The new year has almost become cliché for setting new goals and resolutions. Research published in 2002 the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that just a month into the new year, only 64% of resolutions continue to be pursued. Should we abandon our attempts altogether then? Definitely not.
Daniel H. Pink points out in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, the “temporal milestone” of a new year can actually support our success in starting new habits or changing old patterns. In 2014 three scholars from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania published a paper in the science of timing that indicated that our use of temporal landmarks, like days that represented “firsts,” switched on people’s motivations. They called this phenomenon the “fresh start effect.”
Go ahead and embrace the cliche’ and “construct a better beginning!” Plan next year’s growth.
But let’s say you’ve never prepared a growth plan before. Where can you start? While many die-hard planners can provide you with outlines and surveys and books on how to create the perfect growth plan, the most important thing is that you just start. Before I found my own rhythm for the process, I focused on three simple tasks. Note I said “simple,” not “easy.”
It’s important to gain some context on where you’ve been. The easiest way for you to do this is to go back over my calendar for the year. Where did you go? Who were you with? What feelings do these memories trigger? Make note of your successes and challenges. Write down the times that you were the happiest and when you were riled up. List people you met and want to see more of.
This part of the plan is about re-experiencing your year, not judging it. For better or worse, gaining back the context and awareness of where you sit presently is the best preparation for planning your growth.
Here’s where things can get a bit dicey. It’s time to assign meaning to your review. Whether you write it as a narrative or simply a bullet list, once your written review is complete, read it in the context of “Where did I win?” and “Where can I learn?”
According to Plato, Socrates once said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Make YOUR life worth it.
Your “win” section is about your success. Did you accomplish a goal? Deepen a friendship? Get an unexpected promotion? I like to take a yellow highlighter and strike through each trigger of a win on my list for easy identification.
Your “learn” section will typically be what remains. These can be neutral events that didn’t seem to add much value to your life, or sometimes in my case, colossal failures that leave me with my greatest opportunities for change. Where do you want to do/be/have better?
Now you’re ready to write your growth plan. After you have gained context and properly evaluated your year, it’s time to dream. Yes, DREAM. While I’m a big fan of Michael Hyatt’s SMARTER goals (specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-keyed, exciting, and relevant), I prefer to open my growth plan with a reminder from leadership expert John C. Maxwell’s book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. The “Law of the Rubber Band” says growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.
If you don’t dream a little when setting your goals, they may be TOO achievable. What’s wrong with that? If you set a goal that is achieved with less than maximum effort and intention, your growth will be less than the maximum it could be too! Goals are good, but once you meet them…it’s over. Why not plan for growth and never stop?!
Choose three to five areas of your life to start (family, vocation, financial, spiritual, physical, etc.). Write a simple statement describing where you want to be in that area by the end of the year. And finally, create two to three actionable items (here’s where your SMARTER goals come in) you will commit to doing that will move you toward your growth in that area.
Once your growth plan is in place, set some reminders to revisit your plan several times throughout the year. This could be weekly, monthly, or even quarterly. Just pick a time frame that makes sense monitoring your progress.
And there you have it! A couple hours work combined with some personal honesty and self-awareness will set you up for greater growth than you can imagine.