Make your New Year's resolutions lead to a brand new ending

So this is the year you're going to break away from the pack and set reasonable, achievable goals. And then, you're going to get through your whole list so you can reach even higher in 2012.

Call them New Year's resolutions, personal goals or just your to-do list. Or perhaps your goals are company-related, where you either supervise progress or report to a manager who expects results. Do you have enough incentive to keep moving past mid-January?

Whether personal or professional, goals need a clear basis and direction. Before you can actually set goals you need to consider these fundamentals:

Know what you really want. A goal should be a response to a stated need. Do you need to improve your order processing to serve your customers? Drop a few pounds for your health? Learn a new skill to better enhance your résumé? Goals need to be specific. "Being a better company" isn't enough. Perhaps you've heard the wisdom of Yogi Berra, who said, "If you don't know where you're going, you might wind up someplace else."

Know your motivation. How will achieving this goal change your business, your life or your attitude? If you want to make more money, will that improve your situation? Or would some other reward, like a better schedule or less travel, be more fitting with what you hope to accomplish? Remember, health, wealth and happiness are not goals themselves, but byproducts of goals achieved.

Zero in. Focus on one or two areas where you can make real improvements, rather than shooting for a complete makeover. Any goal that is too overwhelming will soon become a good intention, and we know where those usually wind up. Allow plenty of time to make real, sustainable progress that you can build on for the next phase.

Take risks. As I like to say, you'll never stub your toe if you walk backward. But you won't move ahead either. Once you figure out where you want to be, find a path that is practical, manageable and bold enough to make a change. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was taking risks at age 12, when he called Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, and asked if they would give him some parts.

Involve those around you. Let your family and friends know that you are going back to school, taking on a new volunteer opportunity or training to run a half-marathon. Look for support wherever you can find it. At the office, make sure your staff is invested in facing new challenges and achieving results. Let them know that you value their input and perspectives.

Setting goals is all about taking charge of a situation. A company president who held a doctorate in psychology tried an experiment in his factory to determine the best way to help his employees reach their optimum performance as quickly as possible. He divided his newly hired unskilled workers into two groups to test his theory.

He set a difficult goal for the first group, to reach their production quota within 12 weeks. But after 14 weeks, they had only achieved 66 percent of standard performance, well below their goal.

The second group was given weekly goals instead, with the same expectation after 12 weeks. Each week, as proficiency improved, the goal was set higher. At the end of 14 weeks, the second group had achieved and exceeded the original goal of becoming skilled operators. Reasonable, measurable goals were the difference.

Occasionally, your goals will take you into uncharted territory. Be fearless! Consider the words of Henry Morton Stanley, the 19th-century British explorer in Africa. "I did not see the whole. I only saw this rock ahead of me; I only saw this poisonous snake which I had to kill in order to take the next step. I only saw the problem directly in front of me. If I had seen the whole thing, I would have been too overwhelmed to have attempted this."

Mackay's Moral: Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new end.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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