As we enter this magical period of Winter Solstice and New Year, many of us might start wondering how to make the best of the approaching new year. The idea of creating New Year's Resolutions has been with us for quite some time and became a part of the popular culture – creating an additional pressure for us to change, to achieve certain goals or to improve ourselves and our lives.
It is not uncommon to encounter negative opinions on the concept of resolutions, as many of us simply fail to stick to the goals we set for ourselves. “New Year – New Me” simply sounds lame for many of us – either because we know that most people fail regardless, or because we know that we don't have to rely on the date in the calendar to make changes in our lives.
Why so many people fail to stick to their New Year's Resolutions?
It's really easy to set new goals and to make that initial commitment to changing ourselves or transforming some element of our lives. Most people approach this idea with tons of motivation, the belief that they really want to change and that they can do it. They make a list of things they want, only briefly exploring the reasons for choosing their goals. It's not enough to want to do something – you need to know precisely what stands behind your decision, how exactly will you achieve your goal and what the consequences of your achievement will be. Most people, however, focus only on the last part and the benefits of achieving their goals. Unfortunately, focusing solely on the outcomes will get you nowhere – that's one of the reasons most people fail.
Another element of the successful goal setting is the fact that your goal needs to be personally meaningful to you. Apart from being precise about the process of goal achievement and its outcomes, you need to know exactly why you want to commit to your goal and why the outcomes of reaching that goal are important to you. It's easy to bend to social expectations and set goals that would grant us approval in the eyes of others, or because “it's that time of the year” - in such situations, our goals will be devoid of personal meaning because we are not motivated to achieve them for personal reasons.
How to stay committed to your goals
When defining our goals, it's helpful to follow some sort of guidance, such as making sure that our goals are SMART:
Specific: our goal needs to be specific, concise, and well-defined; what will you do, how, who will be involved
Measurable: how will you know when you achieve your goal? What are the criteria?
Achievable: Can you really do it, or you're just wishing that you could do it?
Realistic: Is your goal within reach? Do you have time and resources to commit to it?
Timely: What's the deadline? How much time do you realistically need to achieve it? How much time are you willing to spend on working towards your goal?
Additionally, your goal needs to be full of personal meaning. It's not enough to set a goal simply to improve ourselves or change something in our lives – but we need to know precisely why we need that. What are our values? What makes our life worth living? What gets us to push against obstacles?
There several exercises that could help you to create meaningful goals. One of them is writing about your ideal future self. Based on the Best Future Self Intervention, this exercise contains the following steps:
1. Start by imaging how would you like to be remembered at the end of your life. Think about the personal sphere of your life, relationships and professional life.
2. Describe your ideal future self in writing; spend 5 minutes on each domain: personal, relational and professional
3. Extract two most important qualities from each written paragraphs and convert them into statements: “In the future I will...” - you should have 6 statements in total.
4. Lastly, spend 5 minutes per day, everyday for a week reflecting on a statement and imagining the experience in detail (different day, different statement).
Best Possible Self intervention has been verified as one of the most effective methods of increasing well-being, organising our priorities and boosting our self-efficacy – which is a belief in our abilities (, , , ).
Another useful exercise in organising our priorities in the Goal Grid which looks like this:
|Things that I want and I have:||Things that I want and I don't have:|
|Things that I don't want and I have:||Things that I don't want and I don't have|
By filling out each cell with relevant bullet points, you will see how easy it is to discover what truly matters to you and what you need to focus on. Doing so will create a sense of meaning and agency because your choices will be based on tangible evidence, that is, a goal grid which demonstrates your priorities, what you need to avoid and the whole process behind goal creation. The more work you put into organising and planning your goal, the bigger your chances that you will succeed - and the less work it will take to get to your destination.
For more exercises like this, contact Joanna who is a certified coaching psychologist and can support you in developing and sticking to your goals.