Driving my son Kevin to the train the other morning, I asked him if he had given any thought to his New Year's Resolutions. To my surprise, he said "Yes."
Kevin is a recent college graduate (Rutgers, Class of 2009) who has embarked upon a career in television, working as an editor for a well-known food show, based in New York City.
His goal, he told me, is to make a very specific move within his line of business, a move that would be a good next step in his career path in television.
I was happy to hear that. I offered some words of support to encourage him. And I told him that he is doing one of the things that Dr. Heidi Halvorson says that highly successful people do, namely: set very specific goals.
In her research (published last year in the Harvard Business Review), Halvorson found that successful people do a number of things differently that contribute to their success. And when it comes to goals, she has some very clear pointers to offer:
1. Get very specific - By getting very specific, you will know when you have reached the goal. When goals are too general or vague, their fuzziness contributes to gradual loss of interest. How many times have your New Year's Resolutions just drifted away on you?
2. Use mental contrasting - The technique Halvorson calls "mental contrasting" involves going back and forth in your thoughts between the goal and what stands in your way. By doing this, she says you generate the energizing experience of "the necessity to act — a psychological state that is crucial for achieving any goal."
Halvorson's idea about the right psychological state reminded me of a book I had given to myself back in December as an early Christmas present: Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. In their book, they provide a remarkable insight into the reasons why changes fail so often, changes such as the ones we try to capture in our New Year's Resolutions. In a nutshell, we fail to attain our goals because we harbor a "hidden commitment" to not change and we back away from the anxiety that change arouses deep within our psyches.
So, to all of you reading this who are contemplating your New Year's Resolutions -- especially job hunters, recent graduates, and anyone seeking the golden ring of success in life--consider the importance of setting very specific goals.
By following this advice, you increase the likelihood of actually reaching your goals.
Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday January 4, 2012