How to Set Goals and Really Keep Them

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Is it just me, or is a year shorter than it used to be? Before you know it, another year has come and gone on the calendar. And, of course, with every new year comes another round of resolutions focused on self-improvement. On formal spreadsheets, backs of envelopes, or just via mental note, most of us started off the early days of 2012 with lists of promises to ourselves to change our behaviors, modify our lifestyles, expand our minds, flatten our stomachs and spend more time with our loved ones, while at the same time transforming ourselves into absolute business powerhouses. I know I do it every year—make that long list of all those things I am going to do to make this next year a real winner.

But “going to do” is an interesting phrase. It certainly can convey a real sense of commitment, an ironclad personal guarantee, as in “This is something I am absolutely going to do!”

It can, however, have a very different meaning. It can be a mechanism for delay, for putting off those things that really need to be done. I’m “going to do it” is a promise of future action —I’m “going to do it” after I finish what I am doing now, or tomorrow, or next week, or if and when I remember it at some point in the future. And the longer our intended actions remain future intentions, the less likely that we will actually do anything at all. Isn’t that what often happens with our resolutions—our “going to do’s?”

Planning is a useful and meaningful exercise in almost every sphere of human life, but there is greater value in doing. As I am regularly reminding my kids (now young adults), “Yeah Dad, I am (or was) going to do it,” isn’t the same as “Dad, I’ve done it!”

Success is often about prioritization and focus. This requires discipline, but not in the way one often thinks of discipline. It isn’t about getting up at dawn seven days a week, or making every minute count, or constantly multi-tasking. It is rather about putting your energy into what matters, about working with laser focus on the most important things and not being distracted by all of the less important peripheral issues that constantly pop up in our lives. And it’s about tackling those most important challenges and tasks with a sense of urgency.

At Bates Communications, we express this concept a bit differently. We encourage our clients to adhere to the following simple mantra: “Plan the Intention – Schedule the Intention – Honor the Intention.”

So as we yet again make out our newest self-renewal plans, let’s think about what we really are prepared to DO, what intentions we will truly honor—not everything we convince ourselves we should be doing. Let’s throw out the long lists that require a spreadsheet to categorize and track. How about making just four resolutions, setting just four goals for the year, and focusing our energies and efforts on tackling those four—maybe one a quarter?

So let’s pause and take a good, hard look at our newest self-renewal plans for the year ahead. Let’s think about what intentions we will truly honor, what we really are prepared to DO—and not bog ourselves down with everything we convince ourselves we should be doing. Let’s throw out the long lists that require a spreadsheet to categorize and track. How about making just four resolutions, set just four goals for the year, and focus our energies and efforts on tackling these four:

  • For your biggest projects, challenges or business goals, break them down into manageable bites—micro-goals—and then set out clear steps you can achieve and record and track your progress as you march through the list.
  • Control your calendar and control your life. Make sure that you see every time slot on your calendar as a valuable asset—don’t allow yourself (or your assistant) fill your dance card. Schedule and protect that “free space”—to think, to reflect, to strategize— to breathe!
  • Resist the allure of your inbox—electronic or snail mail. And make sure that the top of your To Do list is filled with the most important items. Ask yourself the question—“Of the 50 things I am being asked to do today, which 2 or 3 will have most significant long-term impact on my business, my people, my career?’
  • Have some fun! Set one somewhat “crazy” goal for the year—a real stretch, but one that if accomplished would create a new, different and exciting future state— the kind of goal that if you can only can get halfway there, you will still feel good about the progress you have made and will be better for the effort.

A funny thing often happens when we set big, soaring, tough goals for ourselves—the seemingly impossible begins to become doable.

If we can succeed at just these four goals, my guess is that we will feel we have actually accomplished something, actually made a difference that looks and feels real to us. And we will be ready when 2013 rolls around to face the challenges and opportunities of that next New Year with greater confidence and enthusiasm.

About Craig Bentley 1 Article
Craig Bentley is an executive coach, speaker and senior communications consultant with Bates Communications who has lived in Europe and Asia. Craig works with senior leaders and rising talent across the country and overseas to make more dynamic and effective leaders. Contact him at or by visiting

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