A big day is coming. It’s January 1 – day one of your annual self-improvement project. Lose 10 pounds. Pay off some bills. Make more friends. Advance your career. Be happy.

All of these are worthy goals, but are you really prepared to implement them? Below are six questions to ask yourself before you stumble down the self-improvement road and find you’ve lost your way.

  1. How motivated are you, really? Does your plan have a clear pay-off that matters to you? “Lose 10 pounds” is pretty clear, sure, but “Feel good and look good for my daughter’s high school graduation” is better because it gets to what the 10 pounds represent – your self-image and self-esteem. You will feel more focused when your goal is compelling. Otherwise, save yourself the frustration!
  2. Do you have the time and energy you will need to add this project to your already hectic life? Even if you are amply motivated, what else is going on in your life that might interfere with your plan? For instance, “Run 2 miles twice each week” doesn’t make sense if you are already overscheduled, don’t live close to a running track, or are dealing with personal issues that prevent you from running at all. Take this reality check now!
  3. How realistic and measurable is your goal? “Find a better position in 2015” is reasonable only if facts support it. For example, if your research shows that people in your field generally need an average of 18 months to make a transition, you should adjust your timetable – or your goal – accordingly. Another obvious but vital ingredient is creating a plan that plots out your success in small, achievable steps. “Get a little exercise this week” won’t do it!
  4. Do you have the information, tools, and resources you need? Avoid the ready, FIRE, aim approach. Yes, you want to take action now, but what have you packed in your “suitcase?” For example, let’s say your goal is to have more friends. Great! But why? If it’s because you are lonely, do a little more reflection. Why are you lonely? Your answer will direct you to the tools and support you need for your plan, which in this case might be a counselor, a directory of civic organizations, a Yelp search, or adding Skype to your iPad.
  5. Do you have the ability to apply the information, tools, and resources you need? If you have traveled down the New Year’s Resolution road before, only to find you’ve abandoned your goal by Valentine’s Day, maybe you need to change course. The best way to do that is to get feedback from people who know you well and/or people who are trained to help you. Your “team” could include a professional coach, trainer, counselor, mentor, support group, or friend. Don’t do this by yourself!
  6. How will you make yourself accountable? Everyone has heard of – or owns – a Fitbit by now, but look beyond the newest technology. Remember your workout pals, coach, mentor, and trainer that we talked about in the last question? Enroll them in your goals by sharing the timeline of your sub-goals (you’re doing this in steps, right?) and then give them permission to ask you about your progress.

Finally, I was going to end this post with a bracing motivational quote, but who cares what I think! Find your own inspiration – and get going!

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