If you’re one of the 40% of American adults who set New Year’s Resolutions, then you know firsthand the meaning of the phrase “Easier said than done.” So many of us assign so much value to the start of a new year: it can feel like wiping the slate clean from the previous year’s trials and tribulations. I get it: flipping over that calendar to January 1st seems like the golden opportunity to finally accomplish all those goals that seem to have snuck their way to the back burner over the last year. No matter what your particular resolutions are, bearing in mind a few key factors can make setting and achieving your goals a much more manageable and much less painful process.
Make sure your goals are realistic.
I encounter problems with goal-setting with many of my clients regularly, and one of the most common is setting goals that are not realistic or too challenging to be reasonable. For example, if you don’t exercise at all, it doesn’t make sense to set a new goal of exercising every day of the week- that would be going 0 to 100 mph and that is a big ask of yourself! Setting goals that are very difficult to achieve basically equates to setting yourself up for failure- and no one enjoys failing! Instead, your goals should set you up for success.
So, drawing from the same example, if you don’t exercise but would like to start, think about what a realistic goal might be for yourself, being sure to take into account other factors like time constraints, budget restraints, or physical limitations. Perhaps you’ll start with a goal of working out 2-3 days a week. If you exceed your goal, more power to you!
Track your progress and keep your goals concrete.
If you set a vague goal, such as “I’d like to get more sleep,” and then don’t track it, it’s very difficult to know whether you are actually any closer to your goal in a few weeks than you were when you started. The goal needs to be specific and measurable in order to be able to know if you’re getting anywhere!
So, for example, you could alter the above goal by stating “I’d like to get at least 7 hours of sleep, at least 4 nights a week.” Buy a calendar or journal to log how much sleep you actually get and how frequently. This turns the concept of goal setting from a guessing game to a useful tracking of progress. The other benefit of tracking your goals is that you can look back at patterns to see if there are any particular days of the week of events that seem to be getting in the way of your success.
Share your goals with others to hold yourself accountable.
Research shows that simply sharing your goals with others makes it more likely that you’ll meet them. This can be explained in part by motivation- if there is no one to monitor whether or not you are working toward achieving your goals, it can be easier to let them fall by the wayside. However, if you have a strong network of friends or an online community of support who can provide you motivation for your progress and praise when you are acting in line with your goals, then it becomes easier to find that motivation on days when you’re just not feeling it.
Of course, you want your network to be people who are supportive- not people who will make you feel guilty if you do have a setback. Think of this community as a group of cheerleaders for you. They’re thrilled when you succeed, and they support you when things don’t go your way.
Anticipate setbacks- and be kind to yourself when they happen.
One thing is inevitable when it comes to making changes in your life: there will be setbacks! If it was an option to be perfect, we’d all choose to be. Unfortunately, being human means being imperfect! It is very likely that there will be days where it just isn’t feasible for you to make progress on your goals, whether it’s due to extenuating circumstances like a project that keeps you at work late, a stressful conflict with a partner, or feeling ill. How you handle these setbacks is important to your long-term success. You could choose to beat yourself up for your “failure” that day- but will that get you any closer to feeling motivated the next day? Probably not.
A more helpful way to address setbacks is to acknowledge your disappointment and treat yourself with compassion and kindness. For example, “I’m bummed I didn’t have time to cook a meal for myself as I planned today. I recognize that this is just one step in the journey, and I have a chance to try again tomorrow!”
Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
As mentioned earlier, change is hard. Habits become habits because they’re easy, and sometimes being on auto-pilot makes mundane things less mentally taxing. So when it comes to changing things as deeply ingrained as habits, it’s important to try to not make too many changes at once. Don’t think of your New Year’s Resolution as the chance to finally reinvent yourself (which sounds exhausting, by the way) – think of it as the chance to make baby steps toward becoming closer to the best version of yourself! There is no special magic that happens on January 1 of the new year.
You’re still the same you with all of your human flaws, and expecting yourself to transform with the flip of a calendar page will only lead to disappointment. If you’re able to tackle one task of goal at a time, you stand a better chance of being able to sustain these changes for the long haul; they become a new part of your routine and life, as opposed to a fad that just lasts for a few months.
Keep These Tips for Year Round Success
The good news is, even if you find yourself struggling to stay on track, these tips can apply to goal-setting year-round! There is never “one right time” to start working toward your goals. As Earl Nightingale said, “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”
However, if you feel like you are having a particularly difficult time setting and achieving your goals, talking to a therapist may be helpful in discussing your unique challenges and developing a game plan to help keep you on track and motivated. If you think this applies to you, please give us a call today and schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained therapists. Having a little extra support can go a long way!