Why your smart goals for 2015 will fail! (unless you do this one thing)

Updated to Habits, Productivity on December 14, 2022.

It’s happening. The weather has changed, malls are full, ads are pushing Christmas, and we haven’t wrapped up 2014 yet. Ugh.

Maybe, like me, you have that dreaded feeling of goals-déjà vu.

Yup, it’s time for those slippery New Year goals – not the ones you scribble on the back of the cocktail napkins, mumbling “This time. Definitely this time.”, between sips of Bailey’s – I mean real goals.

You know, the ones you actually are going to keep.


For decades, it’s been drilled into us that goals are the driving force of all success. Create big, BHAG, bold, or bad-ass SMART goals and all is well in the land of climbing mountains, overcoming-all-odds, and reaching a $1M in sales. Really?

If all that was true, every  Tony Robbin’s slap-your-partner-on-the-shoulder-and-say-“You can do it!” graduate would be rich, slim, still married, and living on St Lucia.

Well, they aren’t and it’s because they’ve been skipping one critical goal setting ritual.

And that’s closure.


If 2014 didn’t turn out to be the kind of gift you wanted to unwrap, you need closure. You need to put to bed what happened before turning to look forward to what can happen.

This was a tough year for me, in many ways. My daughters both worked (two part time jobs each) through the summer, both also took trips to Europe, and we didn’t take the holidays we used to – I really missed that. We also soldiered through five months of home renovations to add a separate clinic for my wife’s physiotherapy and counselling practice. The addition is perfect, but the construction process took it’s toll. At work, we moved into a bigger office and then had it completely renovated (while we were in it). I launched our social media reposting service SOS, which meant adding six part time employees. And on top of all that, I didn’t go climbing, racing, or even escape with my wife for a weekend. It’s been a yeoman’s year. No question, I’m happy with all I got done AND I have some regrets. Can you relate?

I know if I’m going to truly move into a new year, ready to accept all the possibilities it holds, I have to first put this year to rest. In short: You can’t boldly leap forward with one foot stuck in the past. (click to tweet)

How about you? Are you fully ready to embrace what next year can bring?

Here’s a quick test – for each of these questions, give yourself a score from 1 (no biggie) to 5 (bummed out with regret):

  1. Was there something significant you hoped would happen this year, that didn’t.
  2. Did you make a business goal that somehow slipped by?
  3. How about a personal goal, like more income, weight loss, more travel that didn’t happen?
  4. Is there a business relationship that went South on you this year?
  5. How about a personal relationship that suffered?
  6. Did you play at less than 100% this year (didn’t speak up, risk enough, put in the effort)?
  7. Did you waste too much time on TV, Netflix, Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, or Angry Birds this year?
  8. Did you start things (like projects, books, courses, diets, habits, cleaning your office) and then quit?
  9. Do you feel you are less fit, healthy, strong, wealthy, smart, capable compared to last year?
  10. Do you feel you have less motivation, energy, willpower, hair, or moxie, compared to last year?

Depressed enough? Sorry, this is important.

Now, add up your scores (max, is 50) and have a look at your results.

If your total score is over 30, you need closure. Moving forward with new goals will be like having one foot on the ground and pedalling your bicycle with the other. You’ll get somewhere, but it will be slow, awkward, uncertain, and very possibly painful. You need to close one chapter in your life and then prepare to move on.


I’ve always thought a wake would good medicine. At a wake we would celebrate the passing of a dear one with a ripping good images_key 2time. If you held a wake for 2014 it might help. You could take the piss out of delusional New Year resolutions, laugh at goof-ups, poke fun at people who let you down, and have a good cry.

The main ingredient of the wake, and the one I want you to start with is: CELEBRATION.

When I facilitate a strategic planning session, I insist the group starts with what worked. I won’t let them move to what they want to be different until the first column on the flip chart is as long as possible and I have heard from everyone.

There’s a reason every culture in the world has a celebration ceremony. Whether it’s Kwakiutl indians raising a totem pole in the Queen Charlottes , or Inti Raymi, the celebration of the Sun, in Cusco, Peru. They all celebrate, REGARDLESS, of the quality or size of their success. You should as well.

Maybe you should treat yourself to special dinner out, booking a vacation away, a meditation or writing retreat, or a weekend by the ocean. It’s the idea of celebration that counts, not the money or time you spend on it. One of my favourite celebrations was a two-day road trip to visit my Mom and family on Vancouver Island. No work, just a journal, sleeping bag, some music, a bag of DFC tea (see my post “How drinking tea can make you rich“), and time to think. It was two days of mental liberation.

And then it’s time to move on.


I admit it, I’m an arrogant, snobby purist. When I see people dragging enormous suitcases across an airport lobby I can’t help think they probably do the same thing in life. “Baggage” in life isn’t always visible, but it holds us up all the same.

If this year was not the roaring success you envisioned, you need to lose your baggage. All those “I should of…”, “I wish I’d…”, “If only…”, and “I always…” statements are like negative glue holding you back. Any brilliant, new, exciting, wonderful, and innovative idea you have for the future will get smeared with the same glue. 

That’s why you need to lose your baggage. 

The opposite of “baggage” in life is curiosity. When you are truly curious, you spark your brain to ask better questions. Instead of “Why do I always do that?”, the brain can ask “What is one thing I will do differently this time?”. Instead of “Why didn’t I focus on fewer goals?”, the brain can ask “What do I need to do this year to be more focussed?”

Here’s a quick exercise: Think of something negative you repeat to yourself when you screw up – we all have one. Next, flip the negative mantra into a better question. I’ll give you a couple of examples and the question I would ask instead.

“Why do I always procrastinate?”            >>can become<<           “What is one thing I can do to avoid procrastination?”

“Why do I always leave things to the last minute?”            >>can become<<              “How can I enjoy starting projects early more often?”

What is one flip you can make, starting now, from a negative to a question?


My ideas are only as good as what I know. If I have always done stuff myself – I don’t know anything about outsourcing. If I’ve always put in 12 hour work days, I don’t know anything about enjoying work-free, evenings off. And if I’ve always played it safe with my goals, I don’t know anything about taking risks.

That’s about to change.

Once you’ve celebrated and lost your “If only” baggage, it’s time to get loads, and loads of options – the more the merrier.

This is the point in my facilitation work where we brainstorm ideas. But, first you need ammunition to put in the idea gun. 

Steve Jobs famously took some of his developers at Apple to art galleries to expand their concepts of design. Here are some ideas for you:

  • listen to a wide range of podcasts. Everyday I consume podcasts on topics that range from how the brain works, to Internet marketing. Many of my best business innovations in the last three years have come from these free recordings.
  • read fiction and non-fiction. Fiction stimulates my creative brain; non-fiction informs my logical brain. I need both to formulate new ideas. Take one daily.
  • keep a journal. There is something primal about writing that engages my brain in a creative way. It doesn’t have to be more that five or ten minutes, but scribbling a few thoughts in your journal is a wonderful, non-digital, brain floss before turning out the lights at night.

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  • record your dreams. Your subconscious has lessons you might want to hear and it finds its voice in your dreams. Here’s a quick trick to catching your dreams. Before you go to bed, position your pen and paper and a light you can turn on without much movement. This is important: when you wake up, you don’t want to move. And then when you wake up, simply reach over, turn on the light, and start writing. After one or two attempts you’ll be amazed at the volumes of dream fodder waiting for you.
  • go for walks, take notes. Nietzsche once said: “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” I walk everyday (usually with my Dog, Riley) and I love it. I  flip on a podcast, set a face pace, and let my thoughts wander. I also take notes (on my iphone, I use the voice transcription tool to send an email to myself) as ideas pop into my head. Once, home, I drop those notes in Evernote into my “Someday” list on my Plan Like A Pilot note (learn how my Plan Like a Pilot system in this post.) I scan the Someday list once a week as I update my Flight Plan. Weeks later, I’m still discovering gems.

The more choices, the more likely you have a good one.


…you still move forward six feet. I know – corny. But also true. 

Once you celebrate and once you get creative by asking better questions, and once you have gobs of choices, it’s time to commit and get on with it.

When Edison invented the lowly light bulb, Ford designed the assembly line, and Kroc took over McDonald’s, it wasn’t perfect.images_key But it was a start. And, in the words of 18th Century playwright Goethe, it’s all about being bold and making the start, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Brooding over choices well into March isn’t being bold, it’s playing it safe. Safe is for barn mice – not you.

Set a drop-dead date, do your research, examine pro’s and con’s, and then commit. The world needs you to step forward. Do it.

Here’s a quick summary of how to create (really) smart goals:

You can’t boldly leap forward with one foot stuck in the past. (click to tweet)

CLOSURE happens with:

CELEBRATION: Celebration must happen first, before new plans are added.

CREATIVE: If you want better results, ask better questions.

CHOICE: The more choices, the more likely you have a good one.

COMMIT: The faster you commit, the faster you move forward.

How do you create closure on the past? Tell me in the comments – help others by sharing.