Set Realistic Goals

Person in running shoes on street

‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. According to a recent Finder survey, more than 141 million adult Americans — or 55.31% of all American adults — will promise themselves that they’ll do something different in the new year. The most common resolutions are related to health, self-improvement and money. (Source)

Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail

The hype is everywhere. According to self-help guru Tony Robbins, “the path to success is to take massive, determined action.” Most of us subscribe to this philosophy and dive into the new year with ambitious goals and … unfortunately … stop there. Estimates show that only 8 percent of people keep their resolutions. It takes most of us only a few weeks to give up on our plans to exercise regularly, lose weight, stop smoking, or reduce spending. By February 1 the gym is no longer crowded, supermarkets have relocated the “healthy” foods to the back of the store, and our plans to save money have been shelved for another year.

This year had a rocky start for me. I was excited to return to my home office after a wonderful two-week staycation. I’d cleaned my office, set my goals, and was excited to make 2022 the best year ever. Unfortunately my daughter became ill and spent Monday in the emergency room (she is fine now). On Tuesday our furnace stopped working and our 47-degree house temperature made work tough (it is now fixed). On Wednesday I woke up with a very painful neck and there was no way I could sit at my desk (I’m feeling significantly better). I also learned that two immediate family members had covid. And we had a big snowstorm that required some major shoveling. So much for my plans!

Remember that you have 365 days

I’m always looking for life lessons. What I learned is that there is no magic in waiting to the beginning of a new year (or month or week). We can take action toward our goals starting on a Tuesday after lunch just as easily as we can start at midnight on January 1. If we decide to wait until the next “ideal start time” we rob ourselves of the chance to make any progress until the next time the planets align in our favor.

Even though small daily actions feel less satisfying than massive movement toward goals — they will pay big dividends over a year. Spending ten minutes a day stretching can transform your body from inflexible to supple. Meditating for 15 minutes at lunchtime can change your mood from sluggish to serene. Asking two people per day to join your LinkedIn network can grow your connections from 100 people to almost 1,000. Better yet, these actions will not require big changes and you are more likely to follow through.

Set Specific, Measurable Goals

One of the problems with resolutions is that they are vague. Exactly what does it mean to “lose weight” or “grow my business”? A better way is to set goals that are specific, measurable and have a deadline. For instance:

  • I want to improve my health by losing 25 pounds between January 1 and June 30.
  • I want to grow my business by launching a $249 online course and selling it to 100 students by December 31.
  • I want to add 60 people to my LinkedIn network every month.

How to Create Realistic Goals

Once you have specific, measurable goals, it’s time to make them realistic. Let’s say that your goal is to get more exercise by walking five miles per week. Here are some of the ways that work for me:

  • Make sure the goal works with your personality and lifestyle. Walking works wonderfully for me. I live in a quiet neighborhood and, when the weather is decent, enjoy being outdoors. Walking may not be a good fit for you if you live in an unsafe neighborhood or have certain medical issues. If this is the case, rethink your exercise goal and choose something that you will enjoy. You may have better luck doing a YouTube dance video or taking a yoga class.
  • Brainstorm how a success story would act. We have a neighbor who walks the one-mile circuit in front of my house at least 20 times a day. I’ve seen him out as early as 6:00 AM and as late as 11:00 PM. He walks despite heat, cold, snow, rain or wind. If I were as dedicated to walking as my neighbor, I would not use bad weather as an excuse to stay indoors.
  • Figure out what’s required to meet your goal. Pretend you are creating a manual about how to walk in your neighborhood. What do you need to do to prepare for the walk? For me this includes deciding to take a walk, finding my cell phone, putting on appropriate shoes and clothing, getting my dog into her harness, and making sure that I have poop bags in my pocket. Look at this list and determine what would make this easier. My walks are more likely to happen when I have a standard time (during my lunch break) and keep my winter clothing and dog paraphernalia in an easy-to-find location.
  • Schedule a time. Choose a time that works with your schedule and write it on your calendar. I prefer walking when the temperatures are most comfortable. In the warmer months, I walk at 8:30 AM before I start work. In cooler months, I walk at noon before I have lunch. Having a scheduled time keeps me from debating when (or if) I’ll make it outdoors.
  • Make achieving your goal more enjoyable. Think of ways to make walking more enjoyable. Do you need more seasonable clothing? Better shoes? Can you listen to music or a podcast while you are walking? Is there a reward you can have when you get home, such as taking a break to watch TV or indulging in a fancy coffee? One thing that helped me was to buy a fanny pack to carry my phone and dog treats, so that I could have my hands free on the walk.
  • Start with tiny, easy, doable steps. If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, don’t begin with a one-mile power walk. Get in the habit of leaving your house and take a short stroll to the mailbox or nearest corner.
  • Make tiny improvements. Before the pandemic, I would spend a few days a year in New York City. On those days I would walk up to 15 miles (and be super proud of myself). However I often paid the price with sore muscles or blisters that kept me from walking for several days. A better approach is to make tiny daily (or weekly) improvements. Walk 100 yards farther each week and you’ll be walking 3 miles by the end of the year.
  • Track your progress. Use an app or calendar to record your walks. I keep it simple. I have “walk” as an action item on my daily planner and check it off when my walk is complete. Be creative. Embrace your inner toddler and slap a motivational sticker on your wall calendar every time you meet your goal. (Motivational stickers for adults are very popular now. Search “planner stickers” and choose ones that work for you.)
  • Find accountability. Find a friend or online group to help celebrate your progress. I find it very motivating to be part of a group of people with similar goals. In my case, having a pup that expects her noon-time walk makes it much easier to get out the door.
  • Anticipate obstacles. Figure out what you can do if there is a problem. What will you do if the weather is bad, you don’t feel well, or you have a pressing work deadline?
  • Get back on track. Skip the perfectionism and forgive yourself for being human. If you miss a day (or a week), start again.
  • Don’t compare yourself. Set your own goals and accept there will always be people who do better than you. I’ve had a knee replacement and walking a leisurely mile in decent weather is a reasonable goal for me. You will never find me trudging through the sleet like my neighbor. I also have no desire to train for a half-marathon or to boost my calories by power walking.

Create Realistic Goals in Your Business

You can apply the preceding steps to your business. Create goals that you are excited to reach and work in your life. Start with tiny improvements, track your progress, and find accountability. Don’t let yourself get derailed by occasional medical emergencies, weather events, or homeFinally, be willing to get back on track when needed. At the end of 2022, you will see a massive change in your business.

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