Happy New Year! This week I’ve been talking with clients about new year’s resolutions- how to set achievable goals and follow through with them. Changing habits and reaching new goals can be difficult and takes time; slow change and setbacks can be discouraging, and the majority of people abandon their new year’s resolutions within a few weeks of the new year. Change is possible though, and from my work as a psychotherapist helping people overcome mental health challenges and becoming their best selves, I have a list of tips for setting goals and creating accountability and follow-through in order to see real changes:
– Start Small. If you’ve already made some goals, look through them and ask yourself if you are being realistic or if you might want to scale down a bit or narrow the list. You want to set yourself up for feeling success by giving yourself small, achievable goals even if you have a couple of bigger ones in mind. Mixing in some smaller, achievable goals (like making an appointment for a yearly physical, or buying a fitbit) gives a sense of accomplishment and will provide positive reinforcement for you to continue working on your larger goals.
– Get Detailed. In creating a treatment plan for clients in therapy, we include not only goals but also objectives and tasks for reaching those goals. If you don’t break the larger goal into manageable steps, you’re likely to not even get started. Identify the steps towards reaching the goal, the timeline, the support or resources you’ll need, your budget, etc. Success is as much about good preparation as it is about willpower. Make to-do lists even if you know what you need to to- writing down the details helps you mentally organize yourself and is the first step in taking action.
– Create Accountability. Build in accountability for yourself so that your goals don’t fall by the wayside. I like to use smartphone apps to help me track progress on some of my personal goals–a step counter and MapMyRun or MyFitnessPal for my health goals, Goodreads to track my reading goals, Headspace app will track how many days in a row I’ve meditated. Friends, family, or a counselor or coach can be good accountability systems too. When you enlist help from outside people, you add to your motivation to succeed and you can take pride in sharing your accomplishments; you also create a safety net and support when you hit an obstacle on the way to your goal.
– Expect and Plan for Setbacks. The path towards progress is not a smooth one. You’ll undoubtedly have challenges along the way to your goals- otherwise you would have already achieved them, right? Identify what your own emotional blocks are, and what external roadblocks might hinder your progress. Make a list of these potential setbacks and identify steps for how you’ll manage them.
– Root for yourself! I have a lot of anxious clients who will bravely approach a feared test or social situation, and I tell them to use “self-coaching” thoughts as they approach their challenge. If you were running a race you wouldn’t want your cheering section to be yelling criticism or booing at you, or being silent for that matter- you’d want to hear words of encouragement like “You can do this!” and “I believe in you!” and “You’re almost there, keep going!” These words translate into how we feel as we approach something difficult. By thinking positive, encouraging thoughts, we enhance our motivation and confidence and are more likely to follow through with the behavior that we need to achieve a goal.