Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Don't set this goal for your New Year's resolution!

Evergreen Delicacy:  Asparagus Fern by cobalt123
Evergreen Delicacy: Asparagus Fern,
a photo by 
cobalt123 on Flickr.
It might already be too late for might already have done it.  You might have committed yourself, out of the best of intentions, to a resolution that will go by the wayside by next Friday.  This post is for you if you have set a goal or resolution that is "evergreen."

You might also call the evergreen goal the "go forth and sin no more" goal.  From here until eternity you will do fifty push-ups every morning, or you will resist the siren call of potato chips.  Nevermore will your desk be cluttered with unfinished work when you leave for the office, and your kitchen island will forevermore be spotless and uncluttered.  From now on, you resolve, your refrigerator will be free of little plastic containers filled with black and green mold-covered unidentifiable leftovers.

Evergreen goals are wrong for you for several reasons:

  • They expect a level of perfection that no human being will attain.  You, yes even you, are likely to have a few weak moments.  An evergreen goal will catch you, even if the weak moment is only ten seconds three years from now.  Gotcha!  Now you can go forward feeling like a failure.  One day, one time you don't do what you said you would do and your goal is shot.
  • They require a level of commitment that you are unlikely to make under the influence of adult beverages on New Year's Eve.  A commitment is different than an intention, and it's much stronger than a wish or fantasy.  A commitment is something you do even when it's not convenient, even when there are forces pulling you away from it, even when nobody is looking.  Even forever commitments (like marriages??) are sometimes proven to be more temporary than permanent.  Why, then, would you think that you will always, always, always, spend an hour a day at the gym?
  • You never get to feel the thrill of victory.  Sure, you had a good day, a good week, or even a good month.  But when you have set an evergreen goal, the rest of your life is still stretching before you, waiting for you to screw it up.  You need some opportunities to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, to officially notice that you have shown integrity by following words by actions.  That pesky evergreen goal doesn't have a finish line, so you don't get to do a dance or spike a ball.
  • They are often based upon "should" rather than "want to".  When you really want to do something, you find ways to do it.  New Year's resolutions are broken often enough because they aren't really important enough to the resolver to keep them.  It's possible that a person important in your life has told you that you MUST make some changes, and that you MUST stay changed.  Before you set an evergreen goal to be different from here forward, you need to determine whether you want to live by pleasing them or by being true to yourself (assuming those are two different things.)  
  • Many of them don't account for the "why".  It's hard enough to change habits of behavior for a short period of time, and when you say that you're changing forever you've upped the ante substantially.  The evergreen goal usually doesn't have a fully thought-through reason, either in the form of rewards to be attained or consequences avoided.  The upside or downside needs to be pretty compelling to be strong enough to continue to drive your behavior day after day, week after week, month after month.
Let's be clear.  Goals are good.  They provide focus for your behavior.  They help you to align your allocation of resources toward the ends that are important to you.  But don't set yourself up for failure by setting an evergreen goal.  Sorry, but you will sin down the road.  So think it through:
  1. Be specific, in behavioral and measurable terms, about what you are going to do.
  2. Give yourself a measurement time frame.  Chart your progress daily, weekly, etc. and give yourself kudos on the days and weeks that you achieve what you set out to achieve.
  3. Make sure that it's a "want to".
  4. Limit the number of goals you are pursuing at any one time to 3-5.  Otherwise your focus is spread too thinly.  Sometimes a difficult behavior change or consuming goal means that you only do that one for now.
You are perfect in your imperfection.  The fundamental premise of continuous improvement is that there is always improvement available to you, no matter your prior performance.  You are always a work in progress.  Your job is to be able to be tranquil in that reality and enthusiastic about your next step forward.  Happy New Year, and Happy Fresh Start!

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