Sharpen your Axe

It is that time of year for New Year Resolutions.  When I was a personal trainer there would always be an influx of new people in the gym during January as they had set a resolution to get in shape in the New Year.  Of course a majority of the new people would be gone by March as they did not have a strategy to get in shape.  Making a decision to become healthier is great, but it is just the beginning.  Does that mean going to a gym four times a week, going to fitness classes, lifting weights, cooking all meals at home, etc.? The point is that in order to make positive life changes, a proper strategy has to be determined before moving towards a goal.  The following quote describes what I mean:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” ~ Abraham Lincoln ~

President Lincoln had it right, in order to reach a goal it is important to first sit and understand your tools and strategy before moving forward.  As we head into 2016 and set goals for the New Year it is important to reflect and “sharpen our axe.”  Before setting goals, make sure to reflect on the past year, what were your highs and lows, what goals did you accomplish, which did you not accomplish, and what path are you on moving forward?

The way I sharpen my axe is to be brutally honest with myself and reflect to determine if I am on a path that will allow me to reach my intended goals.  Recently, I sat down and wrote my “highlights” and “lowlights” of 2015.  What I quickly realized was that I had great highs with school and work: I founded a company, have been profitable since day one, made amazing contacts, taken leadership roles in my MBA program, and am reaching professional goals that were a dream at the beginning of 2015.

Yet, when I wrote out my highs I noticed that there were some absences as my faith, family, and health were all in my “lowlights.”  I did not spend enough time with my family, deepening my faith, and am not at my standards of fitness.

By sitting down and reflecting I was able to determine my goals for 2016 and set specific parameters, i.e. instead of saying I will spend more time with my family, I wrote “I will take my son to a museum once a month.”  The difference is vagueness versus specific; if I would have simply moved forward and set a goal without reflecting then I might not have been specific and would likely fail.  Just at President Lincoln would not try to chop down a tree with a dull axe, we should not run at our goals without a proper strategy and knowledge of what it will take to accomplish our goals.

  • If your goals are professional, sit and be specific.  Do not say, “I will better my career,” instead say, “I will attend one networking event a week, I will call my dream company and ask someone to coffee, or I will join professional organizations.” 
  • If your goals are academic, do not say, “I will do better in school,” instead, “I will study 3 hours a week for every class, I will go to tutoring once a week, or I will take a course that is outside of my knowledge-base.”
  • If you goals are health related, do not say, “I will lose weight,” instead say, “I will run a 5K by March, I will go to the gym four times a week, or I will teach a fitness class by the end of the year.”

Be specific and define what success looks like first instead of creating vague goals that sound great on social media but have no lasting value.  To reach your goals in 2016, first, sit and honestly reflect at where you are in life. Can you chop down that tree or do you need to sharpen your axe a little more?