back-to-the-future-deloreanI’m sure that by now, many of you have forgotten or let your New Year’s resolutions lapse. But, it’s not too late to restart, but maybe with a different perspective – one that may lead you to your goals.

We like to use the beginning of the year as a benchmark of sorts. It’s a nice time to renew our commitment to improving ourselves and our situations in life. All of the articles and books about goal-setitng are timed to release around this time and TV shows run stories about the latest how-to in weight loss, achievement, etc. Gym memberships always spike at this time and the regulars at the gym take two weeks off until the “resolution rangers,” subside. Usually, within 2-4 weeks most people have given up on their goals for the year.

Is there a different way? Sure – conduct a pre-mortem on your goals.

When someone dies, or when a work project goes bad, many times there will be a post-mortem conducted to determine what went wrong. What if you did that ahead of time? What if you conducted a pre-mortem to identify the things that could derail the project or goal? Then you would know what indicators to look for that would lead you down the pass of failure, and of course, also the path of success.

For the first example, let’s take working out. If you decide that getting into shape is your goal this year, first decide what “getting into shape,” means. Do you want to run triathlons by the end of the year, or do you just want your weight proportionate to your height, and your numbers good (cholesterol, triglycerides, etc)? Once you’ve established your goal, now jump into your DeLorean an propel yourself 12 months into the future – the bad future like in Back to the Future II, where everything has gone wrong and Biff is in charge.

Pretend it’s the end of 2015 and you’re not only still out of shape, you’re even worse off. What had to have happened for you to get to this point – maybe:

  • You fell off your eating regimen (which will happen from time to time), but then you didn’t get back on it.
  • You skipped a couple of gym days or workout days, then said WTF and figured that since you missed a few you were doomed anyway.
  • You pursued a strategy of weight loss or working out that was ineffective, but instead of changing or adapting to a new program that works for you, you quit altogether.
  • You experienced a major life crisis, and used it as an excuse not to get back on the program when the crisis subsided.
  • You experienced an injury and used it as an excuse to stop working out, rather than switch to another form of exercise (I find that when I’m nursing an injury, I can usually still do Pilates or Yoga, or at least 20-30 minutes of stretching and adjust my eating habits to match the lower calorie burn).
  • You’d have had to have lost your drive – your focus on your end goal.

What else would have had to happened for you to have failed in this goal? Once you’ve got your list, then write down the things you must do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order to achieve your goal.

I’ll use a personal situation to give you another example. I recently started my doctoral journey in Educational Psychology at Capella University. I quickly realized that I was going to have to adjust my daily schedule in order to keep up with the coursework. I’ve also got another textbook on deadline this spring, along with all the usual things in my life so I have to figure out where to fit in my homework and study time.

Fortunately, Capella makes it easier by publishing a weekly planning calendar (which you can do too for your goals) for coursework so I can keep better track of where I should be in my studies on a daily and weekly basis. Having an effective and realistic plan is critical to the achievement of any goal. That said, let’s conduct a pre-mortem. Jumping back into the Delorean and let’s engage the flux capacitor to travel to December 2015 – it’s the future where everything is completely off-track and I’m behind in my studies or maybe even out of school altogether – for that to happen I would have had to:

  • Not keep up with the reading and homework on a weekly basis.
  • Not schedule time in each of my days to do my homework and studying.
  • Not effectively use slack time, like time spent on airplanes, catching up on reading, but instead watching movies and playing video games (keep in mind, I’m not saying I won’t take renewal time when I need it, but there’s renewal time and there’s wasted time – you know the difference because in wasted time, you feel like you should be doing something else, whereas in renewal time, you feel like your re-charging).
  • Not keep up with the messages and discussions and fail to read the instructor expectations.
  • Fail to review the guidance for topics and when in trouble, don’t ask for help, just suffer and get farther behind in silence.
  • Let tech support issues (like citations and formatting and files that delete themselves) make me miss deadlines or important assignments.

Now that I know what has to happen for me to fail, what can I do to succeed? Well that ‘s easy, just the opposite. And I can even measure my activities. I know that I need to schedule or set aside a certain amount of time per week to get my homework done. I also know that I need to set up systems where I’m not always solving and re-solving simple issues, like automating the citation system so I don’t spend 10 minutes writing a term paper, and 30 minutes figuring out how to get EndNote to work properly, or keeping separate word processor files of all turned-in assignments in case the Internet eats one of my assignments. This is just like laying out your workout clothes the day before – set yourself up for success.

So, pick one of your goals – your most important goals. Then, conduct a pre-mortem. If this fails, what would have had to have happened for it to fail? In other words, what can go wrong? Then, construct a strategy to stay on track with your most important actions throughout the days and weeks; track your progress; understand that there will be setbacks and have a plan of action to get back on track; stay flexible in the how, but rigid in the outcome itself and you’ll be at the end of 2015 with that great future at the end of Back to the Future III – instead of living at Biff’s place in the alternate universe of failure.

Adopting an Airport Text for Your Classroom?Get it Now