I know that many of you, like me, made New Years resolutions. Maybe to eat more raw food, maybe to lose weight, maybe you took on one of our cleanse and detox programs.
My husband made a resolution on New Years Eve that I wasn't sure he was going to achieve. He said that he would abstain from drinking until he reduced his golf handicap to 20. Like many Australian men, he enjoys a social drink or two but had started to talk about significantly reducing (or removing it altogether) from his life.
He used to play squash competitively and is still young enough to play it well but that is a sport that is so hard on the joints and can lead to serious problems in the long run. He has been eating well for the past few years and has been getting more and more raw foods into his diet so he wasn't looking for a high energy sport to lose weight. But, he is quite competitive and since he feels he never really played golf much better than the casual social player, he picked this as a target as part of his abstinence.
He started going to the driving range a few times a week and came home in January generally very happy with his progress. He was improving quickly and won a couple of competitions as he would play considerably better than his 30+ handicap.
By March his handicap had come down but not as quickly as he was expecting. The handicap is just an average so you have to play a lot better than it at least half the time. He started to plateau and then even started playing worse. He would come home a bit morose and consider those lonely beers in the fridge. But, he didn't waiver. He did realise, however, that his goal was probably not very achievable and he also realised that he didn't give himself a timeframe to achieve it in.
The main objective of the resolution was the abstention from alcohol rather than the achievement of the golf handicap. So, he revised his goal to being around how long he could abstain for. But, what was a meaningful target: 75 days, 85, 100? On day 83 we went out to dinner for my birthday and, whereas I enjoyed a single glass of champagne, he stayed on mineral water all night and we had one of the best evenings of conversation we'd ever had. "Day 83 just doesn't sound right as a target," he said. He also said that it seemed to be easier to go one more day than to break the run. So, he finally settled on 100 days.
That turned out to be Easter Monday. But, during the Easter weekend he started playing very well again. Instead of enjoying a beer on day 100, he decided to re-instate his original target: or a slightly more attainable variation of it. He would abstain until he played to a 20-handicap. How long was this going to take I wondered?
It didn't take long in the end: on day 106 he hit the magic target.
Apart from being very proud of my husband for abstaining for so long, I was wondering why he succeeded this time whereas I've known him (and myself, and everyone I know) to frequently set targets that we don't or can't meet.
By his own admittance, he probably hadn't gone without an alcoholic beverage for more than a week in the 20 years or so since he turned 18.
I started reading about goal-setting and how to make goals that you can actually achieve. It turns out that they need to be SMART!
SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound
There is a simple mnemonic you can use to help you set goals that you can achieve. The first criterion is that it should be:
Specific: An achievable target needs to be clearly defined. What are you going to achieve. My husband's goal wasn't just to play golf better but to achieve a specific handicap and that he wouldn't drink at all until then.
Measurable: How will you know when you've accomplished your goal? It has to be something you can measure. In this case, his goal was a specific number: 20 handicap.
Attainable: A meaningful goal is not too easy but it also shouldn't be out of reach - otherwise you set yourself up for failure. In this case, my husband did realise that his original goal wasn't very attainable in the time that he was expecting. At that point, he adjusted the target. This is by no means a failure because it ensured that he it kept going for something that was meaningful to him.
Relevant: Most importantly, the goal needs to have some relevance to you and your life and be meaningful or there will be no compulsion to achieve it. For my husband, this was two-fold: yes, the desire to improve his golf, but probably more importantly the abstention from alcohol which he knew would help him break some bad habits.
Time-bound: A goal should have a realistic time frame to achieve it in. If not, it loses its relevance and can quickly be pushed aside. Originally, my husband didn't have a time frame. He then revised the target to be measured by time (100 days). In the end he revised it again because he felt he could achieve a new target in a realistic timeframe: something he ultimately succeeded.
So, what did he do after he achieved his goal? He drank a single mid-strengthed beer, declined the next one and set a new target. This time he made it a SMART one from the get-go. One that was realistic in a time-frame he knew he could abstain for. He wouldn't drink until he played to 15!