Planning to make some changes in 2008? Be prepared that unrealistic resolutions can really take the fun out of starting a new year. If you expect too much too soon, the January 1 “spring-in-your-step as you picture your best year ever” can quickly turn into a familiar feeling of “here we go again”.

To avoid setting yourself up for disappointment as the first blush of January fades, try this 4-step approach to setting achievable goals in 2008.

Step 1. Run a reality check

Ever had a new year’s resolution to lose 25 pounds before February? Or clean out 20 years worth of junk and clutter by January 2?

Often we think we’ve failed at our goals and we blame our lack of willpower. Feeling inadequate makes it less likely we’ll try again – or if we do, we start off down on ourselves and don’t get far. But usually the truth is that we had outlandish expectations to begin with.

Don’t doom yourself to failure – choose sensible targets for achieving the goals you set for 2008. What’s a sensible target? Find out! Check out the web, friends, books or magazines – or ring an expert and ask them.

How long does it take to…?

  • Reach your goal weight – considering your age, fitness and current weight? Ask a fitness trainer.
  • Find a new job – given your industry, experience and the market? Check with a recruitment consultant.
  • Save for your new home/car/holiday – taking into account your salary and debt level? Talk to an accountant or financial planner.

Setting a goal that’s realistic is the first step to making this the year you achieve it!

Step 2. Translate ‘what’ into ‘when’.

So you’re starting the year with a realistic goal – now what? Any goal – anything you want to do differently – needs a diary entry that converts it from a vague what to a crystallised when.

Whether it goes in your Outlook, your Filofax or your head, it needs to be recorded – or you can pretty much fugeddaboutit. Here’s how to convert a “what” into a “when”:

Yuk: I’m gonna take up exercise next year.
Yay: I’ve scheduled 20-minute lunchtime walks on MON, WED and FRI.

It’s important when time-tabling your “when’s” that you don’t wait for the scheduled time to arrive before you decide what to do with it. Whether your resolution is to go on more outings with the kids, write that novel or find a new job, make planning the project part of the resolution. This takes the sting out of getting started; taps into your motivation when it’s high and helps you make some early strides.

For instance:

Yuk: So kids, what do you want to do this weekend?

Yay: Hey kids, how about going to the aquarium on Sunday afternoon?

Yuk: I’m gonna write that dang novel this year, so help me!

Yay: I have a rough plan for my novel and I’ve split it into small chunks.

Yuk: I hate my job. Gotta find me a better one.

Yay: I’m taking [friend's name] to lunch to help me brainstorm all the things I need to do to find a great new job. Then I’ll do a couple of tasks each day/weekday/weekend.

By converting your resolutions into diarised tasks, you boost your chances of making the changes you desire in 2008. Then you have to keep it going.

Step 3. Focus on progress, not perfection

Once you’ve got a sensible target that’s embedded into your schedule, it’s important to focus on progress, not perfection. As long as you’re heading in the right direction, rest assured that change is happening. Keep going! and you’ll get there!

Once you start obsessing about the 4 M&Ms you ate, the 1 interview out of a several that you blew or the single novel-writing session you missed because your mother-in-law was visiting, your hard drive died and the kids all had a nasty bout of ebola – it’s game over.

It helps to look back to where you started from and remind yourself that you’re slowly but surely changing your life. Seeing how far you’ve come reassures you that change is happening, even if it’s not as fast as you’d like.

It can also be motivating to look ahead to this time next year. How will you feel if you’ve achieved the goal but it took twice as long as you’d hoped? And how will you feel if you gave up because it didn’t happen fast enough?

Don’t let short-term hiccups distract you from the big picture. Keeping your eye firmly on the up-trend in your life it a good strategy for maintaining motivation over the longer term.

Step 4. Make it fun!

Don’t be too earnest with your resolutions. Adding some fun to your goals can help you stick with it when your motivation’s down. Here are some ideas and accessories that can add a little levity to getting your goal.

  • Study: Colored highlighters, pens and sticky notes; funky folders
  • Exercising: Music, PodCasts or audiobooks; cute workout-wear
  • Being a better cook: Your favorite celebrity-chef DVDs; beautiful cookbooks
  • Being less grumpy: Comedy DVDs; funny novels

Also remember to celebrate your successes. Acknowledging what you’ve achieved reinforces your efforts and helps strengthen your persistence muscles – so you’ll be in great shape for the next goal you want to pursue.

Is it 2009 already?

© Michelle Connolly, www.happinessstrategies.com/blog