“This is going to be the year I finally _________” (fill in the blank).
How many of us have said these exact words at the start of a new year? Or maybe it wasn’t the start of a new year, but a time when we really wanted to make a change. Statistics tell us that about 80% of people give up on their New Year’s resolution by the end of the first month. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds at all.
Here is what I know about the psychology of goal setting and achievement that will make it more likely for you to beat the odds and continue with the transformation you’ve promised yourself.
1. You need to define your “why”.
Our brain often operates on some very basic tenants, one of which is that we tend to avoid things that are painful and move toward things that are pleasurable. This is why it is so difficult at times to make changes, such as working out more or eating better. Although it feels good after we work out (think endorphins) it is often painful to get up early, go out in the cold, or even push ourselves past our comfort zones physically. We need to feel motivated and to push past this by connecting to positive thoughts or rewards. The more specific we can get about our “why”, the better. For example, if you want to lose weight you could think about an upcoming event and what you’d like to look like or how you’d like to feel.
2. Use the SMART goal method.
Often we aren’t specific enough about how we are going to achieve our goal which ultimately sets us up for failure. Use the SMART goal system to get more clear on what you will need to do to make it happen.
S: Specific first step
T: Time oriented
This also allows you to “chunk” the goal down into smaller pieces, making it less likely to become overwhelmed.
3. Get accountable.
When we tell others about our goals or have someone we have to check in with regularly we greatly increase the likelihood of reaching our goal. This is why people often hire help–such as a personal trainer, life coach, or therapist. I know firsthand that I’ve made significantly more progress when I’ve invested in myself this way.
If you can’t afford to hire a professional you can always find others who are wanting to make similar changes and become your goal buddy. This could look like finding someone to workout with, have a book club with, etc.
We also need to make sure we are reviewing and evaluating our goals regularly. Many people write down their resolutions and fail to look at them at all throughout the year. I would recommend writing them and reviewing them weekly (if not daily). This will keep your mind primed and ready to find ways to achieve your goals.
4. Admit there might be blocks you need to address with a therapist.
If you have tried and failed with the same goals over and over again it may be time to work with a therapist to figure out what is blocking you from becoming the person you want to be. Often times old patterns create neural networks that are hard to change on your own. With the right professional and interventions, you can move through these mental blocks and create new and healthier pathways.
Of course there are other tips and tricks to achieving your goals, but this will get you started on the right path. Best wishes in the New Year!