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How to make professional resolutions that you’ll actually keep

The new year is often a time to set fresh goals. Find out how to reach them and not lose heart along the way.

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Business people having meeting in modern officeLooking for a new work resolution? Request to attend meetings that you wouldn’t normally take part in (Getty Images/Compassionate Eye Foundation/Mark Langridge)

Did you make any professional resolutions during the holidays? Maybe you’d like to develop new skills, work less or get a promotion? Without a plan in place to get there, your resolutions are very likely to fail—especially if you consider that by mid-February, 80 per cent of people will have fallen off-track.

“Most people don’t set real goals and just try to avoid a problem or an inconvenience,” says CPA Caroline Houle, certified coach and CEO of 6e Sens Coaching.  “They make vague resolutions like exercising more, which is not enough to motivate them. You need a methodology to reach your goals.”

Trainer and professional efficiency coach Valère Drainville agrees. “Without a clear vision, we risk setting the wrong objectives,” she says. “The idea is often not to work more, but—without being a perfectionist—to improve some of our methods to work better, and perhaps less.”

Here’s what you can do to follow through on your goals:

STEP 1: IDENTIFY WHAT REALLY MOTIVATES YOU

The first questions to ask yourself are: Are you doing what you have always wanted to do? Does it make you feel useful and valued? “Your happiness and motivation start from there,” says Houle. In other words, is what keeps you most busy today helping you to move to the next level in your career tomorrow?

“Clearly, you don’t feel every day like you’re accomplishing great things. Yet, beyond the financial security your current job provides or the fact of being proficient at what you do, you can always take on another role that suits you better,” she says.

The idea is to grow your area of excellence. “For example, identify topics you’d like to be able to talk about (such as new ways of looking at financial information) without necessarily aiming to become a subject-matter expert.” You could also try to make new contacts, work on your image, and so on.

Drainville points out that each situation is unique. For instance, she says, a young CPA may want to work more efficiently to boost billable hours, while a firm owner may aim to increase overall productivity through cloud solutions. “Everyone has to find a real reason to take action, while bearing in mind that our most valuable resource, time, is limited,” says Drainville. 

STEP 2: ADOPT A FEW SPECIFIC RESOLUTIONS

According to Houle, three is a good number of goals to have. “If you drop one during the year, you will still reach 66 per cent of your goals,” she says. “With two, you will fall to 50 per cent, which will affect your motivation.”

Don’t know where to start? Remember, resolutions can be of any kind. For example: acquiring or developing a technical skill (such as better knowledge of big data or artificial intelligence), working on yourself (by improving general skills or the capabilities required for a senior management position) or learning how to better manage your email.

“A young CPA in business could build on internal networking by requesting to attend meetings that they would not normally take part in,” Houle says. “This will give them a better understanding of the business model and greatly assist them in their future analyses. An employee could also cut down on restaurant meals by bringing their lunch and eating with colleagues they might not otherwise talk to. In addition to saving money, it will increase their visibility and influence.”

Think about how your profession is evolving. “Many people are put off by technological change, when they should see it as an opportunity,” says Drainville. “Adopting new tools in more conservative environments is always a delicate undertaking. But apps designed to foster better client and workplace relationships are here to stay—so hang in there.”

In every case, the approach remains the same: “Every day, you have to ask yourself open questions like, ‘What am I going to do today to achieve my goal?’,” explains Houle. “Things will naturally fall into place, because our subconscious is programmed to find answers.” 

STEP 3: KEEP DAILY TABS ON YOUR PROGRESS

Checking your commitment to your resolutions nearly every day is essential, because every small victory produces dopamine (often called the happiness or pleasure hormone), a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in positive reinforcement—the more you succeed, the more you want to succeed.

“It’s important not to wait several weeks or months, but to set much shorter deadlines,” says Houle. “And check as often as possible that you’re on the right track to give your brain its reward.” 

Houle suggests setting aside time every evening, and quotes executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, who recommends a number of questions that everyone should ask themselves daily, including: “Did I do my best to make progress toward goal achievement? Find meaning? Be happy?” 

This recognition can also come from professionals around you who share the same goals or have been in the situation themselves, says Houle. “Others’ successes or failures can be a great source of motivation,” she says. “By speaking openly about our progress and the difficulties we face, we feel less isolated. It’s also a great way to build a tightly knit team. No victory is too small to be celebrated.” 

BE IN THE KNOW

Stay on top of industry trends and take advantage of networking opportunities at a host of events happening in 2020, including: Mastering Money Conference, Public Sector Conference, Commodity Tax Symposium, National Technology Forum and Not-for-Profit Forum.