Recharge Your Resolutions
Whether your New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside or slipped down your to-do list, February is a good time to review them and refocus your goals for the year. Examine why you chose your particular goals and consider what you can do to recharge them, putting yourself back in control.
Review each of your goals by asking yourself these questions. It is useful to write your answers in a notebook, or somewhere else where you can easily find them and refer back to them at regular intervals. If answering the questions brings up any particular feelings and emotions, make a note. Completing this exercise might make you aware of mental health issues which need to be addressed. If this happens, visit your GP and discuss what support might be helpful for you.
Is your goal something you really want?
You might think the answer to this question is obvious, but we often choose goals we think we should or ought to work towards rather than goals we genuinely want to pursue. Goals which are determined more by our society and culture than by what we truly want for ourselves. If your goals are chosen by other people, you will find them very difficult to achieve because you haven’t taken ownership of them.
Think about how you will feel in a year’s time if you have achieved your goal. Will you be elated, quietly pleased, or indifferent? How will you feel if you don’t achieve your goal? Angry, disappointed, sad, secretly relieved, or indifferent? Write your answers as fast as you can, thinking as little as possible. Freewriting in this way often puts us in touch with our true thoughts and emotions. Keep writing until you feel you have nothing left to write. Take a break before reading what you have written, considering all of the emotions these questions have brought up.
Do you want your goal enough to invest the required time and energy? Or is it something which would be nice, but isn’t very important to you? Perhaps you feel pressured by other people to pursue a certain goal. If this is the case, think about why they are pressuring you – they might believe achieving the goal will make you happy, or that it’s something everyone should want. They might be projecting their own beliefs and insecurities onto you. Take other people out of the equation, unless their reason for wanting you to achieve the goal resonates with you. If you decide you don’t want to work towards your goal, give yourself permission to let it go.
Can you prioritise your goal?
We all have the same amount of time: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. How we decide to spend our time is our own decision. However, life happens and sometimes our circumstances prevent us from prioritising certain goals at certain times. Is your goal compatible with your current circumstances? Can you dedicate enough time to working towards your goal?
You might decide to prioritise your goal despite your situation being far from ideal, which is your prerogative. Remember to be kind to yourself, perhaps altering your goal to make it more achievable. For example, by increasing the timeframe to longer than a year or choosing different markers of success. It might be tempting to push yourself towards a goal you can’t prioritise, but being flexible will increase the likelihood you will achieve your goal.
If you are in a position to prioritise your goal, think carefully about what this means. Will you work towards it every day? Put aside a chunk of time each week? What would be an acceptable reason to put off tasks related to your goal? What excuses will you use to tempt yourself away from your goal? Make notes, listing the triggers which are liable to distract you from your goal. These might include activities like watching television or browsing online, negative thought patterns, family and friends’ demands, long-held habits, getting stressed about work, etc. Being aware of these distractions will remove some of their power over you.
Have you set yourself up for success?
A lot of people don’t consider this question, but it’s essential to think about how your environment and resources will combine to help (or hinder) your progress towards your goal. Have you covered the basics? Do you have any equipment you need? Do you have access to any information you need? For example, if your goal is to run a half marathon, you need to have running shoes, enter the race and know where you can find information about training plans. This applies to any goal: what do you need to set up in order to take the first steps towards success?
Answering this question can become overwhelming, because you often think of tasks you need to complete further along the road: remember to focus on the first steps. If you think of anything beyond the basics, make a note and turn your attention back to the basics. If your goal is to change jobs, worrying about applications is a waste of time if your CV needs to be updated. Other common first steps include opening a savings account, joining a gym or dating website, buying the instrument you want to play, renewing your passport and borrowing a few healthy cookbooks from your local library.
Look at your environment: does it look like someone who wants to achieve your goal spends a lot of time in your home? How could you change it to reflect your goal? Changing your environment can be tricky, especially if you live with family or housemates, but there are always small tweaks you can make. If you want to lose weight but can’t purge your home of junk food because you live with other people, try making unhealthy food less accessible by keeping it out of sight and in the back of cupboards and keep healthier options close to hand. Find a picture which represents your goal and hang it somewhere you will see it every day; in your living room, next to the bathroom mirror or on the inside of your wardrobe door are popular choices.
Achieving your goal is probably difficult, otherwise you would have done it already. Setting yourself up for success will remove the first obstacles. If you find yourself resisting taking these basic steps, ask yourself why – do you really want to achieve your goal, or are you making excuses out of fear? If it’s the latter, confront your fear by taking these first steps. Ask for support, but be prepared to act alone. When we really want to pursue a specific goal, we have the energy and courage to move towards it. Read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers for help and inspiration.
Are you behaving like someone who wants to achieve your goal?
When your environment and resources are in order, think about whether your behaviour is setting you up for success. The key to achieving any goal is consistency, which requires taking action towards your goal more often than doing things which move you away from your goal. For example, if your goal is to pass a university course, you need to study in a consistent way. Watching television or going out drinking for a month and then cramming a few days before an assignment is due does not set you up for success. Sure, some people seem to do well despite behaving like this, but the majority of successful students study most days of most weeks. The actions you take on a daily basis are the ones which will determine your success.
Being consistent doesn’t mean following a punishing regime and beating yourself up when you fall off track. This is unhealthy and unrealistic, which means it’s not setting you up for success. Allow yourself to enjoy things which don’t contribute to getting you closer to your goal, but make sure they are outweighed by actions which help you to progress. For example, treating yourself to a slice of cake once a week can be compatible with losing weight, but eating a slice every day makes it difficult to eat enough healthy food to provide the nutrition you need without overeating. Whatever your goal, you need to find a balance and ensure your behaviour is consistent with making progress towards your goal.
Are you tracking your progress?
Sometimes you can be making progress without feeling like you’re any closer to achieving your goal. Think about how you can measure your progress and aim for variety where possible. Include both measures of results and measures of process. You can’t always be in control of results, so monitoring the tasks involved in working towards your goal can be very valuable. For instance, weight loss can be notoriously unpredictable on a week to week basis, so while your bathroom scales might not reflect the effort you have been making, you can acknowledge it by tracking whether your eating habits and exercise sessions are on target.
Using a reward system can provide extra motivation, but ensure the rewards are attuned to your goal. For example, if your goal is to save more money, having expensive rewards can outweigh the progress you make. It’s important to ensure rewards are proportionate to your progress and keep you moving forward. It’s also worth noting that if your goal is related to tackling a habit which you consider detrimental to your wellbeing, part of the process of achieving your goal should be to challenge the unhealthy habit by finding different rewards. For example, rewarding weight loss with food can reinforce the association of food with positive emotions. Think about the bigger picture when designing a reward system: how can you reward yourself without jeopardising the attainment of your goal?
How will you deal with setbacks?
Setbacks will happen: it’s guaranteed. When you accept this, you can stop wasting time and energy on wishing things were different and start focusing on solutions. Yes, it sucks (and my life has seemed like a farce sometimes, with various things going wrong at the worst times), but unless you accept the situation, it’s all but impossible to move forward. Setbacks are often unexpected, but you can try to prepare for the most common ones.
If you have tried to achieve similar goals in the past, what setbacks did you encounter? How would you deal with them now? Look online and read about people who have achieved similar goals: what setbacks did they encounter? Think about how you could approach these setbacks.
While some setbacks will be external events, others will be caused by your own actions – slips of willpower, losing focus, bad habits creeping in, etc. Beating yourself up is inefficient, so how will you get back on track? Troubleshooting setbacks before they occur will make you more aware of potential pitfalls so that you can avoid them completely or catch yourself before things spiral out of control. Preparing yourself is not tempting fate or asking to fail: it’s an important part of planning how to achieve your goal.
If you have already encountered setbacks, how did/will you refocus on your goal? Where could you find help and support? Do you need more information to make progress? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re doomed to failure because you had a setback early in the year – what you do for the rest of the year will determine your success.
Are you committed to your goal?
Many resolutions and goals necessitate a permanent lifestyle change, otherwise you end up back where you started. This can be difficult to accept, since the ‘diet’ mentality is ingrained in society: we think of working towards our goal as a temporary change, instead of accepting we need to make permanent changes in order to get the benefits we want. Are you committed to living the lifestyle your goal requires? If so, what changes do you need to make and how will you implement them? You don’t need to change everything in one huge leap, but it’s helpful to plan what you need to do.
Thinking about committing to your goal might bring up unexpected emotions. When we have been using an activity as a coping strategy and our goal means we need to stop, it can make us feel anxious. On the other hand, it can be a relief to give up toxic habits and you may feel lighter, more hopeful, at the thought of committing. Think about alternative coping strategies you could use instead; healthy ways to deal with stress and emotions which align with your goal. Write a list and keep it where you will remember to look at it on a regular basis.
Making big changes is challenging on many levels, including emotion, and adjusting to positive changes can be more difficult than you expect. Think about how you will demonstrate your commitment over the long term. How will you stop old habits from creeping back? How will you stay excited about your new lifestyle? This could involve creating further goals, such as taking on a different fitness challenge or taking a more difficult course. Jot down your ideas so you can return to them when you reach your goal. Being committed to your goal guarantees success, as long as you can control the outcome. When you can’t control all of the consequences, commitment gives you the best chance of getting the results you want.
Are you enjoying the process?
Focusing on achieving a goal can mean we forget to have fun and experience satisfaction along the way. Celebrate your successes, but also think about how you can enjoy working towards your goal. How could you make the necessary tasks more fun? Search online to find out how other people have included interesting activities in pursuit of their goal. Experiment to discover what works for you. For example, if your goal is to improve your fitness, try out different gym classes or buy an outfit which helps you feel fabulous. Enjoy monitoring your progress and taking each step towards your goal.
Journaling can be a great way to learn to enjoy the process. Try to reflect on your goal and your progress each week, writing about any issues which have arisen and steps you have taken. List any changes you have noticed, particularly in your emotional or mental state. Remind yourself why you want to achieve your goal. What will it mean to you? Are there benefits which you can enjoy right now, simply from working towards your goal? For example, if your goal is to pay off a debt, you can enjoy feeling in control of your finances every time you make a payment. You can enjoy being physically active whilst training for a marathon or another fitness milestone. Write about the positive effects you are already noticing or expect to notice before you reach your goal.
Working towards a goal isn’t always fun, but neither should it be a long, hard slog. There are aspects in which you can take pleasure and satisfaction. In fact, many people who have achieved a major goal say they wish they had taken time to enjoy the process more. Goals may be future-oriented by their nature, but remember to be mindful and relish the many present moments along the way. Good luck!