Last year at this time I discussed how to make 2021 better than 2022 by taking a systematic approach to making and achieving your goals for the new year (aka resolutions). You can read the article here.
Here is an additional approach to achieving your resolutions that I call the Three Decembers Method. First, decide on an area of your life you want to improve : health, finances, happiness, productivity, career, relationships, etc. Then assess how you were, are or will be in that area during three consecutive Decembers - last December, this December and next December.
For the most benefit, go through this process now as you are reading this. Write down your answers to the questions below to help keep your goal top of mind.
We’ll use weight loss as an example since it is so often the target of New Year’s resolutions, but you should use whatever area needs the most attention. You can be as general as looking at your overall health or one specific aspect, such as weight, consumption habits, exercise, etc. For this example we’ll target weight loss.
Think back to last December and recall your status and condition in your chosen area of focus. For example, do you know what your weight was? If not, make a reasonable guess.
Then ask yourself these questions about last December:
- Was I happy with my situation at that time?
- Did I have a desire to improve?
- Did I come up with a plan, such as a diet, exercise regimen, or other lifestyle change? If so, was it successful? Why or why not? Was it because it was too hard? Or because I gave up too easily? Or did I just stop thinking about it?
This gives you some insight and context as you move forward. It is useful to look back but don’t dwell there, especially if you failed. Remember, even if you didn’t do so well in the past, that’s okay because you’re taking action now to learn and improve.
Next, give yourself an honest appraisal of where you are now. You are obviously not where you want to be or you wouldn’t have chosen that area for improvement.
- How does your current situation compare to last year? Am I better or worse off? This illuminates your current trajectory. Maybe you were happy with your situation last year but have gone downhill just over the last 12 months.
- Why do you want to make this change? In other words, how is your current situation affecting your health, wealth, or happiness?
If you want to be successful, you need to be honest about your motivation and desire to change. The next step will help you do this.
Though not all resolutions have a 12-month deadline, your success or failure will be reflected by where you are at this time next year.
So imagine yourself on December 31 of 2022, and ask:
- How will I know if I was successful? With weight loss we have the unforgiving bathroom scale to tell us, but other goals may not be so obvious.
- If I achieve my goal, how will my life or happiness be different than it is now? How will I feel about myself? How will my life be improved?
- Likewise, if I fail, how does the “future me” look compared to the “present me”?
- If I fail, what was the likely cause of failure? Look back at past failures to anticipate your weak points and potential roadblocks. This process is called a "pre-mortem."
- Finally, if you partially succeed, will you view it as a failure? For example, if your goal was to lose 20 pounds but you only lost 15 - how will you feel about that?
Planning for success
The answers to those questions will inform both your mindset and how you set up your plan. Be deliberate and specific about what you will do differently. Create an environment that induces the behavior you want. Set up checkpoints to assess how you are doing along the way. If you slip up, adjust your plan to make it easier for you to avoid a repeat.
We set personal goals because we want something we don’t have now. We want to make a positive change to ourselves and our lives. Happiness is largely a function of the direction you feel you are moving, up or down, so movement toward your goals means you are elevating yourself. Knowing you are on an upward trajectory will bring you happiness and satisfaction.
Have a safe and happy New Year. I’ll see you on the other side.
Think well and be well.
- Steve Haffner
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