Three secrets to sticking to your 2021 goals

Imagine you decide to take a road trip from New York City to San Francisco. 

In preparation, you load the car with your favorite treats, audiobooks, playlists and podcast episodes you’ve meant to catch up on. After gassing up, you strap in and make the 40-hour drive non-stop without a break, visiting friends, or sightseeing. 

Sounds crazy, right? Then, why do you set goals that way?

Do you know the significance of January 17th and 19th? These dates are known as Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions day and, according to research from Strava, Quitter’s Day (when new runners quit training). This is the equivalent of driving from New York to Philadelphia then bailing on the trip. 

As we head into 2021, I’m sharing three secrets to achieving more success by setting better goals in better ways.

Secret #1: The Sum of Small Things

One of the biggest mistakes people— and organizations— make when they set goals is to go for the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) but fail to plan the steps. In other words, they drive from NYC to San Francisco without breaks. 

Whether the goal is weight loss or starting a business, going from Point A to Point B can feel overwhelming. Instead, consider going from Point A to Point Z and pause at the letters in between. It is better to view a significant goal as the sum of small goals (Points B to Y). 

If, for example, you want to drop 60 pounds by the end of 2021, break it up into milestones. Aim for 15 pounds by the end of March. This date is much closer, plus it gives you time to evaluate your strategy. And, perhaps you’re doing better than expected. You could up the ante to lose 20 pounds by the end of June.

Research shows that small changes lead to big outcomes. Our brains, though incredibly powerful, are programmed to work against change. When we set lofty goals, the brain’s response is to bail out due to its negativity bias. 

Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t distinguish between good or bad changes. To the brain, it’s all danger. Therefore, making small changes allows the brain time to adapt and get with the program.

Secret #2: Be SMART About Your Goals

Consider these two sentences:  ‘I want to lose 60 pounds’ and ‘I want to lose 60 pounds by December 31, 2021.’ What is the difference? 

One is a wish. Even if you wish upon a star, it won’t come true without work or a plan. Individuals and businesses alike are challenged with determining what is a goal in the first place.

A real goal is measurable, has an end date, a plan, and should be written down and tracked. It’s easy to confuse wishes, goals and outcomes. A common goal-setting technique is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. 

When I coach people, we begin with the end in mind. Then we address self-limiting beliefs about obtaining the goal and build that into the plan. 

Previously, I worked with a client who, despite my strong urging, refused to set a goal, SMART or otherwise. Ultimately, it was their experience, so I let it play out. They struggled to make progress because they were actually working toward a behavior change or outcome. Realizing their mistake at the end of the program, they wished they had initially made a different choice.

After reflecting on what they would have done differently, my client agreed they should have gotten clear about their Point Z. When something is measurable, you can attach metrics to it, such as the number of miles driven or pounds lost. Achievable means that Point Z is within reach, and relevant means it’s something that matters to you. 

And last, and probably most important, it must have a due date. Without these critical elements, you find yourself on a hamster wheel working hard but making little progress or unable to measure progress at all because you don’t know where you’re going.

Secret #3: Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Because of social media, comparing ourselves to others has become a blood sport. Remember, when you’re scrolling through posts and comparing yourself, you’re seeing others’ highlight reels, not their bloopers.

Another coaching client revealed they get jealous or angry when they see former colleagues on LinkedIn doing well or being promoted. When I asked how they will handle that emotion in the future, their initial response was ‘close the app.’ 

Sigh. No. 

This is an opportunity to celebrate, congratulate and emulate. By doing these three things, you are programming your brain for success. These actions cause your brain to release happiness hormones. Your brain craves small doses of these hormones, so it will make microdecisions that result in their release. When you celebrate others’ wins, your subconscious mind will receive the message over time that you value promotions. 

When you compare yourself to others and dwell in negativity, your brain interprets this as your desired state. It will also release happiness hormones when you indulge in negative thoughts. In other words, negativity can be addicting and may cause you to abandon your goal. You are where you’re supposed to be and where you are supposed to be is laid out in your plan.

As we march into 2021, after a rough 2020, let’s be kind to ourselves. 

Instead of getting in your car and driving 40 hours straight and beating yourself up by the time you hit Philly, plan your route to visit friends, experience the sites and enjoy the ride. What’s the point of achieving a goal if you’re too exhausted to appreciate it?

Nile Harris is a coach, advisor, speaker, and educator, passionate about helping people unleash their Warrior Spirit to achieve their most audacious goals. If you want inspiration throughout the year to ignite your inner warrior and make the jump, please include connecting with her on your route to success at @iamnileharris.