New Year, New Goals
Happy New Year!
It’s that time of the year again, when people are reflecting on the ups and downs of the prior twelve months, and looking ahead to what the next year may bring. It’s not uncommon to hear of people making “New Year’s Resolutions”, those well-intended but often overly ambitious goals people set for themselves starting every January 1. It’s a familiar pattern – most of us set lofty expectations for the year to come, then find ourselves de-motivated and throwing in the towel before January is up.
What contributes to this pattern year after year?
- Overly general goals. It’s hard to reach a goal that doesn’t have specific parameters, or a map to get you there. General goals like “get into shape” fail to consider what that actually means and how you plan to achieve it.
- Unrealistic goals. Many people choose goals that speak to the outcome they want to see, and neglect to consider their starting point. For example, if you’re new to running, it’s probably not realistic to set a goal of running a full marathon in 2 months’ time.
- Poor planning. It’s one thing to set a goal, it’s another to plan for its actualization. In addition to setting the goal itself, it’s worth taking some time to plan for things like setting short-term objectives, steps to success, finding supports along your way, brainstorming plans for tackling obstacles, and figuring out how to track progress.
- Low motivation. With overly-challenging goals and a lack of planning, it’s not difficult to see why motivation wanes in those early weeks. When people don’t see the progress they expected, it’s hard to dig deep and find the determination to keep going.
- Self-criticism. It’s not uncommon for people to use harsh self-criticism and self-judgment to try to motivate themselves toward positive change. Rarely does this work in making positive, healthy and sustainable change.
Thinking about ditching the New Year’s Resolution and trying out something new this year? Instead of resolving for change, consider setting some SMART goals. SMART goals help you plan for what you would like to accomplish and how to get there:
S – Specific. Ensure that your goal is not too broad or overly general. Identify what exactly it is you wish to achieve. For example, instead of, “Drink more water”, try, “I would like to drink 8, 8-ounce cups of water each day for the next month”.
M – Measurable. You need to define what evidence will help you track your progress so you can re-evaluate as needed and keep your motivation up. In aiming to drink more water, a person might download a tracking app for their phone and log an entry after each glass.
A – Attainable.
Make sure that your goal is one that you can reasonably accomplish within a set time-frame. If you’re used to drinking 1 cup of water a day, perhaps start by aiming for 4 cups a day for the first few weeks, and gradually work your way up to 8.
R – Relevant. Your goals should align with your values and short- and long-term objectives. For example, person is more likely to meet their goal of 8 cups of water a day if they value health and hydration for themselves.
T – Time-Sensitive. Set a realistic but ambitious end-date to boost motivation and help you keep your goal as a priority. Consider setting regular check-ins to see how you’re progressing towards your goal. For example, “I would like to drink 8, 8-ounce cups of water per day for each month. I will track my progress each day. On Sundays, I will reflect on the prior week to see what went well with my goal and what was challenging, so I can tweak my plan the following week.”
In addition to SMART goal-setting, pay attention to the language you are using when thinking and talking about your starting point, your progress, and your end-goal. Language that is insulting, shaming, or critical towards yourself is unlikely to motivate you to make long-term change. Try setting goals and using language that celebrates your strengths, values, and intentions, and see what changes.
As always, if you’re looking to make positive, lasting changes in your life, our team of counsellors and I are ready to support you in planning and realizing your goals.
All the best for the New Year ahead,
Jennifer Baker, MEd, RCC, PMH-C
Registered Clinical Counsellor
Manager of Counselling Services
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