Stop Setting Short-Term Goals

‘Tis the season, the time of year where we set short-term goals for ourselves that will end in one of two ways: they will be quickly achieved or quickly forgotten. Either way, shortly after setting them, we’ve moved on and ultimately, they make no lasting change in our life.

No matter how many of us set New Year’s Resolutions, most of us feel that they are a useless tool for making meaningful change. I’ve had mixed success with resolutions myself, but in past years, I’ve made a small change to my approach that has made a big difference in the impact that my resolutions have on my life: I don’t set goals, I decide to take on projects.

Wanting to lose 20 pounds in six months is not a goal, it’s a project. This may seem like an irrelevant distinction, but it’s one that has made a big difference in my ability to make lasting change. In past years, I’d decide that I want to lose x pounds, run x miles or write x words. I always considered these “goals” to be my resolutions. I’d occasionally even accomplish them. Yet shortly after they’re abandoned or accomplished, I’d find myself worse off than when I started. The goal ends and I found myself with no framework for future success.

The desire to lose weight, run or write are goals, but the minute you tie a specific metric to it, it’s a project. Why? Because projects end. Goals, however should be longer lasting, perhaps even permanent. If your goal for the year off by losing 20 pounds, that’s what you will set your sights on. Once you get there, you may figure out what to do next, but in most cases, you just tell everyone that you reached your goal and watch the progress you made deteriorate before your very eyes.

Here’s a different approach. Set a long-term goal, something vague like, “be healthier”. Decide that losing 20 pounds would be a good way to start. Make it a project with a six month timeline. Then determine the actions that can help you accomplish your project. Should you eat healthier? Run regularly? Join Crossfit? Get a trainer? Once you lose your 20 pounds, the six months is up or you give up, your project comes to an end. Normally, this would be where things go wrong (or at least they have for me), but since you have a long-term goal of getting healthier, the approach forces you to ask the question “what’s next?” rather than announcing to the world, and to yourself, “I’m done.”

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