When someone says the word "resolution," what do you feel? If you're like most people, feelings of unrest accompanied by visions of change and unmet goals dance through your head. The fact is that year after year, most plans for improvement, whether they be in terms of habits or health, inevitably fail.

For example, let's say on Monday you vow to lose weight, but by Tuesday you're attacking a box of cookies with the aggression of a 10-year-old boy. Or maybe you have resolved to work out like a Marine, but you quickly find the first excuse you can to sit on the couch and relax. If either of these scenarios sounds familiar, then your problem lies in your approach.

Everyone starts strong-willed on the first day of their resolution, but usually, within a few weeks, most people are back to their old ways. In truth, these people miss their goals because they don't base their resolutions on behavior changes. For example, instead of saying, "I'm going to work out like a Marine," formulate a simple and easy-to-follow plan, such as, "I'm going to the gym three times a week."

What is the best way to set goals and achieve them? Starting with a behavior-based plan is key. Motivational pioneer Earl Nightingale provided insight on this when he said that we are happier when we're setting out upon a mission. People are always better off when they're climbing, thinking, and working toward improving themselves. Nightingale, who still motivates thousands of people every day, long after his death, defined success as "The progressive realization of a worthy goal."

You are better when you're productive, and your self-esteem will increase as a result of achievement. Here are some suggestions to cross-reference with your own approach to goal setting and planning.

Create A Laundry List

Think of what you want to accomplish in the next year, personally and professionally. Maybe you want to lose weight or save enough money to finance a new truck. Whatever you want, make sure your goals are achievable, realistic, and measurable.

Put a value on your goal. For example: "Lose 10 pounds" or "Save $5,000 for a down payment." A measurable value gives you a method for keeping track of your progress. Compare your progress to your goal value periodically so you'll always know where you stand in terms of progress. A value can also serve as a limit. For example, limit yourself to one dessert or one drink per week. When you save that one treat for the perfect time, you'll keep yourself on the right track.

Make A Plan

Make sure you have a plan to back up each of your goals. Identify each item on your list with an action. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, then walking to work can be your action plan. If your goal is to quit drinking, then staying out of bars can be your action plan.

Keep the plan doable and reasonable because you want to keep it up for the rest of your life. Don't expect to start running five miles every morning at 6 a.m. if you're not an early riser and you haven't ran since your days on the high school football team. You must have the will power, ability, and motivation to back your plans up and stick them out over the long haul.

Write Your Goals Down

Most people don't realize how therapeutic writing can be. Not only does writing goals feel good, but it also sets a tone for the goal, even if it's a little motivation by guilt.

When you write it down, you commit yourself to the plan and you can't let it slip your mind after a few weeks. Use a calendar to plan where you want to be in terms of your goal over the course of the year. If you know you want to save $5,000 for a down payment on a brand new truck within the next year, it would be realistic to say you'll have $1,750 saved after three months and $2,500 saved after six month. Write these mini goals down so you can assess your progress through the year.

Plus, having a solid plan in writing with all the steps outlined will help you sleep better, achieve peace of mind, and reduce stress.

Seeing Is Believing

Writing your plans won't help if you can't see them on a daily basis. Once you have your plans written down on a calendar, don't hide it in your drawer where you can ignore it. Instead, post it in a visible location where you'll see it whether you'd like to or not.

This is a critical part of having a plan. When your resolution is visible, it's as fresh in your mind today as the day you wrote it. You'll automatically work toward the goal when it is right in front of your face. No Super Bowl champ goes out on the field without a game plan. What's your plan?

Don't let your resolution end up like all the others: a big failure. Keep your resolutions this year by making realistic, behavior-based goals. Commit yourself to your plan by writing it down, and then post your goals in a highly visible location where you can't ignore it.

Use these tips for keeping your resolutions and you'll reach your goals this year and in the future.

Joe Takash speaks at sales meetings and national conferences helping organizations with morale, productivity, and increasing profit. He also serves as director of corporate relations for Robert Morris College. Contact him at joe@joetakash.com.

Publication date: 04/05/2004