On forming new goals: Set yourself up for success.
January 1st, 2019 – Conversations
Well, it’s that time of year again-- I don’t know about you, but I get a thrill from drafting my New Year’s Resolutions every January. There’s something about the possibility of becoming a better, more well-rounded person in the upcoming year that energizes and inspires me.
Of course, unless I don’t fulfill my goals… then I’m just left feeling slightly ashamed and disappointed in myself.
To save us some disappointment, we need to learn how to set healthy and productive habits for ourselves.
One semester, I set a goal for myself to to run a half marathon. In 3 months. I’m a very casual runner (I get my exercise in other ways, OKAY?), so I was trying to go from running 5-6 miles a month to be able to run 13 miles in one day. Crazy. No wonder I didn’t achieve it-- it wasn’t realistic at all.
To save us some disappointment, we need to learn how to set healthy and productive habits for ourselves. If we can learn to set goals that are realistic, we can increase the likelihood that we achieve them, and our self-confidence and self-efficacy rises. Win win!
I want to introduce you to a four-step plan that you can use as a practical guide for goal-setting:
First, simply ask yourself: what is my goal? Pick something that’s challenging, but that you could reasonably accomplish in 4 weeks.
Then, spend some time dwelling on the most positive end result. How would your life look if you accomplished and stuck to this goal? Imagine how that would make you feel. I know it may sound cheesy, but really think about how your life would change if your goal turned into a lifestyle habit. What other implications would this new habit have on your life?
Now, ask yourself: What's stopping me from accomplishing this goal right now?
Why haven't I accomplished it already? Is it because of a bad habit? Is it your
schedule? Is it an irrational belief about yourself? Spend some time identifying your
Finally, think through a plan to avoid the obstacles you've identified. Do you need to
rearrange your schedule? Do you need to limit your time spent with certain
people? Be as specific as possible. Try to think in if/then statements: “If I run into an obstacle, then I will respond in this way so that I can stay on track.”
Sounds pretty idealistic, right? Let’s go through an example to make it more tangible:
Goal: I want to be able to run a 5K without stopping.
- Remember, pick something specific, challenging (remember, I'm a VERY CASUAL runner), and something that can be accomplished in 4 weeks. To go a step further, maybe pick something that's S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
Positive Outcomes: The most positive outcome is that running becomes a part of my weekly workout routine. It’s something that I can alternate with my other exercises; it’s something I can do with my dog; it’s a way to catch up on podcasts.
- This makes me feel happy and inspired-- I’ll be “a runner” :)))
Obstacles: My main obstacle right now is that I can’t seem to find a good time to run… It would be convenient to do it after work, but I’m usually exhausted by then. Perhaps I could squeeze it in before work, but I’m having trouble figuring out how much time I would need to give myself to eat breakfast, drink water, and come home with enough time to shower before leaving.
- My main obstacle seems to be my schedule…
Avoid Obstacles: I’ve decided to try to run when I get home from work. The weather will have warmed up, and the dog will be itching for a walk. If I get home and I feel too tired to run, I will drink a bit of water, eat an energizing snack, and then head out for a run without thinking too much about it. Maybe I’ll have my clothes and shoes already set-out for myself!
- Try to formulate your plans around “if/then” statements. Your plan becomes more tangible if you can already predict your obstacles.
Your plan becomes more tangible if you can already predict your obstacles.
You can implement these principles to any area of your life: from health, to relationships, to academics. The principles employed through this process such as contingency management, implementation intentions, and mental contrasting are backed by science, and they work.