Ditch the Resolutions

Welcome to January, the stern sister to December. While December is about gift giving and celebration, January arrives like the dreaded morning after bearing with it bill payments, back-to-work anxiety and of course the latest batch of New Year’s resolutions: “I will lose weight, build up my Linked-In network, post to my blog twice a week, go to the gym, and meet my billable hours target.”

There has got to be a better way to herald the New Year then marching to the orders of our inner drill sergeant.

I’m a professional business coach, goals and resolutions are the heart of my business, so trust me when I tell you, this year ditch the resolutions and abandon the guilt. Life’s too short!

Replace all the gloom and puritanical posturing with some first class day dreaming, the kind you did as a kid. What do you want to be when you grow up? There’s always something new to learn, or see, or do. What to you want to get out of 2008? When you are raising your glass to bring in the New Year what do you want to look back on?

Compelling and inspiring goals are the key ingredients of a fulfilling and successful professional life. They encourage creativity. They provide the challenge and the meaning that is so easy to lose when life get busy.

Goals also help us determine what to invest our time and money on—blogs, social networks, the latest PDA—what’s it going to be? Setting a few goals at the beginning of the year helps us to ensure we stay on top of what’s most important.

Daydreaming and goal setting transformed my friend David’s practice. A few years ago he had all the outward trimmings of success: He made partner in his mid-thirties, was happily married with two kids. There was just one problem: he was bored and depressed. He was completely unmotivated. Most mornings he had to drag himself to work with a sinking feeling in his gut and a nagging refrain in his brain –- “there’s got to be more to life then this”.

Sound familiar?

David knew he had to do something. He took the time to reflect. He had many long and engaged conversations with the important people in his life. He knew that he loved a challenge. He was happiest training for a triathlon and he wanted to get some of that same satisfaction out of his legal practice. He discovered in himself a desire to become a leader. He imagined himself one day becoming Managing Partner and this vision of the future was both inspiring and compelling for David. He told me how this realisation transformed his feelings about coming to work. He was energised and motivated. He was once again engaged

These deeper truths about what matters most to us can be surprisingly hard to uncover. We are all much better at making those grim resolutions –- and then berating ourselves for failing to achieve them. Forming your own set of compelling goals is a process of discovery. Here are some steps to guide you along the way.

Suspend disbelief for a short while

On the weekend go for a walk or lean back in your arm chair and put your feet up. Take an hour or so to imagine a future where anything is possible. Suspend your disbelief and truly allow yourself to dream for a time. What would you do if you could do anything? What have been the moments in life when you have felt most engaged with your work or with some activity? What were you doing? What was great about it? What would you like more of in your life? What do you most value?

Geek tip: Play with a mind mapping software for this day dreaming session.

Goal setting loves company

Share the goals and dreams that emerge with a close friend, or family member. Ask to hear about their dreams. Talk about what you want to accomplish. Discuss what goals you want to set for the year ahead. Often our dreams and goals become clear through discussion with others.

Follow your “why” to deeper meaning

Why? Is a question that helps us reach for deeper truths. When you have settled on a few goals ask yourself why you want to achieve them. For example in David’s case one of things he dreamed of for a long time was to have a mentor at the firm. Why? Because he wanted to form a close connection with a colleague who he could learn from. Why? Because he missed the companionship he had experienced as a young associate. While it was not possible for him to have a mentor at the firm he realised that he would equally enjoy mentoring some of the young lawyers. His initial goals eventually led him to what was truly most important –- leadership and a sense of community at his firm.

Write your goals down

This is the hard part. You have to take out your pen or power up the computer and write your goals down. It should take five minutes. Sounds simple but it’s actually quite difficult. A lot of people get stuck here. Writing down goals is essentially about committing to doing them. Many of us are hesitant to commit! I know because I am one of them. I’m a coach but it is still really hard for me to write down my goals.

Geek tip: Post it note your goals to your computer screen using 3Ms free e-post-its. This will be completely annoying but decidedly in your face every time you turn on your computer.

Test your goals

How powerful are your goals? When you think about achieving them how do you feel? Do you get charged up? A powerful goal is encouraging. It is something you really want to achieve and that you can visualise yourself accomplishing. If your goal fails to inspire you or you can’t imagine it, it may mean that you need to rework it.

Take action

Keep your goal statements close at hand. Every week take a moment to determine what you will take action on during the week. Just one or two small steps forward each week is often all it takes to make goals happen.

If everything is great in your world then you may not feel the need to engage in any serious goal setting this year. If it is not, and there is something big you want to change, then this is the place to start. Go hunting for what is most important to you. And when you find it, plot a course for getting more of it in your life. There are many good books that provide additional information and guidance on goal setting, career planning, and related topics. Just send me an email and I would be happy to provide some suggestions.


  1. Very inspiring piece Allison. This time last year, perhaps a little before Christmas, I came to the conclusion that something had to change. I’d always loved my job, but was drawn to a portion of my web work that kept my inner fires burning – the strategy & promotion part.

    I can’t say I wasn’t a little scared to make the jump. I consulted a lot of friends, including you and a number of people here at Slaw. It was a gamble, and I knew it was a gamble. Being a little introspective here, I think making this kind of personal change has required: a lot of planning, well reasoned guesses, a little luck, and some good friends. So for me, your post makes a lot of sense.