New Years resolutions

How to Effortlessly Stick to Your Professional Goals in 2017

At the end of every year, many of us write down a list of professional goals that we want to achieve in the New Year. Some of us want to grow in our current job, change jobs or change careers.

Yet according to Forbes, only 8% of us ever achieve our new year’s resolutions. In this blog post, you will learn about how you can develop the habits you need to stick to your professional goals.

2017 goals

How do habits work?

We all have habits that we repeatedly do every day and over time, these habits shape our lives. However, there’s a framework that can help you form new habits that you are more likely to stick with. The framework that forms the core of every habit is a simple loop that was discovered by MIT and it works as follows:

1. Cue – The trigger that stimulates the behaviour (e.g. the traffic light turns green)
2. Routine – The action you take (e.g. you drive through the intersection)
3. Reward – The benefit you get from the behaviour (e.g. you get closer to your destination)

Now you are reading this and you’re probably thinking, that’s great but how can I use this to stick to my career goals. Well, imagine the following scenario – you want to start looking for a new job but you find yourself watching TV shows when you get home. You need to create a cue to stop yourself from procrastinating. In order to create a cue, you need to decide where and when you will take the specific steps necessary to reach your goal. For example, you could set an alarm on your phone for a particular time and you would say to yourself:

“When the alarm goes off at 730pm, I will spend 1 hour working on my CV”

Businessman working at home

By doing this, you have created a cue (the alarm) and a routine (working on your CV). To form a habit, it is important that the routine is specific such as “I will work on my CV for 60 minutes” of “I will work on my LinkedIn profile for 90 minutes”. However, the habit will not stick unless you have some sort of reward at the end. For many tasks, the desired reward (landing a new job) is not immediate. In that case, you can give yourself an intrinsic reward such as congratulating yourself for taking a step closer towards your goal and an extrinsic reward such as eating your favourite chocolate bar after you have worked on your CV.

This principle can be applied to any of your professional goals – whether you are looking to learn a new skill, focus on a particular project etc. Once you create a cue and reward around a particular activity/routine related to a goal, you can turn that activity into a habit. When you turn the pursuit of a goal into a habitual process, it will become much easier to achieve that goal as our habits are a key driver of our behaviour.

Minimise disruption that could ruin your progress

At the early stages, it can be very easy for your new habits to fall apart. For example, maybe you have been applying to new jobs or looking for a new career for a few weeks but then you start dating somebody new and you start spending the time that you have created for your professional goals with that person instead. Very soon, you will back to square one. The key thing is to avoid breaking the habit when possible and schedule other activities at different times. According to research, it takes an average of 66 days before a new habit becomes automatic so you have to be particularly vigilant during this time period. After a habit becomes automatic, the process of sticking to this habit will become much easier.

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