The first day of the new year is always the same. You start off strong, a long list of resolutions planned, ready to conquer your career goals. And you do—for a week, maybe two, or even a few months if you’re on a roll.
Then, something throws you off track. The culprit may just be a seemingly insignificant workplace annoyance, but it has the power to affect your motivation in a big way.
It’s easy to become discouraged and frustrated when resolutions don’t go as planned. If, for example, you made it a goal to organize your desk every morning, but are called into an unscheduled, impromptu meeting first thing one day, it’s natural to think, “Well, I missed today,” letting yourself off the hook.
The problem is you forget the next day and for weeks after that. Soon enough, you abandon your goal to get more organized altogether. And such begins the cycle of self-doubt and frustration that ultimately leads to you dropping your resolutions completely.
There are a few basic reasons these ambitious goals flop, including overcommitting and attempting to change too much too quickly. Bad habits are hard to break, but it’s even harder to establish new ones. Trying to undo behaviors that have become second-nature is like trying to rewire your brain.
In order to help you avoid the usual pitfalls and see your goals to fruition this year, here are three career-related new year’s resolutions you should avoid—and three better goals to aim for instead.
Goal #1: Get a Promotion or Raise
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and make half-hearted resolutions that you’re not really serious about. At a loss for a better idea or because of pressure from friends and family, you might land on getting a raise or promotion. After all, everyone wants to make more money or have more responsibility, so why not resolve to do so?
Why it Will Fail
If the above scenario sounds like you, you probably won’t be working toward this resolution long. Why? Because you likely lack the personal motivation to accomplish it. Goals made because you feel pressured to make them are destined to fail because the commitment just doesn’t exist. While the thought of getting a promotion is intriguing, you may not be ready to take the steps required to make it a reality. You have to be steadfast in your decision and prepared for the longer hours and larger workloads that may accompany it.
This plan is also inherently flawed because it depends heavily upon someone else’s judgment. You may be deserving of the raise, but ultimately, higher authorities must sign off. Goals that rely too much on factors beyond your control can be easily derailed, no matter how hard you try to see them through.
A resolution centered on earning a raise or promotion also suffers from the problem of the “arrival fallacy:” when we fixate so intensely on a reward that when it arrives, it does not produce the anticipated response. It’s easy to think, “I’ll be happy when…” about a promotion, but this isn’t always the case.
Instead of feeling accomplished, for example, you might feel unchanged or even disappointed because you realize the promotion or raise didn’t actually amount to much. Yes, you may get paid more or have more responsibilities, but your work life won’t suddenly be perfect, and your career won’t peak overnight.
The Upgraded Resolution
To make this resolution attainable, shift from aiming for a promotion to focusing on continual improvement. You should be concerned with becoming the type of employee worthy of a raise or promotion. That means zoning in on the skills, traits, and attributes that, if mastered, would make you into a high-value member of your team. Consider speaking with your supervisor about what qualities your company looks for in candidates for promotion, then work toward those specific milestones.
Goal #2: Attend More Networking Events
This is a common one because the connection between networking and career success is a much-talked-about phenomenon. You’ve probably heard people say, “It’s all about who you know,” or maybe you’ve seen this philosophy at work in your office.
Why it Will Fail
The difficulty with this resolution, admirable as it may be, is that you’re likely forgetting to account for the time it will take to accomplish. Networking means dedicating time to social events, attending conferences, or joining a professional organization. How will these added commitments fit into your already busy schedule?
The answer is, they probably won’t. If you’re struggling to keep up with your current responsibilities, trying to add a goal like this one will almost certainly fail.
The Upgraded Resolution
Just because you can’t fit this into your schedule this very second doesn’t mean you should toss it in the trash. If it’s important to you and your professional development, it’s worth taking stock of your responsibilities and making networking a priority.
Start by making a “to-don’t list.” Identify which of your current commitments are most important, and eliminate the rest. No one likes to feel like they’re letting someone down or going back on promises, so saying no to or ending a commitment can be difficult. But, if you’re serious about achieving your goals, then you have to be dedicated to eliminating anything that doesn’t directly contribute to your success. If, for example, you have been helping a co-worker run a subcommittee that isn’t part of your job description, it may be time to pull back in order to free up time for more networking.
Goal #3: Be More Assertive
Whether you want to work on your delegation skills, say no to additional responsibilities more often, or establish better work-life boundaries, one of the most common workplace resolutions is a declaration to be more assertive. Developing self-assuredness is a worthy goal, especially since passivity can make you feel out of control and may even lead to co-workers treating you like a pushover. Unfortunately, though, simply vowing to do this probably won’t have the impact you want it to.
Why it Will Fail
The issue is that it’s far too open-ended. It’s not specific or measureable; thus, it’s far too easy to break. There are no set guidelines for what achieving “assertiveness” means or looks like, no steps for you to take or milestones to work toward. Without those metrics, you’re likely to lose sight of your goal or become frustrated with your lack of improvement before you even give it a chance.
The Upgraded Resolution
In order to make this achievable, narrow the scope. In what specific ways do you want to be more assertive? How do you plan to operationalize your goal into small, actionable steps that you can complete over time? These answers will be different for everyone, so you’ll need to customize your plan to suit your particular goals.
If you’re concerned you don’t speak up enough at work, focus on seizing opportunities to contribute ideas during meeting. Establish a routine of brainstorming 10 ideas for new projects to present in staff meetings. Or, take a public speaking or improv class to get used to talking in front of a group.
If you’re a people pleaser, you’ll want to include goals that deal with refusing to take on too many responsibilities. Practice setting expectations with your boss, and establish guidelines for politely turning others down. Saying “no” flat out might be too harsh, but it’s completely acceptable to negotiate a new timeline that fits your busy schedule.
While the new year is a great time to reflect upon your career, workplace achievements, and areas in which you would like to improve, there’s absolutely no reason for you to place so much pressure of progress on a single date. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Success at anything is the result of time, practice, and the development of good habits.
Self-evaluate and adjust your goals year-round—not just on January 1st. If you slip up every now and then it’s OK! Think of your missteps as an opportunity to reflect, pivot, and keep working toward your dreams.