I’m a planner. I force the family to set goals each year, and then we review how we did at the end of the year. Unfortunately, we didn’t even launch the landscaping of our barren backyard in 2010. But we did make a big dent in searching for colleges for our high-schooler, and we did redo the garage. I get a great sense of accomplishment each year reviewing our success—and trying to figure out why we didn’t get everything done (in the case of the backyard, it just seemed too overwhelming. Next year we’re breaking it into smaller, more manageable projects).

Be realistic: Sticking to resolutions can be difficult.

When you are optimistic, you believe you have the resources to fulfil the goal, says Achor, who spent years of research at Harvard University studying the relationship between happiness and success. Your brain looks for short cuts and other possibilities on how to get there—while other people see only frustrations and challenges.

Beyond setting the goals

Setting goals, however, is only half the battle. Sticking to the resolutions is often the hardest part. If you’ve tried and failed in the past, your brain already thinks you can’t do it, he says. The key is to set small, manageable goals and build a record of success. In his work with financial service and software development executives, Achor has them write down a short-term, easy-to-manage goal. When they succeed, the success tends to cascade, he says. People see that their behaviour matters.

Mona Leigh Bernhardt, owner of The Growth Coach of Northwest Houston, has each of her clients spend 15 minutes a day going over their strategic plan. That way, when they’re deciding their priorities at the beginning of each day, they’re focused on their over-arching goals. “It’s the best thing we have found to get people to stay focused," says Bernhardt, whose clients are mostly small businesses. “It’s the little things that you can do every day."

Tackling work-life issues

One of the most popular goals among her clients is to improve their work-life balance. Bernhardt sayshe asks them to make a list of the jobs they do, dividing them into the “trivial many" and the “critical few", and then start to delegate some of the less important tasks. The owner learns that others can do more of the work or that he or she needs to hire better employees, Bernhardt says. The object is to get the business in shape so others can manage it when the owner isn’t there.

At the end of each year, D. Kevin Berchelmann of Triangle Performance goes back over the list of ambitious goals he set the previous January. “There was no way to do them all," says Berchelmann, an organizational development consultant who focuses on executive and leadership development, performance management and compensation.

The key is to figure out why and be honest with yourself, says Berchelmann . Maybe it wasn’t a priority after all or something went woefully wrong. But he cautions against blaming outside influences.

Excuse doesn’t cut it

A lot of people are using the bad economy as an excuse for not doing better, he says. But you can’t use that excuse if your competitors have done well through tough times. One of his clients is a home builder that isn’t as big as it once was, but it’s profitable because it reacted quickly to the downturn by cutting costs and then started to rebuild.

He also recommends focusing on what kind of benefits you’ll receive if you meet your goals. A lot of times people don’t make that link as clearly as they could, he said. One of Berchelmann’s goals is to get more clients within driving distance of Houston so he is not away from his family as much. At the moment he is spending a lot of time flying back and forth to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where several clients are located. He also vows he’ll be more realistic in his goal setting for next year, which means tossing out some lofty intentions.

©2010/The New York Times

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