It is the time of the year that many of us engage in an annual ritual of making New Year's resolutions, which more times than not are broken before the end of the first week of the new year.
But maybe the idea of New Year's resolutions is not a bad one, but what is lacking is the skill in implementing the resolutions.
Business research has shown individuals who set goals, write them down, and share the goals with others are on average more successful professionally than individuals who do not set goals.
Whenever I teach a course in general management, goal setting is normally a major topic and one that I enjoy teaching. Maybe a look at some of the principles discovered in business research on the professional success of individuals can be helpful for us in creating our New Year's resolutions and to help us to make 2011 a year in which some personal and professional accomplishments are made.
"Good" goals share a number of common features. Here are a few suggestions for making New Year's resolutions for 2011
1. Our New Year's resolutions should be aligned with our higher order life goals. For example, a goal to learn to speak Thai fluently makes sense if one is planning to create a career in the Land of Smiles, but might not be a good use of time and be hard to sustain the motivation for someone just wanting to spend their "gap" year in Thailand having fun before beginning their "real life."
Working towards achieving our resolutions (goals) should help us achieve longer term professional or personal objectives. Another example, giving up smoking can help achieve a healthier and longer life.
By making sure our New Year's resolutions are aligned with our higher life-long goals we ensure we use our time and energy efficiently. Also we are more likely to stick with our resolutions if there is a linkage with benefits that will last beyond 2011.
2. Our New Year's resolution should be "stretch goals." Stretch goals are goals that are neither easy nor impossible to achieve. Setting a goal of winning the Boston Marathon is not very realistic for most middle aged educators, but setting a goal of running 3 hours a week is doable, but still challenging for most teachers.
Only when we "stretch" ourselves do we come close to achieving our potential. Therefore goals that are too easy to achieve may make us feel good about achieving them, but may prevent us from achieving the level of "success" we are capable of.
3. Our New Year's Resolutions should be measurable. Instead of making a resolution of losing some weight; it would be better to set the goal to lose 10 Kilos (or in my case a bit more would probably be better). Instead of setting the goal of learning to speak Thai, it might be better to set as a resolution the passing of the Thai language proficiency test in December. Instead of making the resolution to save some money for retirement this year, it might be better to make the resolution to save 100,000 Baht.
Goals without measurable outcomes often fail to provide the direction, motivation and benchmarks needed to achieve the results desired.
4. Our New Years resolutions should be time specific. Goals we plan to achieve "someday" are normally put off, and not surprisingly "someday" never seems to come. How many of us plan on writing a novel "someday?" I know I have had this goal for years but have never really started putting my ideas to paper. Good New Year's resolutions should include specific time frames. For example, "this year I will start on a masters degree in linguistics and will complete it by 2013" might be a good resolution.
If one wants to achieve one's dreams it is better to get started in 2011 than to wait for "someday."
5. We should have a plan to achieve our resolutions. Goals without plans are just dreams. Our resolutions will not happen just because we made them, we need plans. Often to achieve our resolutions it takes considerable time, steps and effort. For example, I will not lose those 10 (or more) Kilos by skipping breakfast and taking a walk on New Year's Day. It will take an exercise and eating plan for the entire year to achieve. One will not become fluent in Thai by going to Asia Books and buying course on the Thai language. It will require a study plan and the motivation to stick to the plan.
Alongside making New Year's resolutions, one should also design plans on how to achieve the goals that are set.
New Year's resolutions or other life goals do not have to be accomplished in full to be valuable. Often while working towards a goal, our life aims and ambitions change, but working towards goals we have set allow us to "move forward." For example, the money one saved for the goal of retirement can be used to start a business instead if one's life's ambitions change.
A personal example, I had a goal of getting a well paid job in an international company and part of my plan was to earn a BS and later an MBA. I never got my dream job but the education helped me to get into a PhD program and later become a university professor. When starting higher education the idea of someday become a professor was never in my mind, nevertheless, I could not have become one without the education. While I did not achieve the specific goal I set for myself, I am not unhappy with where I am now and I do not feel the education was a waste because my initial goal was never achieved.
I always make New Year's resolutions but I have not always, or often, followed the advice given above and I could list countless New Year's resolutions I have made that did not achieve anything productive. But I can recount one time when I did follow the advice given and it paid off. In 2006 (5 years ago), I made a New Year's resolution that I would write and have a book published with a respectable publisher within 5 years. I was working on my PhD at the time and therefore this goal was aligned with my long-term career plans, was a stretch goal, was measurable and time specific.
My plan included the first step of investigating the publishing industry and start sending out some book proposals. Shortly after the start of the New Year, I saw a call for book proposals and since I had always heard writers nearly always receive a number of rejections before getting a book published, I figured that while I did not have the qualifications the publisher was looking for, I would send in a proposal with the idea that it would be a good learning experience and I would get my first rejection. To my surprise, the proposal was accepted and my first book was published in 2007. I have had two other books published since that time. Would I have achieved this goal without having made the New Year's resolution to do so? Maybe, but maybe not.
In one year's time, we will all be facing 2012 (well hopefully all of us will), the passage of time is something we have no control over. What we do have control over is the progress we make in achieving our life's goals within the next year.
I would like to wish everyone a happy and successful 2011 although each of us defines success in an individual way. Making a few New Year's resolution following these five steps might be helpful in making 2011 a good year of personal and/or professional growth.
Ok, now it is time for me to stop giving advice and start working on my own New Year's resolutions.
Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,
as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics.