December has come, and you probably know what this means. It’s the time of year where we’re all inspired to set new goals. And we’ll either celebrate the conclusion of the year - and what we’ve accomplished - or perhaps we’ll seek to hit the reset button and try it again. But let’s face the facts - the holidays can be rough.
It’s strange sometimes. I can enter this time of year feeling like things are going poorly, and that that I’m not on top of my game; that the year hasn’t been good at all; that I’ve failed in some respects. I’ll ask, “Where did this year go? What have I accomplished? Have I even remembered the goals that I put out for myself? And if not, why not? What systems have I put into place to hold myself accountable for my own success?”
Over the years, when I actually stopped for a moment and reflected on what I had done, I could see that I had accomplished some mind-boggling things! Things I’d forgotten about. I then recognized that most of my personal insecurities were completely unfounded. I just needed to take goal-setting to a new level.
So, I want to ask you to take an “emotional inventory,” right here and now. Do you feel like you’ve been successful? Are you happy with where you are and what you’ve done this past year? Many people cannot answer this question, as they still haven’t defined these things for themselves: success and happiness. How can one possibly expect to make this conclusion if you’ve never defined a success parameter or created milestones to help benchmark your progress?
Ask these questions of yourself: Did you have an annual plan? Did you break it into quarterly and monthly milestones? Did you think about it every day? And did you put in the time and energy into achieving them? It takes discipline to not only set the right goals, but to make yourself accountable for accomplishing them.
I want you to think for a moment about the sport of rock climbing. The activity itself might seem daunting - and there can be many dangers - but the goal and the framework are well-established and all they need to do is to follow it. The climber wears a harness tied to a rope. A protection point is set up at the top of the rock, and a safety partner (also wearing a harness) holds the rope, taking up the slack as they climb. The rope is never used to actually advance the climber’s progress. Reaching the top is completely up to them. Doing so requires physical effort as well as problem-solving skills.
The goal is, of course, reaching the top! It’s a simple goal, really. And it’s amazing how much satisfaction and happiness results from the completion of even an easy climbing problem (as rock climbs are referred to). It’s an amazing feeling!
My point is that we should all embrace this wonderful capacity we have to set goals, and then experience the amazing feelings we gain from the journey of accomplishing them. I could throw a million dollars at you today (which I’m not), but it would be gone in no time at all. The money isn’t what brings that feeling of elation and joy. OK, it might - but for an incredibly short time, and then it’s over. What truly matters is, “How did I get here?” It’s looking back down at the ground - and the rock - and saying to yourself, “Man, I can’t believe I did this!” That feeling stays with you in a lasting way. It pays dividends.
These joyful experiences begin with aspirations. But being aspirational for its own sake is no more useful than daydreaming. We need to hold ourselves accountable for how to turn these aspirations into the realized joy. The results.
And this is where the lost art of goal-setting comes into play. It’s a very simple concept that has been overshadowed by technology, busy lives, self-doubt and simply losing touch with the basics.
Over the next two days, I want you to do two simple exercises for yourself. Each night, before you go to sleep, write down two goals for the next day. One personal (such as “I’m going to hug my entire family at least twice” or “I’m going to work out for 45 minutes”) and one professional (such as “I’m going to thank Cynthia for improving her patient relationship skills this week” or “I’m going to call two patients who invited other patients into the practice in the past week and thank them”). At the end of each day, think back upon how completing these two goals felt. Did you notice anything? Did it elevate your mood? Was there something “in it” for you? Was it worth the effort? I’m going to make a prediction here. I suspect that at the end of each day, you’re going to feel great about what you just did.
I may be preaching to the choir with some of you, but I’m sure that heads are currently nodding with this crowd. Goals work. They are the formal structure that makes us responsible for our own happiness and success.
Now let’s think about the past year and the year to come. If you had goals for 2018, here comes another exercise. Look back at what they were and write down if you achieved them or not. And then write down how you held yourself accountable along the way. Next, write down what you would have done differently, if at all.
Let’s now look at the year to come. As you can probably predict, I’m going to challenge you to do one “every day” challenge (and you just read about it above) and make progress towards a long-term challenge.
Each evening continues with the one personal and one professional goal for the following day. Write them down and keep them close to where you sleep, so you can revisit them each day. In this way, doing something simple becomes natural and intentional, and you are focused on the momentum that you can create to have a great life in the practice and at home. These goals are easily accomplished because the restriction is that they must happen on that day.
Next is the full-year plan - the more comprehensive task of setting and achieving long-term goals. During the final week of this year, I challenge you to set five professional goals that are meant to be achieved over the entire year and five “personal goals.” Of course, each of these goals should be of the “S.M.A.R.T.” variety: Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-based.
You’ll need to take each goal and break them down into quarterly, monthly and weekly objectives. Each week, month and quarter, you should spend a few minutes examining your progress towards each. Write down what you specifically need to do next, how you’re holding yourself accountable for success and if you need to make any changes.
These goals differ from New Years resolutions. Those are often simply “shots in the dark” that are fleeting in nature, and consequently, they’re so often not taken seriously. S.M.A.R.T. goals bring in the element of accountability that are weekly, monthly and quarterly.
My sincere wish is to find each of you in a happy and successful place when I write next December’s article - within the context of how you define success - and I’m hopeful that this one was helpful in helping you get there. Happy New Year to all of you!