How To Be Better in 2016

(This post was originally published on LinkedIn on January 5, 2016.)

Congratulations, fellow earth-dweller. You’ve survived another trip around the sun on this liquid-covered, hot-centered rock ball we call home. More likely than not, you set a few goals for yourself in the early days of 2015, and hopefully you were able to accomplish at least some of them. But if you fell short, don’t fret. You’ve got tons of company. That’s because 92% of Americans fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions. It’s a pretty sobering statistic, isn’t it?

A lot of people set themselves up for failure by prescribing unrealistic objectives. “I’m finally going to drop those pesky fifty pounds this year,” they’ll say. “Then, once I’ve got six-pack abs, I’ll start a tech company and do $4 million in revenue in the first six months.” Being ambitious is great, but if you reach too high, chances are you’ll only end up with a handful of disappointment. So if I may, I’d like to make a suggestion: instead of setting specific goals this year, how about you simply seek to cultivate better patterns of thought and behavior? Implementing a few simple mental shifts may have a huge impact on your life. Here are some suggestions to help you become the best version of yourself in ‘16:

Make a long-term plan (and have multiple backup plans). “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there.” This phrase sounds like a total platitude, but it’s also totally true: if you don’t have a long-term vision for where you want to end up, it’s difficult to measure success, regardless of how you chose to define it. It’s also important to set intermediate benchmarks to hit along the way so you know you’re on the right track. Furthermore, no matter how thoroughly you plan or hard you work — and this next part is tough for a lot of people to hear — achieving success in your endeavors is by no means guaranteed, so it’s critical to have alternative viable paths (yes, plural) in mind should you find yourself in a situation where things just didn’t land where you wanted them to.

Aim for perfection with the understanding that it can never be attained. Just because nobody’s perfect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be an impeccable individual, anyway. As long as you have honest, realistic notions about your own capabilities and appropriately manage your expectations, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t try to transform into your ideal self. In the 21st century, more people than ever before are viewing their careers less as a means to a financial end and more as a way to lead meaningful, passion-filled lives. The central concept here is self-actualization. Every person has potential, and it’s really up to us as individuals to either fulfill that potential or languish in mediocrity (or worse).

Stop making excuses for your failures. It’s very tempting to point fingers when things don’t go according to plan: we missed our quota because a team member didn’t execute like they were supposed to; someone else got the promotion because they ingratiated themselves to the management; my numbers were low last quarter because there was a lull in the sales cycle. No matter how you slice it, the bottom line is this: the job didn’t get done because you didn’t get it done. Of course, there are absolutely circumstances in which not following through is understandable, such as a death in the family or a prolonged illness. But most of the time, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we can look back and see that there was more that we could have done to produce a positive outcome.

Diversify your skill portfolio. How often do you find other people (or yourself) saying some variation of “I’ll do it someday”? As in, “I’ll learn to speak French someday,” or “one of these days, I’ll teach myself computer programming.” More likely than not, you hear these kinds of phrases uttered a lot more frequently than you hear about people actually doing the things they claim they’ll someday accomplish. The simple fact is that every time you add a skill to your arsenal, you make yourself a more valuable commodity (and, as a byproduct, increase your earning potential). So go ahead and enroll in that HTML5 course. Read those books on negotiations and business development. Go to that networking event and put yourself (and your brand) out there. If you think you’re good enough already, know this: you’re not.

Surround yourself with people who elevate you (and eliminate those who don’t). Taking these actions are two of the simplest and most liberating things you can do for yourself this year. You should strive to only keep the company of people who lift you up and suffuse your life with positivity, because these are the people who will help you become the fully-actualized person we both know you’re capable of becoming. By that same token, you must eradicate from your life those who drain you of your positive energy. I’m talking about the perpetual naysayers, the constant complainers, the passive-aggressive debasers. If they’re not helping you along the path toward personal and professional fulfillment, they don’t deserve a spot in your life. It can often be difficult to terminate what are often longstanding acquaintanceships, but honestly, why would you allow these people to erode your self-worth for one moment longer than they already have?

Stop caring so much what people think and say about you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to your close friends and advisors — their feedback typically comes from a place of genuine affection and honest critical assessment. What I am saying is that many of the people who criticize you do so with the sole aim of damaging your confidence and dignity. There are a number of reasons why people may want to hurt you: jealousy, self-loathing, and self-righteousness are just a handful of the motivating factors that may potentially be at play. It’s your job to be a discerning consumer of the critiques you receive and determine which are legitimate and which are the fabrications of those who just want to bring you down.

One of the hardest truths to accept in life is that personal and professional growth doesn’t just automatically occur with the passage of time. The accumulation of wisdom with age is far from a given — it requires a high level of self-awareness and constant, rigorous self-assessment. Only when you’ve developed an honest portrait of your strengths and weaknesses can you embark on the unceasing journey of self-improvement. This year, challenge yourself to take those crucial first steps.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.