How to Not Set Yourself up for Failure with New Year’s Resolutions

A few months ago, I cussed at the scale in my bathroom. I had been working out and eating well for months and all I’d lost was a measly three pounds.

Bathroom scale
Photo Credit: foshydog via Compfight cc

I didn’t get it. What had I done wrong? After talking to a fitness professional, I realized maybe nothing. It just takes time. However, he did suggest perhaps I had been measuring the wrong thing.

Whether it’s losing weight or writing a book or making more money, most people won’t complete their resolutions this year.

In fact, many will fail within the first month of trying. They’ll get frustrated and throw their hands up in the air, thinking it’s futile. Shame will creep in, followed by guilt and inaction. And before they know it, a whole year will have gone by and the cycle will all start over.

There is a way, however, that leads to breakthrough instead of disappointment when it comes to setting and achieving goals: Measure the process, not the outcome.

Measuring what matters

Instead of setting a goal to write a book this year, what if you decided to write 500 words a day? It may take several months or even the whole year, but if you put in enough time and stick to the schedule you’ll achieve your goal — eventually.

Or instead of saying you want to lose 20 pounds, what if you just decided to go to the gym every other day, no matter what? You might not shed a ton of weight at once, but if you kept up the habit, you’d start seeing the results you wanted — eventually.

Or instead of declaring to your spouse that you want a better marriage, what if you decided to do something extra nice every day without expectation? You might not have a better relationship overnight, but I’m willing to bet that as you stayed the course things would begin to improve — eventually.

And of course that’s the operative word: eventually.

Do you see the difference here? The typical goal-setting mindset tends to focus on the outcome with little to no regard for the process it takes to get there.

That’s like saying you want to drive from New York to Los Angeles without looking at how much gas is in the tank. Just simply saying it won’t get you there. But if you plan a little, focusing on each leg in the journey and what you need to complete it, you’ll get there. Eventually.

As I like to say, if you do the work, you will see the results.

The 20-mile march

In his book Great by Choice, author Jim Collins tells the stories of two explorers wanting to be the first to visit the South Pole. One plans on everything going more or less according to his expectations, and when things don’t, it sets him back. The other, however, decides to march 20 miles every day, no matter what.

The first explorer blames everything, even the weather, for his failure. He and his team do, in fact, reach the South Pole, but sadly they all die on the return voyage home. The second explorer not only succeeds in reaching Antarctica first but lives to tell the tale.

There’s a lot we can learn from this approach in how we set and achieve our own goals.

Collins calls this slow-and-steady planning process The 20-mile March and says it’s a common trait in the greatest of leaders. They don’t set over-ambitious goals or unrealistic targets. Instead, they strategically map out where they want to go and what it will take to get there. And consistently, they achieve their goals.

So will you, if you can let go of the obsession we have with results and pay attention to what matters most — the process. Your daily habits. Don’t neglect those and you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

It just takes:

  • the right attitude: “I will get there eventually”
  • the right process: “Here’s what I need to do every day”
  • and enough time.

When you don’t see the results you want, you either need to change your attitude, the process, or wait a little longer. But the truth is you don’t have control over the outcome. What you can control 100% of the way, though, is the process.

So remember to celebrate small victories along the way, even if it’s a measly three pounds.

If you want to do this with writing, I recommend you sign up for my free 31-day writing challenge to kick off the New Year with a daily writing habit.

And if you want to make sure you set the right resolutions this new year, I recommend you register for this live Q&A with Michael on the secret to setting resolutions that stick.

How do you set yourself up for failure with goals and resolutions? Share in the comments by clicking here.