How to: Stick to your new year goals.
We often go into the New Year with the best intentions. We might have a few successful days or weeks, but often, our goals seem to fall off track quickly. If you are struggling to stick to new goals then here are some tips for you.
Why do we set goals?
Goals are used individually, in teams and often in psychotherapy. They represent a commitment to work towards something that you value. They help to give us structure and to orientate us towards living a life that is in line with our value system. They are aligned with our long-term journey but also give us a boost of motivation in the short term.
Numerous studies have shown that setting goals is linked to improved performance and increased motivation.
Doesn’t that all sound great? Well yes and no. In theory this is great, but goal setting can also make us feel defeated and overwhelmed. We can experience heightened fears of failure when working towards a goal and increased stress. Of course, all these things can make us want to abandon ship. These negative aspects of goal setting can often arise when we haven’t set goals that are sensible for US.
That isn’t to say that working towards goals isn’t hard, and it should be. Goals should be challenging, and they should push out of our comfort zone. In the end, if we want things to change for us, we have to do things differently.
Here are some tips that might help you to set goals that are going to support you to work towards your values rather than leave you feeling defeated and overwhelmed.
When you are deciding on what your goals are make sure to think about what your values are. Some examples of values are:
Goals that may come from these values could be
- Creativity = Dedicate time twice a week to working on my poetry/painting
- Leadership = Ask for more leadership opportunities at work. Have regular check ins with my boss to check in on my leadership progression.
- Friendships = Prioritize more time for my friendships
- Altruism = Volunteer my time at an organization once a week for the next year.
1. Start small
When thinking about our goals we can often get over excited and plan things are too ambitious for us. Sometimes we just need to step back and think about the small goals that lead towards the bigger goal.
Goals should be hard but they should feel possible. Research suggests that you will work harder towards a goal that you feel more capable of achieving (Lunenberg, 2011). Choose something that won’t overwhelm you. If you choose something too ambitious, you may be more likely to give up when you can’t meet your expectations. Also be mindful not to overstretch yourself. Focus on one area at a time and dedicate all your resources in that direction, rather than setting up 10 small goals that you end up giving minimal effort towards.
2. Be specific
When we set goals, we need to ensure that they are specific. Don’t come up with vague goals like “I want to be a better partner” or “I want to be rich.” Think about small, specific goals that will get you there. For example, your goal could be “I want to practice calm communication with my partner” or “I will dedicate an hour a week to managing my finances.”
Think about what the outcome might look like, how you can get there, who might be involved and what steps you need to take to work on that. Take time every so often to reflect on your progress and see how you are tracking towards your goals. It can help to write your goals down to make some sort of record of your intention. You can check your progress through a formal check in with yourself weekly or monthly, or perhaps you want to track this by journaling or habit tracking. Take time to think about whether this goal is manageable or not, whether you need to pull back a bit and to reflect on your successes so far.
3. Plan and problem solve
Make a time frame. When do you want to achieve this goal? How will you know you have achieved it? Remember to check in on your progress every so often and think about what might be getting in the way of you achieving your goals or what your successes have been. Life can get in the way of us moving towards our goals, so as best you can, try and problem solve some of the barriers that might crop up. A common one is around time. So take a look at your schedule when you are planning your goal and think about the best time to work on your goal.
4. Be compassionate
Work from a self-compassionate stance. Self compassion can help to normalize some of the difficult feelings that can arise when working towards your goals. Often those of stress, worries of failure and of self criticism. Self compassion has been shown to make us more effective in recovering from perceived failures and therefore can make us more effective in meeting our goals. So next time you feel de-motivated, try, and interact with yourself like you would a friend. Ask yourself what went wrong, what you would like to do differently next time, what kind of support you need? Give yourself grace for things not going to plan.
BraveFace have also created a free resource to help you with your Goal Setting. You can download the Free BraveFace Goal Setting Map here.
About the Author
Dr Victoria Thompson is a registered clinical psychologist. Victoria currently works in private practice in Auckland, specializing in several different areas including eating disorders and couples’ therapy. She is particularly passionate about helping people to build self-esteem and develop self-compassion. She has a keen interest in forensic psychology, dating and attachment styles, obsessive compulsive disorder and disordered eating and body image.
Lunenberg, F. (2011). Goal setting theory of motivation. International Journal of Management, Business and Administration, 15(1), 1-5.
Neff, K., & Cox., M.C. (2017). Self compassion. In V. Zeigler-Hill, T.K. Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences (pp.1-8). Springer International Publishing. http://praveted.info/files/Self-compassion%20review.pdf