Successful Goal-Setting Beyond Jan. 1
2022 … this is my year!” The goal-setting cliché to begin a fresh start, become healthier, be happier, and achieve higher success. While we have great intentions to make strides toward change, it is estimated that only 8 percent of people successfully meet their New Year’s Resolution goals. Why do people lose sight of the journey after just a few weeks? Here are some tips to accomplish higher goals beyond January 1:
Make goals that are SMART:
Start with something very Specific. “I want to live a healthier lifestyle,” won’t cut it. What does “healthier” mean to you? Health encompasses many areas of life, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, relational or professional.
Make sure your goal is Measurable. Placing quantitative measures is always the easiest way to track these. “I will eat ____ vegetables;” “I will walk ____ miles;” “I will compliment ____ people each day”—however this looks to you. Journaling, charting or marking a calendar is a great way to visually track the number of successes as well as watching your progress increase over time.
Attainability. This is the one that usually gets us. While it’s great to have a long-term, high-achieving idea of bliss, let’s be honest and admit how difficult drastic change can be. Here is an example: Growing up, my parents gave me and my siblings a goal to go a whole week without a single fight in order to earn a trampoline. Any parent knows the true reasoning behind this—they DID NOT want a trampoline and knew this was a good lesson on accountability for our actions instead of Mom and Dad saying no. Starting small to achieve big dreams is key. (We never made it past two days for those who are curious.)
Is your goal Relevant to your life? This one takes a little more self-awareness. I recently learned about Brené Brown’s idea of Stormy First Drafts*. She explains that we have a tendency to interpret others’ reactions based on an underlying concept we’ve developed for ourselves. This plays a part in everyday life and, unfortunately, can play a role in our goal-setting, too. Are you doing this for yourself or because you feel this is what others expect? “I want to lose 50 pounds,” versus “I want to lose 50 pounds so that I have less joint pain and can hike again,” instills a reason behind our goal, making us more likely to stay with it. Evaluate the true meaning for the change instead of just the symptoms. What is your “why?”
Place a Timeframe. When I run—as someone who is not a runner—I have to keep the end in sight in order to push myself. “Run to that stop sign,” “Sprint for 5 minutes straight,” and sometimes it’s even, “Don’t stop until the end of this song!” Have a specific light at the end of the tunnel to push you further than you want to go on your own.
Now that you have a concrete idea of your goal, how can you ensure that you achieve it beyond the first few months and make this a lifelong change? Here are a few tips from my own experience:
Preparation is key. Make a plan to start your goal by setting yourself up for success in the beginning. If it means going to that 6 a.m. exercise class, set out your clothes and prepare your coffee the night before. Is your goal to have family dinners? Seek crockpot meals! Do whatever it takes to commit to your goal and see it through.
Don’t go it alone. Having a partner helps push you toward success. It may mean someone who is a positive role model of what you want to become or even someone to vent to about how hard this is and understands the “grind.” I know I couldn’t have made it through grad school without the other moms pushing themselves through late night papers and early school run routines alongside me.
Achievement is good, too! As a social worker, I am a firm believer in the concept of “harm reduction.” This goes back to the previously mentioned trampoline example: two days of non-fighting siblings means two days of less-stressed parents. Any progress is good and leads to a happier life. It’s OK to give yourself a pat on the back for any increments of progress. A reward for a little improvement feeds the brain that good-feeling chemical, dopamine, which provides gratification for the work done. Keep this going!
Falling short does not mean total failure. Change is one of the hardest things you can do. In fact, James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, states that people fall back into old habits roughly eight times before making a solid life change. That goes for dietary changes, quitting smoking, exercising regularly or going to bed earlier. Look back at common factors that may have caused those old habits to resurface: was it the company, the time, the atmosphere, or your favorite late-night TV show? What could you do differently to help mediate some pressure? This is the time to re-evaluate, restart and re-accomplish.
It’s important to find purpose and meaning in the challenge itself and in realizing that you are capable of achieving your goals. Make the journey solely for yourself, and the ripples of your success may also positively affect others around you. You might even be surprised with the magnitude of your accomplishments! Commit to stubbornly pursuing your ambition beyond January 2; you are worthy of the time and effort. Happy New Year! YOU’VE GOT THIS!
*SFD name censored; based on Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong.