I will lose 20 kilos, quit smoking, stop drinking, hit the gym 7 times a week…! Sounds familiar? Perhaps you’re also one of the people who try to make radical New Year’s resolutions every year and find yourself failing in week one and giving up entirely? Is it even possible to set truly life changing goals? I think so, you just have to be a bit more patient.
The biggest problem with achieving New Year’s goals is that people tend to be aggressive and not really realistic about setting them. I don’t know how it goes for you but how I used to do it is I’d watch an inspiring video or listen to a motivational speaker before the new year and decide that “I can change EVERYTHING”. And so I would decide to get abs, quit smoking, cut out negative people from my life and write something substantial. I would even make a proper plan how to achieve those goals because everyone tells you they’re meant to be measurable. Year after year, however, I would fail in achieving any of them. Then I realized that often it’s difficult to know what’s an achievable goal. 5 kilos for one person is more difficult to lose than 20 for someone else and if you spent your life being a walk over you won’t become a champion in assertiveness over night. You only learn what’s too much in the process so as slightly more vague goal like “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to learn to say “no”” isn’t a bad idea. Therefore, I decided to try to be more gentle with myself and just make sure that I’m heading in a good direction.
The year I actually ended up quitting smoking was the year I cut down cigarettes first. As a box/two box smoker I failed every time I tried to go cold turkey. My lungs would really suffer from such a quick withdrawal, I would be sad, extremely irritable and very very hungry. That particular year by cutting down I had a nicotine free life by March with minor side effects. I’m still a non-smoker after almost three years. I think part of the problem with setting goals is that people (in life, on TV, in books) often encourage us to have the big change NOW, while often a small step today will give you more long term. If you have ever done any of the this “change in 3 months” courses or read such books you should know that it never really works this way. You can jump start your development with a 90-day solution but nothing gets done in such a short period of time. A lasting change takes time and sometimes requires mini-steps, especially if a habit has been a big part of your life for a long time. In other words, for instance, if exercising is not a part of your daily routine, you may get ripped in three months but you’ll probably also lose your mojo after that. With such experiences in mind, I’d say that a part of setting good goals for New Year’s is deciding on your direction and steering your life there. Very few people manage to move from couch potato to a fitness enthusiast in few days. Don’t make a resolution to hit the gym every day, rather try to exercise three times a week and upgrade it when you realize that you enjoy it. Part of staying on a good path is realizing that your life is getting better thanks to the change. This is the whole point of resolutions, isn’t it?
Another thing which I find important in achieving goals is choosing things that make sense for us. Life’s busy and perhaps learning 5 new foreign languages next year isn’t what you should be spending your time on. I think a big reason why I’ve been failing at a lot of my goals was that I just didn’t care enough about them to keep going. The abs resolution is a good example. Yes, it looks great when people have a ripped tummy but it’s not an easy thing to achieve. It’s not only about exercising a lot and focusing on this part of the body but also about being very rigorous with what you eat. This is why, as much as I want to be fit and eat healthy, I probably will never have perfect abs. This goal is just not important enough for me to keep myself in check all the time and skip an occasional treat. Don’t set goals you don’t care about because the problem with one failed goal is that it changes your mindset to “I’m a failure”. If you’ve set ten goals that year and you failed at one, you’re actually less likely to achieve the other ones. This is why it’s super important to set a few non-aggressive goals around things that matter, if you really want to see yourself changing.
Last but not least, you need to want to change. I know it sounds trivial but it isn’t. All the times I tried to quit smoking before I actually managed to do it, I didn’t really want to get rid of the habit. I was thinking that it’s a good thing to quit smoking because it costs me money, harms my health, stinks and for many other reasons why everyone thinks that smoking is bad for you. I was reasoning with myself that I should do it but I didn’t want to do it. The last time I actually decided that I didn’t want to be defined by an addiction anymore. It still wasn’t easy to quit but when you tell yourself “Yes, I can have this cigarette but it will make me want to smoke more and I don’t want to be a smoker”, it has much more power than saying “I shouldn’t have this cigarette”. Remember that “Resistance is futile”. The rule applies to any other goal like, for instance, learning to cook. The element of wanting and not feeling forced (even by oneself) is crucial. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to force oneself to do things, it’s just easier to achieve goals if you consider them to be a a choice based on what you want, rather than a necessity.
To sum up, good goals are those which may be a bit vague but slowly but surely take you in the desired direction, which you actually care about and which you can internalize as a “want”. Good luck with your New Year’s Resolutions! Also, please don’t forget that any time of the year is good for goal setting so you can reuse this post later in the year, if you find it helpful.
Any thoughts on the topic, Dear Rinser? Do you have any success stories about goal setting? Maybe tips to share with others?