What you get by achieving your goals is not as important
as what you become by achieving your goals.
Henry David Thoreau
1 – Introduction – New Year Resolutions
We all make resolutions at the start of the year. However, for many these resolutions disappear into the ether around the end of January. Quite often, thirty days is what it takes for old habits to return, for resolutions to be forgotten and for goals not to be achieved. This is in part why I am publishing this essay at the end of January. This is the time when many of us need help achieving the goals we set for the year.
So how do you do it? How do you achieve your goals? How do you stick to your resolutions for the long term, the whole year, and not just for a month? Here are a few tips that have work for me and I believe will work for you as well.
2 – Focus on your vision
Vision is your guiding light. Vision is what you see that others cannot see. Only you know what your vision is and why it matters to you. When setting your new year resolutions, let your vision guide you. By doing so you will set goals that are meaningful in the context of your entire life, not just in the context of this year alone. These will be goals that matter to you and that are are worth committing to. They will be goals that make the hard work needed to reach them worth it. They may be new goals or they may be goals you have been meaning to achieve for a long time. Either way reaching these goals will help make your life meaningful and build your self worth.
3 – Set specific goals
Setting specific goals is half the battle because a goal set is a goal that is already partially reached. This is because setting a specific goal forces you to define the path you will follow to reach this goal. Once that path is set, all you have to do is follow it.
4 – Set specific deadlines
Setting goals is important but without deadlines nothing gets done. Deadlines set a line in the sand, so to speak, a time by which things must get done. Again, be specific when setting your deadlines. For example say: I will have 12 fine art prints matted and framed by June 30th. Or, I will have my folio project that includes 12 prints, an artist statement, a biography printed, packaged and ready to show by July 1st, 2015.
5 – Start with what is hard, reward yourself with what is easy
Make a list of what you have to do each day, then give a letter to each task. A for the most important and difficult tasks, B for the second most important tasks, C for the less important tasks and D for the easiest tasks. Start your day by working on the A tasks, the most important and difficult ones. When those are all done, move to the B tasks. Don’t move to the B tasks until all A tasks are done. Do this for all the tasks on your list. By the time you get to the Ds you will find them so easy that they will feel more like rewards than actual tasks.
6 – Define success in your own terms
Success is different for all of us. Therefore you need to define what success is for you. Don’t define success as others see it. Define it as you see it.
What constitutes success for you is most likely different than what constitutes success for others. Your goals, your desires and overall what you consider to be success in a specific endeavor is unique to you. Don’t worry about it. Whether what you want is more or less or different than what other people want is irrelevant because you and them are different people in different situations focused on different goals.
7 – Be realistic
Only realistic goals get done. Overly ambitious goals are discouraging because they are so lofty that we feel we will never reach them. Unrealistic deadlines have the same effect. When deadlines are set too far in the future they make us feel we have all the time in the world so we never get started. When deadlines are too short they make us feel we wont’ have time to get things done. Either way we get discouraged before we even begin working on our goals.
A realistic goal is a goal you know you can achieve with the time and resources you have available to you. Only you know what is realistic. Just like success is individually defined, what is realistic is individually defined as well. What is realistic for you is different than what is realistic for others. When you set realistic goals you give yourself the opportunity to succeed. When you set unrealistic goals you set yourself up for failure.
To be effective deadlines also have to be realistic. For example, a good rule of thumb for finishing a photography folio project is 6 months until completion. This time frame works well for me and for my students.
8 – Quantify
Even though you defined success in your own terms, it is challenging to achieve a goal that is not quantified. To achieve your goals you need to define them precisely. The first step is to quantify these goals. This means putting numbers on what you want to achieve. How many fine art photographs that you will be proud to show to everyone do you want to create this year? How many projects do you want to complete? How many locations do you want to photograph? How many workshops do you want to attend? The list goes on; these are just examples.
9 – Check your progress regularly (daily, weekly or monthly)
Mark Twain said that bad habits must be pushed out of the house one step at a time. They cannot be kicked out because if you do that they will return. Instead, they have to be persuaded to leave, making it clear that they are unwelcome so they do not come back. This is done little by little by making sure at regular intervals that we are on our way to betterment, whatever the endeavor might be.
Whatever resolutions you took, whatever goals you set, make it a habit to ask yourself regularly what you did so far to reach these goals and resolutions. Do this each day for daily goals. Do it each week for weekly goals. Then at the end of the month do a monthly check during which you list all that you did this month in regard to reaching a specific goal or following through on a specific resolution.
Doing so makes you accountable for following through. The goals you set are no longer abstract ideas. They are now live actions that you are working on daily and for which you must show weekly and monthly progress. Accountability is the keyword here. Making ourselves accountable for the goals we set means we feel responsible to achieve these goals. Goals and resolutions are no longer a ‘maybe’ proposition. Instead they become a ‘must,’ something we have to get done.
10 – Be creative, not competitive
Competition means trying to outdo someone else. Creativity means finding unique ways of reaching our personal goals. When you operate on the basis of competition you focus on others. When you operate on the basis of creativity you focus on yourself. Eventually what matters most is you. Reaching your personal goals has nothing to do with how well, or poorly as the case might be, others are doing. Reaching your goals is not a matter of outdoing others. Reaching your goals is a matter of outdoing yourself. The way to achieve this is through creative thinking, by making the necessary breakthrough, the leap of faith that will allow you to make the changes you need in order to reach the goals you set for this year.
11 – Don’t worry
There will be obstacles along the way but those can be dealt with in due time, whenever they show up. The problem with worrying about things that have not happened yet is that it means worrying about things that are vague and undefined. Most of our fears never materialize. However, in the process of worrying about what would happen if they did, we waste our time and damage our health. Nobody dies of hard work but many die of worry. The expression ‘worried to death’ attests to this. Don’t join the list by worrying unnecessarily about things that might happen. Just move forward by working on your goals and deal with problems when, and if, they show up.
12 – Focus on the positive
Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. The mind finds ways of obtaining what we think about. Therefore think about what you want and you will get what you want. If you think about what you don’t want, you will get what you don’t want. In other words, as Henry Ford put it, whether you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct. Therefore think that you can. Think of concrete ways of reaching your goals and you will be on your way to making things happen.
13 – Get help from people who are where you want to be
Don’t reinvent the wheel. The wheel has been invented and all you need to do is learn how to use it. To do this get advice from those who have been there themselves. Only those who have been where you want to go can help you get there in a practical, efficient and successful manner. They are realistic about it and they know exactly what it takes to get there. Their advice will get you there faster than you ever will on your own.
14 – Don’t do trial and error
The trial and error process is wasteful of both time and money. If you are like me, your time is precious. Certainly, money is important as well. However, for many of us time is more valuable than money because we can make more money but we can’t make more time. Therefore, if we can afford to, using money to reach our goals is the most efficient approach.
15 – Focus on both soft skills and hard skills
Both set of skills are important and necessary for success. Don’t focus on one or the other exclusively. Instead, set goals that foster the acquisition and the development of both. If you are not familiar with these two skills, read my essay titled Soft Skills and Hard Skills because it describes what they are in detail.
16 – Conclusion
Nobody is perfect, myself included. However, we can all improve our success by following the simple steps listed in this essay. If we do so we will be on our way to keep our 2015 resolutions. Eventually, it boils down to a simple approach: focusing on our vision, defining success in our own terms, quantifying what represents success, not letting negativity get in our way and going for it.
Be sure to also read our Start the Year in Style Special offer at this link and save money –up to 20% or more– on our workshops and consulting registrations.