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How to Reach Your Goals: Focus on Context, Not Content

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Statistics show next to no one keeps their New Year's resolutions. Here's some advice to beat the odds.

By Beck Bamberger (Founder, BAM Communications)

Your kid has a better chance of getting into MIT than your likelihood of sticking to your New Year's Resolutions. Only 8% of Americans will keep to their New Years' commitments, a pathetic figure unless compared to the acceptance rates of elite universities. Something isn't working, despite our best intentions. This year, consider your experience first and goals second to ensure your resolutions become reality.

Context First, Then Content

Who doesn't like a tidy list of "things to do"? I make them all the time, and the grand daddy of lists is the New Year's Resolutions one. Take a look at yours. It's probably peppered with promises such as "will quit my job and start my own consulting firm with a new office space," "I will lose 20 pounds," and "I will find the love of my life." Sounds grand, and most of it is crap. The reason? We often put our measurable, concrete goals (the content) down without a thought of context. Context is the setting for an idea or experience and the way in which it can be fully understood. It matters because it changes the whole setting of content, in this case, the experience you want to create in fulfilling your goals.

To better grasp context vs. content, consider a striking, confident woman approaching you right now. If she were in a strip club, wouldn't you think differently of her than if she were in a boardroom? That's context. Notice the content didn't change.

Apply creating context for your life and deduce your goals from there. My business coach, Aaron Keith, taught me this little nugget. Yes, this is using visualization, but not in the order of determining the goal and THEN forcing the imagery. Start with a clean slate of mind and no "I should's," or "I have to's".

What is the exact setting, the picture you want to paint for yourself, the experiences you want to have? If you envision yourself stepping into new office space, grasping the keys in your hand and hearing the hum of a bustling office at your command, great. You could deduce from there a goal that supports this context, such as "Quit my job and open my consulting firm." Perhaps you see yourself surfing in Costa Rica for a few months, typing out that book you always wanted in a beach hut with Wifi. In this context, a goal of setting up a consulting firm with a brick-and-mortar office and running day-to-day operations doesn't fit. And you know it.

Be Honest or Face "the Guillotine"

The real skill is to be honest with yourself in picturing the context you want to live. This prevents what I call the dreaded "goal guillotine": the moment when that 92% of people who jot down a list of goals start to pursue them and stop when realizing, "This is NOT what I thought getting to X would be like. Forget it -- I'm chopping that goal off the list."

Of course, you can't anticipate every aspect of a context because you haven't yet experienced it. Your best approach is to ask others who have had a version of the experience you're dreaming of pursing so you can better envision the context. Ask a homeowner what it was like to dress up that "fixer" if you're seeing yourself as the next HGTV hunk. Ask your mentor what getting that VC funding was like if pitching to suits sounds exhilarating to you.

Bottom line: Do these three things to accomplish your 2014 goals:

  • Determine context first, then arrive at the set goals
  • Be honest with yourself. Don't get stuck forcing a picture from pre-determined goals
  • Ask others about their experiences and adjust your context

What's your New Year's resolution this year?