How to make a New Year's resolution that you keep

How would you feel if you actually wrote the book you’ve been formulating in your mind for years? Or went out and performed a song you wrote at an open mic? What is stopping you? I’ll tell you…a precise goal and a process for completing that goal. Starting in March 2019, I began to develop a process to set goals, track my progress toward them, and celebrate when I had met those goals. In doing so, I earned tenure (and earn a promotion) as a teacher, read 12 books in less than 9 months, and published my writing online (eight years after earning an English degree and thinking about it everyday).

I spent my twenties trying many things: I worked as a baker (of bread, then cookies before being fired), a musician (that never sold more than a handful of mixtapes), the creator of online business (that never gained a client), and at a coffee shop (where I was never promoted to barista), until I finally found a vocation in education. In education where experimentation is paramount, my failures were celebrated as experiments, and I was able to support students in attempting to create their own process for learning. I now understand that one of the reasons the school environment has always been enjoyable to me is that there are clearly articulated goals and deadlines in school. What I lacked in my small business attempts was an ability to formulate my own goals and deadlines to measure success. 

One day, I received an article from my mentor which contained an idea Warren Buffet had shared. To paraphrase, he said, think of twenty-five things you want out of life. Write them down. Then, choose five of them. With all you energy and might, focus on completing those five, and actively avoiding working on the other twenty which will sap your energy. 

I followed this advice and wrote down 25 things I wanted to accomplish. My initial list was characterized by polar extremes like, “be president” and “keep my car running smoothly,” but in writing those things down and choosing five of them to work on, I was quickly able to identify which goals were actionable and which goals were out of my locus of control. 

Here is how I laid out my five “priority” goals to track my progress toward achieving them: 

My next focus was writing street level actions or “baby steps” I could take to work on my first goal (the left-most goal). By identifying one small thing I could do to move in the direction of accomplishing what I had set out to do, I was able to quickly identify what was in the realm of possibility. For example, one of my first goals was to “publish a story,” but no matter how many editors I googled and sent story ideas to, I was not able to gain traction. Because this goal was feeling unachievable, I decided to move it to my back-up list for the time being, and focus on some smaller goals that would feel great to accomplish like, “Read 12 books in 2019,” which I was able to do with sustained effort.  

By reading my five priority goals after waking up and before going to bed, I always have something to look forward to doing that day and something to wake up for in the morning. With each goal I accomplish, I add it to my “completed goals” list, which is now 23 accomplishments strong. And by sharing this with my friends, they were inspired to set their own goals and we formed a mastermind group to hold each other accountable. The pairing of accomplishments and community feeds my spirit and increases my motivation.  

In just 9 months of using this process, I set and reached goals to get tenured in my current job, to start a blog and share my ideas that were crammed into the attics of my mind, and to read twelve books in 2019. If I can do it after a decade of running around in circles, you can to. 

If you would like to try this process, you can follow the steps below or watch this video

  1. Go to https://sonomasavers.com/resources/ and open the link titled, “Goal Setting Template”. 
  2. At the bottom of the document, click on the sheet titled, “Backup Goal List” write down 25 things you want to accomplish. Don’t agonize over making them perfect — just get ‘em out. 
  3. Choose 5 of those goals and move them to the priority goal list. Reword them so that they are specific. Instead of, “Improve my relationship,” write something like, “I will take my wife on 3 dates in January 2020.” 
  4. Choose a date by which you will accomplish each goal. 
  5. Identify one step you can complete 30 minutes or less and write it below your goal.  
  6. Once you have taken the step toward your goal, focus on completing a step toward your next goal, and repeat this step until you come back to your first goal. 
  7. Re-read your goals each morning and evening, making sure to spend at least 30 minutes each day to take a step toward one of your goals.

Did you make a change to your life after reading this article? Are you willing to share? Send me an email at: seanemccormick@gmail.com and let me know your story.

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