NextGen Know-How: How to Actually Achieve Your Goals This Year

A pencil and notepad that lists 2018 goals
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

6 minutes

Six strategies to have your best year ever

It’s a new year—a fresh start, a new page, a time for renewal and new commitments. It’s an exciting time to improve oneself and set high hopes for the year to come. Or is it? Do you find yourself feeling more melancholy than excited at the beginning of January? 

Last year, I noticed that instead of feeling excited for the fresh start, I felt … blah. Not so inspired. Not so motivated. No rush of positivity. Upon reflection, I realized that below the surface, I felt pressure and anxiety. It was only day three of the new year and I already felt like I was behind; that I wasn’t seizing each day to its fullest to get a jump start on the year. I also felt pressure to make this year better than the last. All of these feelings impacted my normal positive outlook and sent me into a three-week funk. Not exactly a great way to start the year.

Looking back now, I had my best year ever in 2017. Even though I didn’t feel enthusiastic at the start, my good habits eventually overtook my fears and helped me to make progress.

If you feel a bit of dread this time of year, you are not alone. You can still have a fantastic 2018 and make it your best year yet. Success speaker Tony Robbins says that most of us overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in 10 years. 

Below are six strategies for actually achieving your goals this year:

Goals, not resolutions. The traditional new year “resolutions” are rarely successful. It’s been reported that only 8 percent of people actually stick to them. The definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” It takes an enormous amount of discipline to completely stop doing something or to commit to always do something. A better approach is to set goals. The best goals are specific, measurable and future-focused.

Bad goal: I want to lose 10 pounds.

Great goal: I will weigh 135 pounds by June 30, 2018.

I’ve also learned over the years that having fewer goals empowers me to actually stick to them. When I have a list of 10 goals, I end up focusing on what I’m not accomplishing rather than the progress I’m making. I try to keep my list to four to five goals.

Slow down to speed up. The most common cause of overwhelm is a lack of clarity. If you come into the office on Monday and aren’t clear on the most important things you want to accomplish, then you will probably procrastinate by checking your email and an hour later find yourself on YouTube watching a cat video. The same is true for annual goals. If you don’t have clarity, you will spend a lot of energy multitasking (which doesn’t work) and not get very far. You will start the year off busy—running from meeting to meeting, putting out daily fires, trying to keep your inbox below 500 emails—and six months later find yourself wondering where the first half of the year went. To gain clarity, slow down to clarify your goals. Once you have clarity, you will be able to focus intently on important tasks and accomplish your goals faster and more easily.

Ease in. One of the top resolutions people make each year is to get in better shape. Most people approach this by resolving to exercise regularly and eat healthier. These are lofty goals. (They are on my list almost every year.) Experts might say that you should commit to an ideal workout schedule from day one. In my experience, this becomes overwhelming and does not feel sustainable. It may be against conventional wisdom, but ease into your goals. Create a goal that is realistic for you yet will also motivate you to continue.

For example, perhaps the first two weeks you set a goal to work out twice a week, and then increase it to three times in week three or four. Easing in allows you to adjust to your new way of living. If you are someone who can create a lofty goal, jump right in and never look back, then do it! For the rest of us (the 92 percent), easing in is much more sustainable.

Reverse plan. This one strategy can be a game changer. I started using this strategy about four years ago when I ended the year feeling totally exhausted and depleted. It was a really busy year for my business, and I had failed to plan a vacation. I remember opening my calendar mid-year looking for a week I could schedule some time off. There wasn’t one week without appointments or commitments for the rest of the year. I pushed through and promised myself I would never have a year like that again.

At the beginning of the next year, I sat down and scheduled the most important things in my life in my calendar—the doctor appointments, vacations, blog-writing days, conferences, school activities and dates with my husband. I call this reverse planning because it’s the reverse of what most people do: go about our normal business and try to fit in the important things later. That rarely works. Planning ahead and being deliberate with your time will ensure the most important things get done. Two important items for leaders to reverse plan are coaching sessions with your employees and strategy days (days you devote completely to strategic goals). Schedule these important events now, before your calendar fills up. 

Measure backwards. One of my business mentors, Dan Sullivan, says a mistake most of us make is that we measure our goals forward instead of backward. Let’s say at the beginning of the year you weigh 150 pounds, and you set a goal to weigh 135 pounds by June 30. On June 30, if you weigh 140 pounds, you technically did not achieve your goal. Most of us will focus on what we didn’t achieve rather than what we did achieve. Dan Sullivan calls this focusing on “the gap.” But you still lost 10 pounds! Progress is an evolution. Nothing happens overnight.   

Forgive yourself. Being human means you will likely hit some bumps throughout the year. Maybe you had a weak moment and somehow found yourself eating Nutella straight from the jar (I confess), you missed your workouts for weeks in a row, or you haven’t had coaching sessions with your employees for months. You can spend your energy ruminating on your failures, or you can forgive yourself, get back up and do better tomorrow. After years of ruminating, I have found forgiveness to be much more pleasant. 

There are two books I recommend to inspire you to achieve your goals this year: The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen. Small steps throughout the year lead to big results. Every choice we make either leads us toward what we want or away from what we want. Don’t underestimate the power of small daily choices.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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