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The start of a new academic year is, to me, the “real” New Year. However, the end of December and early January are often quieter, more reflective days than the runup to a new academic year, hence another good time to hit “reset.” With all that’s going on in this country and around the world, the 2020-2021 transition has been an especially reflective time for many of us.

There’s a lot of advice out there about setting and keeping resolutions and goals for behavior change -- and a lot of it is quite good. While most of the ones listed below talk about New Year’s resolutions, they are helpful inputs to thinking about goal achievement at any time.

One of my favorites is one by The Wall Street Journal, which reminds us to “Never Think You’re Too Old to Become a Beginner,” noting that “skills don’t necessarily need to be career-related to help in your career.” They also use one of my favorite analogies of babies learning to walk, noting that “progress is often not linear. Learning happens in fits and starts. Stages are only rough benchmarks. Development does not always march uniformly in one direction.”

A 2018 Washington Post article gives “The Science of Keeping Your New Year’s Resolution,” including suggestions for putting a burst of energy into the new goal for a few weeks to really get it going, cutting yourself some slack when you fail (in fact, plan to fail occasionally) and bundling a behavior/action you’d like to start doing (e.g., going to the gym more often) with something you derive pleasure from (e.g., watching a TV show/series). I exercised the “cut yourself some slack” clause last week, when I didn’t finish this post.

Thinking smaller can also help, as a recent article in the New York Times suggests -- “This Year, Try Downsizing Your Resolutions” by shortening the list, writing the goals down and making a plan (rather than a resolution). A 2013 article in The New Yorker, “Why We Make Resolutions (and Why They Fail),” talks about the importance of timing in launching goals (Januarys, Mondays, start of a new month or semester being key times), and why we’re more likely to succeed if we think about contingencies -- and how we will respond to these contingencies.

In terms of meeting our goals, having a well-thought-out plan helps. I’m a big fan of using questions to think through strategy for achieving business and personal goals, and here’s a list of questions I’ve been using for both:

  • What is the goal? What would success look like?
  • Why is this goal important to me? What’s the benefit of achieving this goal?
  • What are the "rules" for achieving the goal? What do I need to do/not do/change to achieve this goal?
  • How will I ensure that I actually follow these "rules"?
  • What might get in the way?
  • What might I do to push through (or go over/under/around) these obstacles?

Here’s to experimentation, learning from failure and getting up and trying again!

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