Forget the New Year’s resolutions: Try action plans, instead

By Angelo Kinicki  |  Weatherup/Overby Chair in Leadership

I strongly dislike New Year’s resolutions. A New Year’s resolution is nothing more than a broad goal, and experience and research show that broad goals do not foster success. However, I do love goal-based action plans, and that’s what I recommend you use for 2015. I have personally used goal-based action plans for years to help me accomplish some really challenging things.

For example, I ran a marathon many years ago. I had never run one before and stupidly accepted a challenge from Bob, another Arizona State University professor, in a public setting. He had run 17 marathons, was 10 years older and had 60 pounds on me. I figured, if he can do it, why can’t I? After putting my manly ego on the line by publicly stating that I would run the Runner’s Den Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon faster than Bob’s best time, I had to create a plan.

Failure was not an option. The plan entailed doing things like setting running intervals, gradually increasing the length of my runs until I could go 15 miles and trying to continually increase my miles per hour. Fortunately, Bob turned out to be a fine running coach! I finished the marathon in 3:41, which did not beat his best time.

I realize now that it was his coaching me to set daily, weekly and monthly goals, along with proper diet, time management, mental training and a couple of pairs of good running shoes that made it all possible. It wasn’t just saying I’d do it; it was executing the plan. That’s why I am not a fan of the New Year’s resolution. We all say them. Most of us even want to believe we’ll stick to them.

I’m talking about self-promises of smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise, working fewer hours, going back to school — all kinds of resolutions. How many have you made over the years only to state the same ones the following December? Action plans are the real key to accomplishing goals or resolutions — whether at work or at home. They keep us focused on what we must do to achieve our goals. They also provide a measuring stick for monitoring progress. Here are the steps for creating and executing an action plan:

  1. Determine the parts of the plan. Consider, for example, a goal of losing weight. My wife and I allow ourselves to eat pretty much whatever we want from Thanksgiving through Christmas. She then clears out the refrigerator the day after Christmas of all the sugary, less than perfectly healthy foods. This is followed by shopping for fruit, vegetables, good grains and lean proteins to help us to get back on track with healthy eating. We both also increase our exercise activities the week after Christmas and continue this trend for the next four to five weeks. We ultimately return to normal eating and exercise. This annual plan, well-executed by my wife’s meal planning, shopping and cooking, has helped us to undo most of the damage accumulated on our waistlines in December. The same type of planning and execution can help you achieve your work-related goals. Once you know the proper components of the plan, you’re ready to get started.
  2. Replace broad resolutions with specific and measurable goals. Don’t set a goal to exercise more, lose weight or increase productivity. Rather, the goal needs to be stated in precise terms like, “exercise 20 minutes four times a week for five weeks,” “lose five pounds in 30 days” or “increase sales by 10 percent over last month.” Further, the goal needs to balance your motivation and ability with its difficulty. All too often we set resolutions that are too difficult. Setting realistic goals is key, as is honestly evaluating your motivation and ability.
  3. Identify the how, where and when of activities needed for success. If the goal is to increase your productivity at work, then you need to specify the how, where and when this will be done. I recommend taking time to brainstorm activities or tasks that enable you to reach your goal. It’s important to establish time frames for executing each aspect of your plan.
  4. Monitor your progress. Keep a record of your successes and failures. Feedback is the only way we can improve or change our plan, if it is not working.
  5. Remember to reward yourself for small achievements. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds total, and you lost three in the first month, then reward yourself with something you value. For me, it would be a guilt-free round of golf.

I look forward to not having any New Year’s resolutions, but I will definitely set one goal-based action plan. I hope you do, too. Good luck. As noted by British sculptor Henry Moore, “I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.”

First published in The Arizona Republic January 7, 2015.

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