It's that time of the year when people start listing New Years Resolutions. I for one, have a giant list of goals I am determined to see through next year. The most important one? I struggle with continuity. I always find myself digging around for motivation when it fails me after a brief burst of creativity. This flaw has tyrannized most of my projects, and has threatened a lot of my creative drive.
I want to end it. The new year seems like a perfect time to say “good riddance”. Or is it? After all, only 8% of people actually manage to stick to their New Years’ Resolutions. How likely is it that I’ll end up in the successful category?
If you’ve been nodding unconsciously so far, I think it’s safe to say that we’re in the same boat heading towards a horizon with unclear intentions.
Sadly, there isn’t any room for that kind of acquiescence here. Today I’m going to fight against my post Christmas writer’s block and deliver my personal mantra for setting goals and achieving them:
Rule number one - never set yourself up for failure by setting goals that have no specificity, tangibility or logic behind it. Here’s a bad example of a resolution - “I want to win at life”. Why is it a bad goal? For starters, there aren’t any distinct elements in the statement “win at life”. Your definition of winning may be buying a house or winning a marathon - two different goals encompassed in a third. Achieving a goal that is too pliable and extensive is an impossible task; three months later, you’ll be struggling to comprehend where you stumbled.
So what exactly do you do? Make your goals SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
Start with a goal that is well broken down, so the end point is well defined. If we’re looking at the same old goal ‘I want to win at life’, you’d break it down into smaller components. If you consider it a subgoal, ‘going to the gym regularly’ is a good starting point.
Now that we have a developed a clear-cut version of the former goal, it’s time to quantify it. Here’s where you’d need to set up a numerical value for your goal so that you know you’re not shooting in the dark. In the gym goal, setting the number of hours, or days a week is a great way to keep tabs on your progress.
Unfortunately you may risk setting yourself up for failure with a goal of going to the gym every single day when you’re not accustomed to the act of going to the gym. Think hard before you decide on your targets, and avoid spreading yourself too thin. Remember, what works for others may not work for you, so tailor goals to your abilities and needs.
Is this goal really beneficial? Setting goals that don’t have productive outcomes, or meaningful paths of achievement are a waste of time. Bowing out because of the relative insignificance of a goal in your life results in low motivation and self esteem. Consider quality over quantity to avoid an early exit.
Every goal has a different time frame attached to it; an indefinite timeframe will likely result in trivial pursuits. Having a finish line in near sight allows you to gauge your progress and adjust your efforts.
This article does a great job on the details of SMART goals and has a list of questions you should be asking yourself at each step.
Sadly I cannot recall where I read this, but I believe it to be paramount to successful goal setting - no negative terms! Phrase your goals firmly; use ‘I will’, ‘I can’, over ‘I hope’, ‘I wish’. Make it personal by adding the pronoun “I”, since that makes you more accountable.
I cannot think of a worser way to set a goal than to find inspiration elsewhere and replicate it without any self consideration. This ties in well with setting realistic and achievable goals - everyone’s definition of realistic is different. Example: attempting to get a six pack when you never work out - all because you saw a post on Instagram. While it’s good to push yourself to new limits, don’t overestimate your abilities and finally give up in a couple weeks. Recognize your limitations and be conscious of your day to day functioning. If you’re a busy person, improvise with your goal schedule so you aren’t left too exhausted to work on your goals.
You may want to turn over a new leaf tomorrow, but your brain isn’t wired to accept change overnight. Take it slow - don’t try and go from 0 to 150mph as a Volkswagen! Target goals that make the most sense first and don’t attempt to accomplish more than you can handle in one year. I’d even go so far as to recommend having no more than 3 SMART goals for every 3 months. When you limit the number of goals, you allow yourself more time to introspect and you begin to appreciate your milestones as you progress.
It’s always more motivating and likely that you’ll succeed in achieving a target if you have a goal buddy. However, there are some steps you’ll need to take to avoid veering off track. While it’s great to have a goal buddy who is at the same level as you are, avoid relying on them to level up. I have warned my husband not to rely on me as a gym buddy because he’ll give up his gym day to stay at home if I give up. Instead, look up to people who can give you that gentle nudge forward towards your targets. When seeking moral support however, turn towards people at the same level pursuing the same goals. If you hate going to the gym, find someone who you know will push you to go to the gym. If you want to cut down on sugary food, find someone who doesn’t consume sugar to coach you.
If you want to cut down on the amount of sugar you’re eating in one day, start off with a more manageable day 1. So if you take a tablespoon of sugar in your coffee, cut that down by a quarter so it doesn’t impact you as much. If you’re trying to kick a bad habit and you find yourself tempted, do some research into what time and when exactly temptations arise. Then try keeping yourself occupied/busy during those times of the day when your temptations peak.
I know this is supposed to be a "New Years Resolutions" post, but procrastination can get the worst of you and prevent you from ever succeeding. A common habit I have is putting off exercise to the next day; I never end up going the next day. Don’t find reasons put off the beginning of your attempts to achieving milestones, because tomorrow will always bring another excuse. Start right away, and keep monitoring your progress.
Finally, in addition to your SMART goals, ensure you’re evaluating your progress constantly. If you find yourself struggling with a milestone, or if the subgoal no longer holds valid, readjust your goals and timeframes. If you’d like to read more about willpower and why new years resolutions don’t always go your way, I recommend the book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.
Last year I wasted $12 a month on a gym membership I hardly used. This year, I will schedule 2 hours every evening to go to the gym. Moreover, placing emphasis on days instead of weeks increases my control over scheduling, particularly when I’m on my period. Since I need to use public transport, I will also set aside money to purchase bus tickets. My gym buddy will be my husband, who is more inclined on going to the gym on a regular basis than I am. I am confident this will work out!
My milestones are splitting my 1 tablespoon of sugar (I know, it’s a LOT) into 1/4tbsp less every two weeks, till I get used to having less sugar in my tea. Actually making use of measuring spoons instead of dining spoons will make me stay on track. I plan on achieving this goal by the 1st of February, so I can set another goal to improve on the first goal.
What are your new years resolutions for 2018?
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