Did you know that a staggering 92 percent of people that set New Year's goals never actually achieve them? That's according to research by the University of Scranton.
I've done it many times, and if you're like me -- a driven, type-A entrepreneur -- failing to meet goals can set you back and leave you discouraged and frustrated. (I even felt it as I typed that sentence.)
Here's the thing: If you want to break the cycle, do what the other 8 percent of goal-setters -- the successful ones -- do consistently and exceptionally well.
Set goals that are specific and challenging (but not too hard).
Research by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that when people followed these two principles -- setting specific and challenging goals -- it led to higher performance 90 percent of the time.
Basically, the more specific and challenging your goals, the higher your motivation toward hitting them. That explains why easy or vague goals rarely get met.
Here's an example: If your goal between now and the end of the year is to, say, lose 20 pounds, that may be challenging, but it's not specific enough.
Eliminate vagueness and make it more achievable by stating it this way: During the month of August, I will lose five pounds by cutting off refined sugar, breads, and all fast food. I will also walk briskly for twenty minutes every day.
When you have that much clarity around your goal, your chances of hitting the mark increase dramatically.
On the flip side, goals that are too difficult to hit don't get met either. While it's important to challenge yourself, nobody completes a goal when he/she is overwhelmed by facing a mountain they can't climb.
If you find yourself with such a scenario, break down your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) into smaller bites you can actually chew. Use the same process of defining specific and challenging marks to hit when mapping out the smaller goals that will lead you to your final destination.
Questions to ask yourself: How challenging is this goal for me? Am I excited about reaching this goal? Is it too easy? If so, can I make it harder without it overwhelming me? Is it too complex? If so, how can I break it into smaller parts so I don't get overwhelmed?
Be passionate about your goals and committed to the end.
Simply put, the 8 percent of goal-setters who succeed want it, and badly. So ask yourself: What is my level of commitment? Are you totally sold out for reaching your goal? When obstacles pop up along the way, will you toss in the towel?
The 8 percent have an internal compass that keeps them locked in until they reach the top of the mountain. It's a belief system of "do whatever it takes" that is intrinsically motivated at their core.
Take a quick moment and check in with yourself. If at the core of your being you don't really have the desire or passion to pursue the goal, it doesn't matter how specific, challenging, or sexy your goal may sound -- you're not going to reach it.
Questions to ask yourself: How badly do I want it? Who's holding me accountable to the end? Is my heart truly in it from the start? What's life going to look like once I complete the goal? In the end, will it be worth it?
Use a feedback cycle to track progress.
You're human -- you're bound to fall back into old habits, procrastinate, or lose motivation. To counter these things, your chances of hitting a specific goal increase greatly if you're getting frequent feedback that will keep you on track and help you to adjust accordingly.
That's why the coaching profession is booming. People who are dead serious about meeting their goals benefit tremendously from the feedback and accountability system afforded in a coaching process.
Side note: Managers who are coaches typically have an edge with employees over managers who don't coach. They get high marks by providing consistent feedback through one-one-one meetings that motivate employees toward completing goals.
The 8 percent align their short- and long-term goals toward conquering the top of the mountain. This leads to happier lives, says Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom:
"The psychologists Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser have found that people who are mentally healthy and happy have a higher degree of 'vertical coherence' among their goals -- that is, higher-level (long-term) goals and lower-level (immediate) goals all fit together well so that pursuing one's short-term goals advances the pursuit of long-term goals".
Lean on trusted advisers.
Seeking out expert guidance and advice makes a big impact on achieving your goals. That's why successful people are no lone rangers. They surround themselves with mentors and advisers who will support them on their journey.
Think about three or four people you can recruit that are further down the path. Make it a monthly habit to share your goals in the context of a mastermind meeting where you can glean wisdom, insight, and advice to steer you toward your goals.
The most successful people are very patient and live by the motto "one step at a time." They also avoid juggling many things. You think multitasking is still a good strategy for success? Research says it's a myth and can be damaging to our brains. You end up splitting your focus over many tasks, losing focus, lowering the quality of your work and taking longer to hit your goals.
The 8 percent are smart enough to work on several smaller chunks to complete a big goal. But they do it by knocking one down then moving on to the next one.
As you break the goal down into smaller chunks, each of those chunks should have their own deadlines. Amy Morin in Forbes calls these "now deadlines":
"Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach -- like saving enough money for retirement -- you're more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide 'I will create a budget by Thursday,' or 'I will lose two pounds in seven days.'"
Bringing it home.
While you may think these successful 8 percenters are born predisposed to these talents, research says that successful people achieve their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.
Aristotle nailed it more than 2000 years ago when he said, "We are what we repeatedly do." By practising these skills, expect to dramatically improve your rate of finishing strong.