It happened again; the year that seemed new a short while ago is no longer new! It's hard to believe that one-sixth of a brand new year is already over. Only two months ago we were still celebrating the New Year and laying out our new set of resolutions.
Ouch...right...those New Year's resolutions. Was that an uncomfortable topic to bring up? If you're like the majority of people (and me in most years), those goals and resolutions have been gathering dust since about January 5th. And, even for those who have been courageous enough to keep them past January 5th, US News and World Report says that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February.
It's really easy to feel low in the depths of post-second-week-of-February despair. And, while it is rather sad that most of us can't stick to a few resolutions, it might be justified to put some of the blame on the whole method of New Year's resolutions itself. Two authors, Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, argue for just that in their book The 12 Week Year. Their book claims that part of the reason most people abandon their yearly goals is because the mindset of yearly goals is inherently flawed.
One of the major flaws they discuss is the mindset that the authors term as "annualized thinking." Many of us and our world's organizations operate on annualized thinking. Basically, it’s the mindset that success or failure is measured by how much is accomplished within the time frame of a year, 365 days. The problem with annualized thinking is that often these goals are forgotten or waylaid until about October or November, when the impending New Year forces us either to zealously accomplish what we can before our yearly "day of reckoning," or to realize that we fell way too far behind and can only hope for a better start next year.
Does this general scheme of a year sound familiar? Most of us can probably relate to this mindset. On January 1st, we lay out what we want to accomplish in the New Year. Maybe we started to take action on these items in the first few weeks of the New Year, but eventually, these zealous efforts waned. Maybe things got hard and the zeal of starting on our new endeavors wore off; or maybe we just got really busy with work, school, and/or family life. Whatever the reason, come February or March, we realize we’re a little behind, if not in need of completely reigniting the efforts.
"But that's alright," we tell ourselves, "it's only March, so I still have all the time until the end of the year to get these things done." But the belief that we have "all that time" dampens our motivation to act. We become complacent. And then, inevitably, December 31st rolls around, and "all that time" is gone, with little progress to show.
At this point, most of us just scrap the goals from the previous year and start new resolutions for yet another New Year, forgetting that the same thing happened last year, and the year before that, and the year before that... But for some reason, we think: "this year will be better than the last."
Einstein is said to have defined insanity as, "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." It's not the fact that we failed in our New Year's resolutions that makes us insane; it's the fact that we failed for the last five (or more) years and think we'll have a successful year next time by doing the same thing. No one ever challenged this system of yearly resolutions until the aforementioned authors questioned just how sane it is to continue this system of New Year's resolutions.
The 12 Week Year Method proposed by the The 12 Week Year suggests that instead of having a roughly 10 month period of relative inactivity followed by a 2 month sprint to the finish line, as is common in the New Year's resolution system, why not simulate this end-of-year zeal all year long? How? we might ask. By redefining the year: 12 weeks is the new 12 months. This period of time is long enough to accomplish significant, meaningful goals, but short enough to ward off goal-stifling annualized thinking. Within this new system, a week becomes a month and a day becomes a week. This framework enforces the concept that day to day execution is the only way that we will ever achieve something meaningful and challenging, since it gives much less time to waste in producing great things. The core element of this system is establishing 12 weeks as the "year" to accomplish 2-3 goals. However, there are a few further guidelines that can help maximize success with this new method.
The first is critical objectives. A critical objective is basically a fancy word for a goal, but the extra word is not just fluff. Critical means that these goals (objectives) are crucial to us and whatever aspect of our life they influence (family, spiritual, professional, academic, personal, you name it). The fact that they are critical means that we will be personally invested and truly motivated to do whatever it takes to achieve these goals in the 12 week period. If we're not personally invested in the goal, if it's not something we really want, then it’s not worth wasting time on since life is too short to pursue the mediocre. Each 12 week period, we pick 2-3 critical objectives and focus on achieving those, and only those, goals. Then we move on.
The point here is not to expect that this new system will magically help us achieve a list of twenty goals in 12 weeks. But three goals times about four 12 week periods equals close to twelve goals in a year — amazing!
The second key to success is planning. Planning is crucial to fulfilling a goal in a year, so it should be evident that without it we'll flunk in any efforts to attain similar goals in 12 weeks. Planning is extremely important for a successful 12 week year, and it is not wasting time. The best way to start each “year” is by outlining our critical objectives and the main tasks to be accomplished or milestones to be reached for achieving those goals. Each main task should then be assigned a week by which it is due. Then, at the beginning of every week, we will need to plan all of the days within that week in order to accomplish the next task or milestone that will push us closer to our goals.
The goals direct the weeks, and the weeks direct the days; if the daily tasks aren't accomplished, there's no way the goals will be accomplished.
Remember that the reason we set goals and challenge ourselves is to bring out our latent potentialities and slowly but surely to improve ourselves in every aspect of our lives. This is a duty we bear to God, ourselves, our family, our workplace, and society. If one method of achieving our goals works better than the other, then by all means, we should use it! If every year we achieve much more than we had set out to achieve with our New Year's resolutions, then there's clearly no need to fix the system. But if New Year's resolutions have been an uphill battle for years, then it might be time to consider a change, and maybe the new system proposed by The 12 Week Year would be a good place to start. New Year's resolutions, 12 week years, and any other system out there are all means to an end. The end, perfecting ourselves, is much more important than the particulars of our means to get there.
So find something that works for you. Give it everything you have, and success can be yours. Happy goal setting!