What are you committed to creating this year?

The 7 most important New Year questions you need to answer

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This New Year, I’ve decided to forego making a list of New Year’s resolutions in favor of a somewhat different approach.

I’ve created a PDF worksheet on which we can answer 7 critical questions that will help us take, both a broad and very specific look, at what we want to accomplish during this new year.

Here are the questions I think we should be asking ourselves. Please note that a pre-requisite to completing this sheet is having clarity about your personal core values and the things that matter most to you in life. Without doing some deep thinking around those issues, completing this sheet may seem daunting. And even if you have reflected on these matters, it will take a considerable amount of further reflection to fine tune your vision for this new year. Trust me—it’s worth it!

Wherever you are in the process, the most important thing is to begin.

Here are the questions:

1. What is your aspiration for this new year, in one word, or simple phrase?

Nothing clarifies things like a powerfully pithy phrase.

Maybe that’s the allure of hashtags in some social media channels? If so, what’s the hashtag you want to use to describe your life in the coming year? This word or very brief phrase should powerfully capture the meaning or theme of the year ahead. It helps to keep your goals front and center in a way that is very hard to ignore because it’s so easy to commit to memory.

For example, I’ve chosen a very short phrase to encapsulate everything I hope to achieve in the new year: “Successful Writer-Entrepreneur.” If 365 days from now I can make that single phrase ring true, then it was a successful year indeed.

This phrase can even serve as a mantra that you can repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until you have burnished it in your heart and mind.

It can help guide your decisions in every moment of every day.

It’s a powerful technique, try it!

2. Why does this matter so much to you?

So, let’s be clear. The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by June or July.  Many don’t even survive the first month! That’s because no matter what your heart desires, you will encounter real friction in the real world. Brick walls; obstacles; setbacks and the like will all make themselves known to you. Things tend to get hard. Sometimes, they get so hard that most rational folks realize that it’s just easier, and less painful, to quit.

But quitting is a word you should extricate from your vocabulary, at least when it comes to the work and goals that you so desperately want to engage with; the things that truly have meaning for you. You can’t quit pursuing these outcomes because they’re simply too important to you, no matter how implausible they may seem. And yet the friction will come and you will feel outmatched.

Popeye had spinach for his moments of weakness, and so do you, sort of. When things get hard and the proverbial stuff hits the fan, ask yourself, “Why?” and then answer forcefully and convincingly.

Remind yourself why you are doing this. Why is this so important to you right now?

If you don’t have a powerful WHY behind the things you are pursuing, then you might as well not bother with these questions in the first place.

I should also point out, that hapless answers like “making lots of money” or because it would be “nice” or “cool” to achieve something, won’t be nearly enough to get you over the obstacles when they materialize in front of you.

So it all boils down to “How badly do you want this?

As Randy Pausch once said:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

3. Who can hold you accountable to achieving your goals?

Joe Frazier once said something I’ve never forgotten:

You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes – that means your [preparation:]. That’s where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you’re going to get found out now, under the bright lights.

As you already know, it’s way too easy to cheat on our own roadwork in the dark of the morning when there are no consequences for not showing up and doing the work. Since there’s no dramatic fight in front of the world—under the big lights—we skimp on effort and slide into mediocrity.

Without accountability, it’s also too easy to quit. But an accountability partner, someone to whom you must report on a monthly or quarterly basis, can keep you honest. This can be a close friend, colleague, coach or mentor. It should be someone thoughtful, whom you trust to give you excellent, unbiased feedback about your performance.

You will tell this person what you intend to do and then meet with him in person, at least every 90 days, to give them a report on what you accomplished and where you may have fallen short. This person should be able to listen carefully, question you, give you constructive criticism, and help you generate ideas on how you can deal with the different challenges that you’re encountering.

An accountability partner can mean the difference between meeting or quitting your goals.

4. What will your 5 areas of focus be?

This one is straight-forward.

Pick 5 areas of your life that you want to work on and in 1 or 2 words describe each of these areas of focus.

I recommend that your first area of focus be your health, since this is the single most important factor in anyone’s life.

Now you need to define the four other areas that you’ll focus on. Possible areas of focus may be: Work, Family, Career, Professional Development, Entrepreneurship, Community Service, Leisure, etc. What areas of your life do you want to strengthen this year? Is there an area of your life that you’ve been neglecting for a while and now needs your focus and attention?

Of course, there are probably many more than 5 areas where you would like to focus. Maybe you can come up with 10, 15 or many more, but you need to define your top 5 where you will apply your best energy and focus, all year long. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on other areas of your life, but you commit to doing your very best on these five, every single day, all year long.

For each area of focus, set a S.M.A.R.T goal

Once you’ve defined your five areas of focus, it’s time to set at least one goal for each. This goal should be a stretch goal—very ambitious but not completely divorced from the performance level you’ve been able to achieve in the past. The best way to do this is to use the S.M.A.R.T methodology, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based.

I suggest you start with a general goal and then use the SMART methodology in reverse order.

Like so:

General Goal:I will lose weight.

Time-based: “By July 1st.”

Realistic: “I want to lose 20 lbs by July 1st, six months from now. This means losing 3.3 lbs per month which experts say is well within the bounds of a healthy weight-loss program.”

Attainable: “My goal is attainable because experts agree that a person can healthfully lose 4 to 6 lbs per month. I’m choosing to go slower than that so that I can adjust more gradually and I can come up with a diet and exercise regimen that isn’t extreme and suits my busy schedule. As I proceed, I can choose to speed up a bit later.”

Measurable: “My goal is measurable as follows: I will work to lose .77 lbs every week. That will require a caloric deficit of ~400 per day (3,500 calories per pound of weight x .77 ÷ 7 days per week). That will mean eating roughly 200 calories less per day and increasing my activity level in order to burn an additional 200 calories.”

Now we can put it all together and create a very specific and SMART goal:

Specific: My goal is to go from 240 lbs down to 220 lbs between Jan 1st and July 1st of this year. I will do this by burning a total of 400 calories per day for a total of .77 lbs lost every week for a total of 26 weeks.

By setting S.M.A.R.T. goals in this way, you’ll know if you’re getting closer or further from your goal every single day. This will help keep you on track.

5. What worked well for you last year?

Think back to the previous year. What went well? What worked for you? Think about your successes and everything you accomplished in the last year. Does any common theme emerge, in terms of contributing factors to your successes? What did you try that worked?

If any particular strategy, tactic, or activity worked well for you last year, these are things that you probably want to continue doing this year.

List them and reflect on why they may have been so effective. And most importantly—keep doing them!

5.5. What didn’t work last year?

Of course, for every single thing that worked there may be five things that didn’t. It is important to define and be mindful about these as well. It’s a no-brainer—refrain from repeating actions that underperformed or flat out didn’t work.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that:

For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.

We must practice being more observant or mindful about our actions and the accompanying reaction from the Universe.

Also, things that work or didn’t work can be things in our personal or professional lives, and though we may think that they are fully distinct areas of focus, they are often intertwined.

6. What do you need to start doing?

There may also be some new things (strategies or tactics) that you may want to try out in the new year to see if they help you make progress.

What might some of those be?

Maybe this means getting more training, acquiring new, more productive habits or practicing new, more empowering behaviors.

6.5. What do you need to stop doing?

Everyone’s familiar with To-Do lists but Tom Peter reminds us of the importance of  To-Don’t Lists. These are things you need to STOP doing. Now. What isn’t a priority right now? What bad habits need to be jettisoned from your daily routine? What’s holding you back that you need to stop doing today?

These are critical considerations for your success and are too often ignored.

7. What skills, information or support (including teachers, mentors, coaches) do you need?

Finally, sometimes we struggle because we lack the technical skills to reach a goal. When you try, and try, and fall short of scaling the brick wall in your path, maybe it’s time to stop and “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey would say.

Maybe its time to hit the books? Or find a coach or mentor who can help you with your specific challenge?

It’s important not to grind our gears too hard.

If you’re working diligently to achieve something but you’re frustrated because you’re not getting the results you want, it may be time to take a step back to reassess the situation and see if there’s anything missing from your approach. You can find expert advice on just about any subject from books but, if you can afford it, you might save a lot of time by hiring someone qualified like a knowledgeable and skilled coach, to assess your performance and show you exactly what you need to do to improve.

Other times, it may be a lack of support that is holding you back. If so, who is an a position, or has access to the resources, that you need to make progress? How might you recruit their assistance and support? Who can connect you to the people or resources that can help you?

Once last piece of advice

Once you have thought about all of this, write down your answers on the worksheet.

Sign your name on it!

Then, make at least three copies and get them laminated. Use a hole-puncher to make a hole in the top center of one of the copies.

Place the laminated copies as follows: (1) On on your refrigerator (2) In your office or on your cubicle (3) Hanging from your shower head in the bathroom (this is the hole-punched version).

By doing this, your Areas of Focus, SMART goals, and strategic considerations are in front of you, all day, every day—even in the shower! Because they are plain as day and omnipresent, there can be no convenient forgetting about what you committed to creating in your life this year. In addition, having your goals clearly and prominently displayed in this manner recruits the full powers of your conscious and sub-conscious mind, so you can stay committed, motivated and laser-focused on what matters most.

You’ll feel energized, alive, purposeful and productive! And why shouldn’t you—you’re on track and doing the work that matters most to you.

And though there’s no method that can guarantee perfect results, by going through the process I have just described, I can guarantee that you will dramatically improve the odds of accomplishing all of your goals this year.

In late December, if you can say that you have accomplished even 80% of your goals, your future-self will look back and marvel with pride at all you’ve accomplished.

So make your future-self proud—click here to start filling out the worksheet and get to work!