Skip to main content

Forget the New Year’s Resolution – It is time for a BHAG!

As January begins to near its close many of us have already forgotten our New Year’s resolution and reverted to our normal daily grid.  This does not mean that our resolutions were trivial or ill conceived, they just lacked the fortitude to break our pre-existing habits and stronger adverse intentions.  The ritual of New Year’s resolutions is fun and may help us grow as individuals if for only a few days or weeks.  I prefer another method for setting goals, although more difficult and arduous it has a higher proven chance of success.

Before I delve into sharing my view on goals, a moment for truth-in-lending disclosure.  I am by no means an expert or proven champion of mastering high goals set for myself.  I do sent goals in my life and do try to follow the two principles I’m going to share with you.  My success rate is fairly good but still has room for improvement.

The first principle I like is to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals or a BHAG for short. This is an idea first introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1996 HBR article “Building Your Company’s Vision”.  The purpose is to set really large goals that are more strategic and have an emotional appeal.  Ed Viesturs set a BHAG to climb all fourteen of the mountains of the world that are over 8,000 meters without using oxygen. Warren Buffet set a BHAG as a teenager to amass a wealth of one million dollars (an inflation adjusted goal of approximately $10 million today). Microsoft more simply put it as “a computer on every desk and in every home”.   Each of these goals are grand and inspire to attain a higher level of achievement that can get those involved EXCITED.   That is the entire point of a goal – having something to get excited about and propel the motivation needed to achieve the goal.  Making a simple resolution cannot inspire greatness, reaching for a BHAG helps set meaning in the effort.

Finding your personal Big Hairy Audacious Goal requires asking yourself what you really want to be, how will you change the face of the world.  Maybe the best way to find your BHAG is to ask yourself why do you want to have the little goal you made your New Year’s resolution?  Why did you resolve to quit smoking or losing ten pounds?  I too am in search of my next BHAG.

The second goal setting principle is to make it a SMART goal. A Smart goal is: Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Timely.  I like it because the process forces you to define the goal in a way that allows you to benchmark yourself and check the progress you have made towards achieving it.  Ed Viesturs explains in his book “No Shortcuts to the Top” that he did not initially set out to climb all of the eight-thousanders.  It just happened in a way after he did the first three or four, that is when it became a goal.  For us, we might have an ambition to do something great and on the surface today it will not pass the “realistic” test of a smart goal.  We might want to run the NYC marathon but having never run a marathon in our life we can set a SMART goal to run in three competitive races this year with one of them being a marathon.  This is a goal that is measurable – 3 races and one of which is a marathon; Specific – participate in competitive races so the jog around the block does not count; Attainable – it is hard work but is within reach; and Timely – this year, there is a deadline.  We can then set mini-SMART goals to help us achieve our larger goal.  Once our bigger ambition becomes realistic we can set another SMART goal to achieve it “I will run the NYC marathon this year”.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life – let us start by redoing our cheesy New Year’s resolutions and make a BHAG Smart Goal.

BHAG, Goals, New Year's Resolutions, SMART, Smart Goals