Forget January 1st. Fall, with children trotting back to school, bracing cool winds and—yes—even in Southern California, the kaleidoscope of leaves changing colors, has always seemed the better time to set intentions. (Calling them resolutions seems like already admitting defeat.) I’ve been reading about the smart way to set goals lately. Two books have led me to look at this in a whole new light. In Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, New York University psychologist Gabriele Oettingen, PhD, argues that daydreaming about a future in which we run the marathon, pull off the gala of the year or master the trombone, can actually impede our ability to reach those goals. A better strategy: envision the future you want, then move on to imagining the obstacles that will likely crop up and develop a plan to overcome them.
In Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, management consultant Mark Murphy makes the case that many of us are cheating ourselves by setting goals that are too easy. If we want to stretch ourselves and achieve extraordinary things, we need to choose challenging goals that will get us out of our comfort zone, force us to learn new things and significantly change the way we go about our days.
Planting some encouragement for the days when your stamina dips can be helpful. Seven years ago Heather Kernahan, general manager and executive vice president of Eastwick, a public relations firm specializing in high-tech, with offices in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and New York, decided to go back to school to get her MBA. With a demanding job and a two-year-old daughter she knew it would be tough, but Kernahan was determined. So, as the set the goal, committing to it fully, she decided to put together what she calls a long-term goal capsule.
“It can help you stay the course when you’re slogging through all it takes to achieve big goals,” she says. “Before I started my MBA I wrote down all the reasons why I was going to commit years and hundreds of hours away from my family to complete this huge goal. I included pictures of graduates and a photo of a daughter watching her mother cross the stage. I also wrote a note to myself on why I was doing this and an updated resume that included my MBA and the year I earned it.” Midway through her studies, Kernahan, now with a second child, told her sister she was going to quit. “My sister said, ‘just take a look at the time capsule and if you still feel like you don’t want to continue that’s fine.’” The contents of the box were galvanizing and in 2012, with her husband, nine-year-old daughter and four-year-old son in the audience, Kernahan strode to the podium at Old Dominican University in San Rafael, California, to claim her diploma.
What are your big goals for the season?