Somewhere in between holiday festivities and wrapping up all of your year-end obligations, you might also be setting your goals for next year. While there’s nothing wrong with that, most of us fail to reach these goals. An astounding 92 percent of people who set New Year’s resolutions never follow through, according to researchers at the University of Scranton.
Why do we keep setting ourselves up for failure? That answer varies from person to person. However, some of the most common culprits include;
- Making goals too vague.
- Setting unattainable goals.
- Listing only your long-term goals.
- Writing your goals as negative statements.
- You get discouraged when messing up.
- Your environment doesn’t support your goals.
- You downplay or don’t celebrate your wins.
- There’s no system to hold you accountable.
Furthermore, goals hardly translate to daily actions, and some of us don’t track our progress.
Whatever the reason, if you’ve found that goal setting isn’t getting it done, you might want to explore the following eight alternatives going forward.
1. Ask yourself, “Did I do my best?”
“Do your best. If it sounds like advice from a kindergarten teacher, well, I get it,” writes freelance writer and Fast Company contributor Daniel Dowling. “Vague goals produce vague results, right?”
However, Dowling found that one undefined goal can prove a punch in the gut reality check when included with a system of daily goals. What’s more, it can lead to tangible results.
The reason why this can work? Firstly, many of us have difficulty determining how much time to dedicate to our goals. When setting goals, we don’t know where to draw the line between ambition and delusion. In turn, this results in us not getting the desired outcome.
When Dowling asked himself, “Did I do my best?” he was confronted with just how much effort he had actually given that day. If he “frittered away most of the day,” he would analyze why and make changes so that he wouldn’t repeat the same mistake again.
“Without asking myself if I’d done my best each day, I’d either have wallowed in self-reproach or failed to reflect on my performance at all. Instead, I’d turned self-criticism into a self-improvement habit,” he wrote.
2. Establish anti-goals.
Is your calendar packed with pointless meetings? Are you burned out from working long hours? Have you questioned your relationships?
If you’ve ever had these types of questions, you can turn things around by setting anti-goals.
While this might seem counterintuitive, “anti-Goals create a balance by showing us a tangible set of values or actions that we don’t want to be,” clarifies Ken Wu.
Originally introduced as a concept called ‘premeditatio malorum,’ which Seneca, Foucault, and Socrates used, “anti-goals give us a benchmark of failure to avoid and allow us to anticipate ourselves at our worst,” he adds. This enables us to develop our first steps of personal growth, and we remain true to ourselves as we develop.
When starting out, Wu focused on the following areas;
- Values. Do you want to reject any standards or behaviors?
- Habit. Which actions are you consciously trying to avoid?
- Physical. What possible health issues do you want to minimize?
- Emotional. Which mental states do you wish to avoid?
- Relationships. Do you want to avoid certain relationships? What is your ideal way to interact with others?
To harness the power of anti-goals, however, Wu advises that they shouldn’t consume you. He also says that they shouldn’t make you complacent or remain stagnant. Instead, they must evolve and drive you forward.
3. Set themes.
Although there is a place and time for goals daily, goals often lead to anxiety, regret, and depression rather than fulfillment, pride, and contentment, claims Niklas Göke. This is because we exert pressure on ourselves until we reach our goals. In addition, when we finally do accomplish them, they disappear without a trace.
Moreover, we think that happiness is experienced after this burst of relief. In turn, this inspires us to set a new, bigger goal. However, it remains beyond our reach. In short, it’s a vicious cycle.
Harvard researcher Tal Ben-Shahar calls this “the arrival fallacy” — the illusion that “reaching some future destination will bring lasting happiness.” To combat this, author and entrepreneur James Altucher lives by themes instead of goals that encourage meaning over pleasure.
Göke says that a theme could be a single verb, a noun, or an adjective. “Commit,” “growth,” and “healthy” are all valid themes, he adds. As are “invest,” “help,” “kindness,” and “gratitude.”
“Themes are immune to anxiety about tomorrow,” states Göke. So your regrets about yesterday don’t matter to them either. “All that matters is what you do today, who you are in this second, and how you choose to live right now.”
4. Focus on systems.
According to James Clear, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, asserts that there are several problems with goals, including;
- Both winners and losers have the same goals.
- Attaining a goal is a momentary change.
- Goals can restrict your happiness.
- Goals are often at odds with a long-term process.
Because of this — look at, Clear champions systems over goals. These are simply daily processes and habits. For example, exercising for 30-minutes before work or learning a new skill for 10-minutes after lunch. Even though you didn’t set a specific outcome, like losing 50 pounds or becoming fluent in Spanish, systems are flexible and help you make progress.
This is well described by Clear using a rowboat metaphor. Consider goals as the rudder and systems as the paddles: “Goals determine your direction. Systems determine your progress.”
5. Burn or burn.
Okay. This might seem a little radical and potentially dangerous. However, it might be worth trying if you struggle to complete those necessary but dreadful tasks needed to reach a goal. And, here’s how it works, according to Nir Eyal in an Observer post.
- Pick your routine. For instance, going to the gym.
- Book your time. Block out time in your schedule for the routine. Routines can’t be performed if you don’t reserve the time to arrange an appointment or meeting.
- Find a crisp $100 bill — or any denomination that you wouldn’t want to lose.
- Find a lighter.
- Buy a wall calendar and place it somewhere you’ll see daily.
- Place the lighter near the wall calendar and tape the $100 bill to today’s date.
There are now two options available to you. On any given day, when it’s time to perform your routine, you have the option to choose either option A and perform the routine, in my case to feel the “burn” in the gym, or option B and literally burn money, explains Eyal. The money can’t be given to someone or spent on anything; it must be set ablaze.
Not only is it dangerous to actually light the bill, but it’s also illegal. However, science has found that just the thought of watching your hard-earned money aflame can motivate you to complete the tasks that you don’t want to.
6. Adopt a mantra.
The process of achieving a goal often involves changing your habits as well. Of course, this is always easier said than done. After all, when some of us experience setbacks, we tend to get so disappointed that we simply quit.
Perhaps you should adopt a “mantra” instead of a resolution if this describes you. As a result of being overextended, entrepreneur Reshma Chamberlin tried this approach by incorporating a yearly “anchor.”
For Chamberlin, as she told Fast Company’s Jenna Abdou, “It’s not a single objective, like go to the gym every day. Instead, your mantra is a conscious choice to take control of your life.” For example, her 2017 mantra was, “Ask, and you shall receive.” Through this motto, she was felt more empowered to pursue new experiences.
When setting mantas, though, Chamberlin suggests that they are positive and deliberate. And, the mantra is too unrealistic or making you unhappy; try a different one.
7. Make a PACT.
“Instead of SMART goals, which don’t encourage ambitious, long-term endeavors, I prefer to make a PACT with myself,” notes Anne-Laure Le Cunff over at Ness Labs. “While a SMART goal focuses on the outcome, the PACT approach focuses on the output.”
In short, rather than pursuing a well-defined goal, it’s about continuous growth. In this regard, it can be a valuable alternative to SMART goals.
But, what exactly does PACT stand for?
- Purposeful. An appropriate goal should be relevant to your long-term purpose in life, not just to your immediate needs. It’s much easier to get and stay motivated when your goals are aligned with your passions and priorities.
- Actionable. You should have a goal that is both actionable and controllable. Focusing on immediate outputs rather than overplanning for distant outcomes in the future is the key to shifting your mindset.
- Continuous. Choice paralysis prevents so many people from achieving their goals, explains Le Cunff. This happens when you have so many options that you spend more time researching than actually doing things to further your goal. One benefit of continuous goals is that they’re flexible and repeatable. That means focusing on continuous improvement is more important than a pre-determined endpoint.
- Trackable. Not measurable, Anne-Laure Le Cunff adds. Often, statistics are overrated and don’t apply to a wide variety of goals. As with the GitHub tracker, Le Cunff likes the “yes” or “no” approach to goal tracking as it makes tracking progress a breeze.
8. Don’t set goals at all.
According to Leo Babauta, the author behind Zen Habits, sometimes the best goal is no goal at all.
“Today, I live mostly without goals. Now and then, I start coming up with a goal, but I’m letting them go,” he writes. “Living without goals hasn’t ever been an actual goal of mine … it’s just something I’m learning that I enjoy more, that is incredibly freeing, that works with the lifestyle of following my passion that I’ve developed.”
That may sound liberating in theory, but how does this actually work?
He explains that there’s no goal for the year, the month, the week, or the day. You don’t obsess over tracking or actionable steps. There’s even no need for a to-do list, though jotting down reminders is fine.
“What do you do, then? Lay around on the couch all day, sleeping and watching TV and eating Ho-Hos?” he asks. Of course not. You just do.
“You find something you’re passionate about, and do it, Leo states. “Just because you don’t have goals doesn’t mean you do nothing — you can create, you can produce, you can follow your passion.”
As a result, Leo says that he can accomplish more than if he had goals since he’s always doing something that excites him. But, that’s ultimately not the point. Instead, he emphasizes, “all that matters is that I’m doing what I love, always.”