Confession time: year after year, many of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve set in the midst of the festive season – such as giving up caffeine and leading a calm and Zen-like life, or having the perfect body with abs that would make Miranda Kerr jealous – don’t actually survive past the month of March! If you’re anything like me, you may be in need of a New Year’s resolution reset.
As we head into the cooler months some of us may have already forgotten about those important goals and resolutions that we set for ourselves on New Year’s Eve. Whether it was starting a new exercise regime, embarking on a diet or giving up a habit such as smoking (or, in my case, shopping!), changing our behaviour is not an easy task.
Although New Year’s resolutions are well intended, we often fail to spend time planning how we will execute our goals. In many cases, we have a desired outcome of what we want to change but may not have considered creating goals that are realistic and achievable. This inevitably causes us to fail and lose confidence in our ability to make positive changes.
Looking to re-vamp your goal-setting style? Here are my five top tips on how to create sustainable, achievable goals:
Break down your goal into manageable chunks
Many of us set broad goals, such as losing weight, but it can often be quite hard to work towards such big aim when we don’t have clear action steps to follow.
Consider setting yourself a series of smaller, short-term and medium-term goals which can provide you with clear action steps to follow week on week. For example, a short-term goal may be to walk for 45 minutes, three times a week, or to replace dessert with a piece of fruit, three times per week. A medium-term goal may then be to move on to exercising at the gym, three times per week, or to increase the amount of protein eaten with each meal.
Having small, manageable goals will give you clear action steps to follow and help you feel a sense of accomplishment each time you achieve them.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
As cheesy as this phrase sounds, planning the when, where and how around our goals is essential to our success.
Let’s say you decide to exercise three times a week. Considering the type of exercise that you will do, where you will do it and what times of the week it will be done will greatly increase the likelihood of your success. Diarising the when and the where will ensure that you are setting aside an adequate amount of time to perform the exercise and allow you to prepare any items you might need in advance.
Consider what resources you might require in order to succeed. Is there anything you need to organise before you start working towards your goal? Do you need to purchase any specific equipment, such as workout gear or new running shoes? Do you need to purchase a gym membership or sign up for a free trial of a class you’re considering taking? Will preparing a playlist of your favourite music help you to stay motivated whilst you work out? Having resources prepared in advanced will help you to minimise any barriers that might prevent you from achieving your goals.
We’re much more likely to get out the door at 6am on a Monday to go to the gym if our gym clothes and shoes are already organised the night before and a bag is packed with everything you need. If you’re short on time for the week, planning how you could fit in small amounts of exercise during your lunch breaks or after work will allow you to keep progressing towards you goals during a busy week. Still feeling stuck for motivation? Consider enlisting a friend or family member as your workout buddy.
Focus on the process (not just the outcome!)
When it comes to achieving goals, we often have our eye on the prize (i.e. the outcome we desire the most, such as losing 10kg or being able to run a marathon). Whilst having a desired outcome is important, sometimes we can lose motivation when the goal seems so far away. In addition, there is a risk that if we don’t achieve the exact outcome that we were hoping for we can feel like we’ve failed. Mastery goals are about setting shorter term goals that focus on the skills or learning performed on the path towards meeting our broader aims. Mastery goals encourage us to think of our goals as learning experiences, rather than just outcomes to be achieved. For example, if I was working on a goal of losing weight, a mastery goal might be to learn to cook three healthy dinner recipes and practice them each once a week. If I was wanting to run a marathon, I could set a mastery goal of practising keeping my core engaged each time I go for a run. Having a combination of both mastery and outcome-based goals can increase our chance of attaining the desired outcome.
Share your goals with others
Sharing our goals with others increases our commitment to achieving them and our feelings of accountability. Once you’ve shared your goals, others can check in with you and ask you how you are progressing. Another benefit of sharing our goals is that others can share their ideas or perspectives with you. They may also be able to give you some advice or strategies that have worked for them in the past, allowing you to gain further clarity around your goal.
Set yourself regular opportunities to review and evaluate your progress towards your goals
In order for us to achieve our goals, it’s important that we set aside regular time to check in and evaluate our progress. This allows us to make any adjustments to things that aren’t working, or to do MORE of the things that are working well.
Consider how you will measure your progress. For example, with weight loss, we may use measures such as scales, BMI or tape measures. With exercise, we could seek the feedback of a personal trainer, use benchmarks such as the distance or time we are able to run or record the amount of weight lifted. Take the time to reflect on the strategies that helped the most towards achieving your goals and what, if anything, needed adjusting.
So, hope is not lost. If you’ve gone off track with your New Year’s resolutions (or abandoned them entirely), there is no better time than the present to focus on resetting your goals by spending some time planning how to make them more achievable. Lastly, don’t forget to make your goals enjoyable and meaningful – find ways to reward yourself for your hard work, and share your achievements with your friends and loved ones!
Jemma Doley is a Sydney-based Registered Psychologist, Consultant, Coach and Mediator, specialising in the areas of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, dispute resolution, psychological injury, vocational counselling and consulting. Jemma has a passion for positive psychology and coaching is currently completing a master’s degree in Coaching Psychology at the University of Sydney. As the author of popular psychology and lifestyle blog, Pop Therapy, Jemma is passionate about communicating the benefits of positive psychology and wellbeing.