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Skip Well-Intended (but Never Accomplished) New Year’s Resolutions and Create a System that Works For Achieving Your Goals

Create a System that Works for Achieving Your Goals

At end of the year we often reflect on the previous year and think about the upcoming year. Taking time to reflect at the end of the year is similar to the post-flight debrief  a medevac crew does after every flight.

This is the system we use to discuss the flight. We rehash things that went well and things that didn’t go so well. We review coordination with the on-scene EMS personnel or hospital staff and dissect any problems or challenges with in-flight communication or weather. We talk about what we might do differently. The intent of the conversation is to improve the operation. We don’t assign blame or fault.

Having a system for debriefing facilitates reflection and promotes growth. If we didn’t have the system, we may not take time to debrief and wouldn’t meet our goal of providing the best possible care to our patients in the safest, most effective manner.

What’s the Difference Between a System and a Goal?

A system is a way of doing things that provides a structure for meeting a goal or changing or implementing a habit. Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon is also a proponent of a system rather than goals. What’s the difference between a goal and a system? James Clear uses these examples to make the distinction:

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.

  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.

  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.

  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

When you first start something, following another person’s system will get you started. Pretty soon you’ll want to tweak it and make it your own. Include time for reflection to evaluate the effectiveness of the system, it will take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

Your system will need to evolve as your life changes. What once worked may no longer work. Choosing an athletic event helps me stay in shape. It might be skiing, a triathlon, a bike ride or orienteering.  Without an event looming, I tend to slack off. Now that exercise is more of a habit, I don’t need the events to be as frequent. Having a few events a year is enough. But when I first started, I needed something about once a month. Signing up for an event is part of my system for meeting my goal of staying fit and healthy.

New Year’s Resolutions are Doomed without a System

Making a New Year’s resolution without implementing a system to support the resolution is like traveling across the country without a road map. You might wind up at your destination but there is a much greater chance you’ll wander around until you give up and quit. Creating a system for sticking to your New Year’s resolutions gives you a plan for implementing a new habit.

Conducting an Annual Review

Each year Chris Guillebeau conducts an annual review. The two questions he always asks are:

  1. What is going well?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?

These questions allow him to reflect on his successes while also acknowledging where he was challenged. You can read more about his system for conducting an annual review here.

A System to Set Your Intentions for the Week

Each week I set SMART goals with my BLAST groups and my accountability partner. We meetup on a Google Hangout once a week to discuss our goals and achievements. We don’t dwell on the goals we don’t achieve. The point isn’t to do more. The point is to do more of what matters and to notice when we aren’t doing those things. We encourage each other to get uncomfortable. The goals provide a structure and intention for our week. We also set 30 day goals for the month. A month feels like a reasonable amount of time for a goal. This system works really well for myself and the BLAST groups but if at some point it isn’t effective anymore, we’ll tweak it.

As part of his annual review, Chris sets yearly SMART goals. Setting year-long SMART goals doesn’t inspire me. It  feels a lot like work. His system isn’t a good fit for me.

The best system is the one that works for you. [Tweet this]

Rather than setting SMART goals for the year, what feels more in alignment with my purpose is to set intentions on how I want to feel. Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map helps you discover how you want to feel. I want to feel strong, delighted, centered, and inspired. I look for ways to include these in my year. I seek out opportunities to travel and learn new things. I ensure time with friends and family. I avoid over-scheduling (mostly). Sometimes that means not finishing a blog post because I’m playing scrabble with a friend (and beating, mind you) or taking advantage of the perfect ski conditions.

Two Simple Questions to Ask Yourself for the Upcoming Year (or anytime you get stuck)

These two questions provide me with more guidance about how I want to be spending my time than Chris Guillebeau’s or Danielle Laporte’s system. They are simple but very effective. When thinking about your upcoming year (or month or week), ask yourself:

  1. What do I want more of?
  2. What do I want less of?

This year I’ll choose more laughter, time outside, flexibility, and card games with others. I’ll choose more “I knew you could do it”s and high-fives. I’ll even take more getting uncomfortable and challenging conversations because the connection it creates is worth it.

I’ll take less worrying about how it is all going to turn out (because it doesn’t really help and it always turns out fine). I’ll take less feeling inadequate (because comparison is a killjoy). I’ll take less being afraid of failure and rejection.

Creating a system for an annual review and setting your weekly intentions will allow you to achieve your goals. The system creates the opportunity and the space to get things done. You focus on what really matters. Asking yourself these two questions, even moment to moment, is a system for creating your own Big Life.

Your turn. What do you want more of? What do you want less of? Share in the comments.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • kathleen December 30, 2013, 12:50 pm

    LOVE THESE LORENA! I hope you have a great New Year! Take good care and hope to see you soon…xoxoo

    • Lorena December 30, 2013, 2:07 pm

      Thanks Kathleen! Happy New Year to you and Chris! <3

  • Tricia December 30, 2013, 4:23 pm

    Well said Lorena! It’s like you are in my head. Jim and I have been asking those questions for the last 6months and devising a plan to make it happen. I’m re watching your Ted talk as a good reminder. Thanks for inspiring me!

    • Lorena December 31, 2013, 11:47 am

      You’re welcome Tricia! I can’t wait to hear what you and Jim have planned. Happy New Year!

  • Dow Mattingly January 6, 2014, 9:25 pm

    Lorena, I have done many long distance running races (ultras) that have tested my abilities, but by far the most valuable experience is in the daily sensual experience of sight, sound, smell and feeling of a trail run that is not a going out in nature, but an adventure of the trail within myself. There are infinite discoveries of the natural world and also of our soul within if we just get up and go. Energy creates energy.
    You very much speak to this energy that everyone can tap within themselves, daily, and even moment to moment.

    • Lorena January 7, 2014, 6:53 pm

      I love this: “The adventure of the trail within myself.” What a wonderful insight- learning more about ourselves is the best adventure. Thanks for sharing.


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