'll realize your goal is simply composed of numerous but feasible steps that will eventually lead to its accomplishment!
These are the four essential steps that will hopefully help you stick to your resolutions and goals for longer this year! If you want to read a great book about goals and habits, I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear. As you probably noticed, I cited him and his book quite a few times! It's a great resource if you want to implement good habits or get rid of bad ones.
What do you think of this system? Do you think you'll try to put it into place? What are your tips to successfully achieve your vision and goals and stick to your good habits? Let me know in the comments below, on Instagram or Facebook!
And don't forget to download the workbook!
I wish you to achieve your goals, make progress on your vision and stick to your good habits,
Clear, J. (n.d.). 5 Common Mistakes That Cause New Habits to Fail. Retrieved from: https://jamesclear.com/habits-fail
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Random House Business.
Norcross, J. C. (n.d.). The Resolution Solution: Creating and Keeping New Year's Resolutions. Retrieved from: https://www.findapsychologist.org/the-resolution-solution-creating-and-keeping-new-years-resolutions/
Norcross, J. C. & Vangarelli, D.C. (1988-1989). The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2980864/https://www.subscribepage.com/zolibrary