It’s inevitable that at the end of one year and the beginning of next that we start to think about what went right or wrong and what we can do to improve in the new year. Maybe you had an awesome year and all your dreams came true. But it’s possible that when you look back you had your share of disappointments mixed in with the good times. Reflection is good for the soul if we use the information we gain to move forward and grow.
In a recent edition of Newsweek there was an applicable article entitled “The New Year’s Resolutions That Won’t Fail You.” It talks about the top ten New Year’s resolutions. These include 1) Have more fun, 2) relax and reduce stress, 3) spend more time with family, 4) eat better, 5) exercise more, 6) reduce spending, 7) save for financial emergency, 8) make more time for yourself, 9) reduce debt, and 10) lose weight. Approximately 89% of people make resolutions but only 46% are successful six months later.
The author goes on to talk about how there’s a disconnect between our resolutions and the actual achievement of these goals. As humans we’re very susceptible to the emotional lure of the “complete fresh start.” However, this “fresh-startism” is very deceptive and ultimately discouraging. Successful change rarely works this way. We’re often a poor judge of which resolutions to select to maximize our happiness and often overestimate the effect the changes we’re going to make will have on our mood.
Instead of resolving to make radical changes many psychologists encourage making small, individual changes that you’ll repeat throughout the year. These regular minor accomplishments or “small wins” contribute much more to your happiness than the occasional big achievements might. One particularly effective way to achieve your goals is the process-goal method. This was used by comedian Jerry Seinfeld early in his career when he was determined to spend time every day writing jokes. He took a large wall calendar and marked an X every day when he got some writing done, gradually creating a chain of X’s. Seeing that chain of X’s can be motivating and propel you forward toward your goal. After all it takes approximately 28 days to make a new habit.
Another way to make your goals a reality is not to rely on feeling emotionally motivated or “fired up” about the goal. Emotions change and it’s nearly impossible to keep that excited feeling indefinitely. There are days when you don’t feel like going to work, or cleaning your house, or going for your run. If you give up the idea that you have to feel like doing something before you do it, it can actually free you to get more done. There are many days when I don’t feel like exercising. So don’t dwell on the feelings- just do it! Japanese psychologist Shoma Morita says, “People think that they should always like what they do and that their lives should be trouble-free. Consequently, their mental energy is wasted by their impossible attempts to avoid feelings of displeasure or boredom.” He advises his patients to, “begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.”
So here are a few suggestions of ways to maximize your goals.
1. Embrace your identity. The more you see yourself as the person you desire to become the more you’ll be on this journey for life. You’ll realize that your identity is bigger than a missed goal, a bad day, or what other people think of you. Start to visualize yourself as the person you desire to become. The mind is powerful and what you dwell on will often become your reality.
- Take one step at a time. The journey of 1,500 miles happens step by step. As a marathoner I ran an accumulative 1,500 miles in one year. The key to accomplishing this was consistent daily action.
- Connect with like-minded people: Find a local meet up or join a mastermind group of people who are going where you want to go. Hang out with successful people. Soak in as much wisdom as you can.
2. Write down your goals. You should have a variety of goals including small, medium, and large ideas. Meeting the small goals can give you extra inspiration and strength to keep pursuing the big goals. There is power in the written word and making your commitments tangible. Put your goals somewhere where you will see them frequently, like as the background on your computer, on your desk at work, on the bathroom mirror, or on the refrigerator.
- Try something new. Some of us can be creatures of habit and it’s good to break out of the mold. One of the things that often limits our experiences is fear. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence, by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do what you think you cannot do”. Each time you confront a fear it will help you break out of a mindset that isn’t helping you move forward.
3. Expect progress, not perfection. This is one key to living a fulfilling life. We all miss the mark as humans. If you expect perfection out of yourself and others it is a recipe for frustration and failure. Cut yourself some slack. If you went off your diet and binged simply stop and push the reset button. Don’t beat yourself up. Simply start fresh right away. If you’ve said something hurtful, stop and apologize. We all do stupid things so give grace to yourself and others. Expecting perfection is often counter-intuitive because we become afraid to have new experiences and dream big. Those who succeed often fail frequently, but they aren’t afraid to get back on their feet, brush themselves off, and try again.
- Don’t get so bogged down by your future goals that you forget to enjoy today. This is a good one for me. I have a goal oriented personality and can often get so focused on where I want to be that I forget to enjoy the small blessings. Yes, it is important to have goals, but don’t lose site of the goodness all around you. Make sure you enjoy the journey. I like this quote: “I have my own unique road that has had many exciting ups and heart-breaking downs, but one thing I know is that my journey is not over and the best is yet to come.” Ryan Hall, Olympic marathoner
- Develop a positive mindset. You are what you think. Learn to identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive truths. Cutting yourself some slack is one way to become more positive. None of us know how long we have left on this earth so determine to make your days count.
Angie Spencer ran 5 marathons last year and has her sights set on even more in the days ahead. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 2000 and has been a Registered Nurse for 11 years. She and her husband make their home in SE Missouri and have three boys. In addition to running, Angie enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, yoga, being in the mountains, and eating dark chocolate.
Favorite exercise quote:
“Fitness is pushing through your workout when you don’t feel like it, because you know what you do today will make you stronger tomorrow.”