Nail Your New Year's Resolutions With Clear Goals, Short-term Milestones and Daily Habits

Hello 2018! Boy it felt like 2017 whooshed by, didn't it? 

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It's that time of the year again where I like to sit down and...

  1. Reflect on last year's accomplishments
  2. Grow disillusioned by how few goals I actually achieved
  3. Eat some birthday cake (one of the benefits of being born on the 1st of Jan)
  4. Get excited about the New Year and set a bunch of new goals to tackle! (thanks in part to the sugar hit...)

Sound familiar? It's a traditional cycle that many of us go through, particularly when it comes to health and fitness. Just check out the google trend for "gym membership" for the past 10 years and look what month the spikes occur...

But it can be tough keeping our New Year's Resolutions. This can happen for a number of reasons - our resolutions may be too vague, may not be achievable, or we don't set up a new routine to achieve them.

So let's fix that. This year let's do something a little different.

Here's the plan:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Work out short-term milestones
  3. Create daily habits to help achieve them
  4. Celebrate, review and repeat

How's that sound? Let's go through each step in more detail.


1. Set clear goals

Let's play a game - what's wrong with the following New Year's resolutions?

  1. Get fit
  2. Get more sleep
  3. Read more

They're super vague

Seriously.

"Get fit" is a worthy goal, but what exactly does fit look like?

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We may have some idea but until we explicitly clarify a measurable goal then we're not going to be able to achieve it.

Let's turn those vague goals into goals that are a little clearer:

  1. Run 5km in 20 minutes
  2. Get 7 hours of sleep a night
  3. Read 36 books

That looks better. Now we know the "win condition" for each goal (i.e., what we need to do to achieve them).

2. Work out short-term milestones

As much as I like running it's unlikely I'll be able to run 5km in 20 minutes anytime soon, which can be disheartening and if I keep trying and failing to reach that goal I will probably just give up.

You see this goal is too difficult to achieve straight away, so we need some smaller milestones along the way to help us feel like we're making progress. 

So it's time to break those big goals into more achievable short-term goals.

An easy way to do this is to take where we want to be (our goals) and compare it to what we can do now (our current state) and then divide it by the number of the months in the year.

So if I can run 5km in 26 minutes now and I want to run in 20 minutes by the end of the year then I need to get faster by 30 seconds each month.

With that in mind let's review the January milestones for each of our goals:

  1. Run 5km in 25:30 minutes
  2. Get 6:05 hours of sleep a night
  3. Read 3 books

Seems a little more achievable right?


3. Create daily habits

Now how do you reach your milestones? Simple, by doing something regularly that will help you achieve them.

If you want to be able to run faster then work out what you need to do and do it.

The best way to do this is to turn it into a daily habit if possible and track your progress.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg looks at the science of habits. He explains that at the core of every habit there is a simple neurological loop that consists of three parts: A cue, a routine and a reward.

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The cue is anything that triggers the habit. This could be a an emotional state, a time of day, a location, or an immediately preceding action. 

To help create a new habit you need to begin by creating a new cue for the habit. 

For running, the cue could be an alarm that goes off at 7am each day to remind you to go for a run. It could be putting your running shoes by your bathroom door. It could be getting your mum to give you a call at the same time each day to remind you to run.

The routine is the behaviour we undertake. This would be completing an activity that helps us achieve our goal, for example running.  

The reward is often the reason a habit is created in the first place and it provides positive reinforcement for the behaviour we do. This may be the endorphin hit you get from running, or something you reward yourself with for completing a run.

The more we reinforce this cue-routine-reward loop the more we go into autopilot mode, not even thinking about what we're doing.

You can read more about habits in the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and I also wrote about it in a previous post about the habit loop in games.

It's important to track your progress. Another way to reward yourself could be to tick off your progress each day. I use the Streaks app for iPhone which is a great way to set up good habits and track progress. 

Every time you complete a task, your streak is extended, and boy it feels good to see a streak increase.

You can also just buy a paper calendar, hang it somewhere you often look and tick off progress each day. It feels good seeing the ticks add up.

4. Celebrate, review and repeat

After January is up make sure to celebrate your wins! If you managed to nail your first milestones that's awesome! Your goals will feel a little bit closer. Work out what your next milestones are and keep going.

If you didn't nail them that's totally okay. Work out what could be done better. Adjust the rules of the game to make it a more interesting challenge.

  • Maybe the goal you set was too difficult to achieve? No worries, scale the end goal back and adjust your next milestones.
  • Maybe your habit cues didn't work? Try creating some new ones.
  • Maybe you hate running? That's cool, pick another sport (I recommend indoor rock climbing, it rocks!). 

Don't forget, humans are pretty imperfect.

I mess up all the time and have rough days where I don't get much done. But with this framework in place just ticking off one daily habit each day can make you feel better.

My goals this month

One other thing that helps is to share your goals, milestones and habits with others so there is a sense of accountability. 

So here are mine. My Gamification Geek goals are to:

  1. Launch a Gamification Design video course
  2. Write an accompanying Gamification Design textbook
  3. Create an awesome community where gamification designers can discuss gamification designs, research and news with each other

My January milestones for these goals are:

  1. Launch a free What is Gamification? video course to validate the idea
  2. Write an accompanying free What is Gamification? book to validate it
  3. Set up a gamification community on Slack and send you all an invite

I'll keep you updated on how I go. 😉


What are your New Year's goals, milestones and habits? Share them on our Facebook page or in the comments below.