🌼Navigating Goal-Setting in the New Year(CHECK THIS OUT)
On setting realistic aims you will stick to.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll start the New Year with big ambitions. You’re going to make significant changes to your life. You’re going to quit smoking and go to the gym five days a week, all while working harder and spending more time with family.
But are you really?
Most of us enter January with a fresh outlook, but we slip back into our old ways by the 31st. According to psychological studies, only 19 percent deem their New Years’ resolutions a success two years on.
Why does this happen? How do honest intentions disappear into nothingness? For some philosophers, it’s because we set our expectations too high. That leaves us susceptible to weakness of the will. For Aristotle, this means:
- we could identify the life we want and the habits needed to achieve it;
- we could identify the actions that will help us form those habits;
- we could want to perform those actions and not have any distractions…
… and still not perform them.
As Harry Frankfurt (1971) puts it: we might want to want to achieve our resolutions. But faced with the temptations of bad habits, we cave in because we really want to smoke, eat junk food and lie in.
Often, our desire to change isn’t as strong as our desire to continue our bad habits (for Frankfurt, this means we lack higher-order volition).
It’s easy to feel powerless when your ambitions slip through your fingers. But don’t be so hard on yourself. It might be that how you’re setting goals rather than how you execute them is to blame.
With that in mind, here’s how I’m navigating goal-setting as we approach the New Year.
Focus on the Positive
When we set New Year’s resolutions, it’s natural to focus on the negative. We pinpoint the bad habits we feel guilty about and tell ourselves to stop.
But going cold turkey is never easy. As Dostoevsky puts it in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, any task that encourages you to stop something feels next to impossible:
“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”
Instead of framing your resolutions in the negative, a study by Galla and Duckworth (2015) tells us to frame them in the positive.
Across six studies with more than two-thousand participants, they discovered that those who aim for beneficial habits exhibited higher self-control and were more likely to achieve their goals.
To take advantage of this fact, reframe your goals:
Instead of “I am going to stop eating junk food,” rather “ I am going to start eating healthily.”
Replace “I am going to stop working late” with “I will spend more time with friends and family.”
Change “I am going to stop unnecessary spending,” instead use “I am going to save more.”
Stop Covering Up Your Weaknesses
Controversially, author Tom Rath encourages us to ignore our weaknesses altogether. In his words:
“From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to our shortcomings than to our strengths.”
We spend far too much time ironing out our imperfections rather than working on what we’re actually good at. Instead, we could reallocate that time to something that helps us achieve our dreams.
Aim for the Realistic and Desirable
Often the reason we give up on our resolutions is because they are counterproductive. A successful resolution must be realistic and help us achieve the life we want.
Unfortunately, we all hold unrealistic expectations about ourselves. According to clinical psychologist Miranda Morris, this is just “part of the human experience.”
But unrealistic expectations are damaging to our development. They set us up for failure, causing feelings of self-loathing and despair.
To overcome this, you need to properly filter your goals and expectations before you set them. To achieve this, I use a vision board to visualize what I’m demanding of the future. From there, I filter out instances where I’m too hard on myself and the resolution is unachievable.
As psychologist Barbara Koltuska-Haskin puts it: less is better. Be specific and do a few things well.
It’s up to you how you visualize and filter your goals. But right now, I’m finding the vision board tool on Perfectly Happy useful for this process.
Navigating the Life You Want
Once you have a list of potential goals, it’s important to evaluate whether they will help you achieve the life you want. Every resolution should contribute to that end.
Good things don’t come easy. But for Charles Duhigg small wins and small behavioral changes lead to huge rewards in the long term. It’s not in large acts that our dreams are achieved, but in the mini habits we practice every day.
For that reason, you should focus on several small and realistic resolutions that aim towards a larger goal, rather than setting unattainable resolutions that you won’t be able to maintain for longer than a week.
At this point, you might have established positive and realistic resolutions that contribute to the life you want. But when the going gets tough, do you have what it takes to power through?
According to studies by Norcross et al (2002), the success of a resolution is dependent on factors including:
self-efficacy (the belief in our own ability to succeed);
and the agent’s ability to avoid self-blame.
No matter how good your plan is, you’re not going to succeed if you don’t believe in your ability to see it through. Even when things look bleak, those who succeed are those that stay positive and trust in their abilities.
When faced with a similar situation, I stay positive by:
Practicing positive reappraisal. When faced with a challenge, I remind myself of everything I have already achieved. I then reframe the situation to find its benefits and decrease any negative emotions I’m experiencing.
Using a gratitude journal to remind myself what I’m grateful for. Doing so reminds me that I have everything I need to succeed.
Using affirmations to remind myself that I can do this. The app I use, Perfectly Happy, notifies my phone at intervals during the day with words of encouragement. Whatever your method, regularly remind yourself of your own strengths.
If you trust yourself, you can’t fail. Israeli politician Golda Meir (1898–1978) puts it best:
“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”
CONTRIBUTED BY Jon Hawkins
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