Are you one of the people with mixed emotions about New Year’s resolutions? Do you set them but struggle to keep them? Do you watch go-getting goal setters with a pang of envy, wishing you could be a bit more like them? The truth is, you can. In my experience as a coach, people are nearly always capable of more than they realise. So what do you need to do if you want to keep this year’s resolution?
1. Choose the right goal
It might sound obvious, but the first step is choosing a goal that really matters. Most goal setting guidance seems to start with the simple advice to ‘decide what you want to achieve’ and then move swiftly on to planning how you’re going to go about it. Often that results in people rushing to make plans for goals they haven’t actually given much thought to.
If you’re setting a goal you feel you ‘should’ be aiming for rather than one that actually excites you, it’s going to be tough to sustain the effort needed to make it happen. At this time of year, health and fitness goals are a classic example of this. So many people approach January with a feeling they should lose weight or exercise more. They start off brightly and then things fizzle out. Often the reason is that they never really considered why they wanted to lose weight, they simply fell into the idea of feeling that they should and went from there.
One way to consider a goal is to ask yourself these questions before you commit to it:
- Why does it matter to you to make a change right now?
- What meaning does it have for you?
- How will you feel once you’ve achieved it?
- What specifically is it that you want to achieve that will allow you to feel this way?
Don’t rush this stage, give yourself time to consider and mull things over. Working with clients I typically spend the whole of a first session working on setting a goal that really matters and is in keeping with how they want their life to be. Time spent here saves effort invested in the wrong goal so it is worthwhile!
2. Consider what’s involved
Before you get stuck in to any detailed planning, it’s useful to consider an overview of what will be involved in achieving your goal so that you can sense check that you really are ready to commit to going for it. If you can find a way to enjoy the journey as well as the destination then it gets much easier to continue to be committed to what you’re trying to achieve.
If you don’t like the idea of public speaking then having a business idea that involves speaking in front of people may not be the best for you. Equally, it may be that the goal is important enough to you that you are prepared to commit to getting used to public speaking.
Sometimes this stage can also be about deciding what you will change or say no to in order to make your goal a priority. Does your goal matter enough for you to consider changing your routine? It could be getting up early or watching less TV to create more time for a new project. It might be spending less in order to save the money you need for a new business or a dream trip. Essentially you are weighing up short term pain against long term gain and figuring out whether that equation works for you.
3. Find ways to keep it alive and front of mind
It’s easy to be excited about a new goal in the early days, and while it is fresh in your mind it creates a natural feeling of motivation. A bit further down the line, it’s easy to lose sight of why it mattered to you. The more you can stay connected to the goal and the reason you set it, the easier it gets to keep moving towards it. Think of the goal as being like a beacon, something to keep your sights on.
There are lots of ways to approach this; journaling and vision boards are both popular just now. Journaling about your goal creates time and space to reflect on progress as well as reminding you of the goal itself. Vision boards involve the creative side of your brain and allow you to build a visual representation of your goal and what it means to you.
Along a similar line, visualisation exercises can be really powerful (I take clients through a guided visualisation process as part of goal setting within my 1:1 coaching programme). If you’ve never tried it before, it’s well worth giving this a go. Give yourself some uninterrupted time and space, and just allow yourself to daydream in as much detail as possible about a time when your goal is already achieved. The realisation of the contrast between where you are right now and where you’re aiming for is often enough to bring back the initial motivation.
If you do nothing else, write your goal down and keep it somewhere you will see it regularly.
4. Be selective; don’t have different goals competing for attention
There is magic in the power of focus and purposeful action. Often when people are not making the progress they would like on one goal, it is because they have other goals which are competing for their time, energy and attention. This doesn’t just apply to individuals – I’ve seen it time and again in businesses too.
As the author, Patrick Lencioni, said ‘if everything is important then nothing is’. If a goal really matters to you, then it needs to act not just as a focus for what you will give you attention to, but also a filter for what you will choose not to focus on.
5. Consistency is everything; monitor what’s within your control
If there’s one thing that sets apart the people who make the most progress, consistency is it. This is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do; it’s simple, but it is also hard work mentally. People often get discouraged when they don’t see the result they want as quickly as they would like. Again a classic example is weight loss; people get hung up on whether they have lost weight or inches, rather than on gradually building the habits of someone who weighs less.
It can help to shift the focus from the result (which often includes elements outside your control) to the habit itself (which is entirely within your control). This way, you are mentally able to tick off a success from completing the action rather than leaving it hinging on the result. Recognising small wins helps to sustain progress by activating the reward centre in your brain, which in turn makes you more likely to put the effort in the next time around.
That being said, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not a consistency machine; just get back to it as soon as you can. Remember that the most consistent, focused people out there have bad days (or weeks, or months!) where the results from their actions are disappointing. Rather than focus on the feeling of disappointment, they take stock and check whether the action they are consistently taking is the right one. If it is they keep on doing it; if not they regroup, adjust and move on.
6. Anticipate challenges
Forewarned is forearmed. When you first set off in pursuit of your goal, everything seems great. You feel pumped up and ready to go. Being thrown off course is often the result of obstacles coming up along the way that you didn’t anticipate. Sometimes you know which challenges are likely to come up and if that’s the case you can plan how you will deal with them ahead of time. For example, if you know you get distracted by notifications on your phone while you are working then putting it out of sight might help.
At other times, there are bigger challenges which you might not be able to anticipate specifically. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan for how you’ll feel if they come along. Recognising that you might face unknown challenges you can consider who you might turn to for support, or how you could adapt your goal. Would it be better for the same goal to take you a bit longer, or to stick with the same timeline and accept a different standard? By considering the kind of choices you might have to make, you prepare for the fact that circumstances might change. If things go swimmingly then all is good, if they don’t then you can be more decisive about how you want to handle things.
7. Make yourself accountable for consistent action
I’ve written before about the power of accountability. When you make yourself accountable, it means that choice is taken away; you don’t have an option not to do something. Or at the very least you’ll have to explain yourself if you haven’t done it. If you’re the kind of person who consistently achieves work goals but struggles to achieve personal ones this may be the step you’re missing. In a paid job, you don’t have a choice but to meet deadlines and complete work as other people will be pretty quick to ask questions if you don’t.
If that is you, consider what kind of accountability might work best for you based on what you want to achieve. If you want to exercise more would group classes or a team sport add peer pressure for you to turn up? If you have your own business and find yourself procrastinating during your working day when you could be getting on with things, would an external coach, mentor or accountability partner help keep you focused?
8. Leave your all or nothing mentality behind
This one often comes up when people are very ambitious and driven. They have high standards for themselves and see things very much in terms of black and white – and they are often very goal orientated. If you believe that success and failure are the only options, then anything less than a 100% success automatically becomes a failure. And if you are the kind of person who needs to feel successful to feel confident then it stands to reason that you will only go after things you believe are within reach. Once a goal isn’t possible, or even might not be possible, it becomes easier to give up than to deal with the emotional consequences of risking failure.
Recognising this trait can make or break how you approach goals. The choice to give up is often a subconscious one and I have seen lots of people beat themselves up and get frustrated that they can’t seem to make progress. When they shift their focus from the goal itself and apply their drive and determination to improving and building the habits that will help them, they find that the progress they were looking for comes as a by-product.
So there we have it, my top 8 tips to actually keep your New Year’s resolution this year. This has become a slightly more mammoth blog than I anticipated writing but goals have become a subject close to my heart since my coach training!
If you’d like some support with making change stick this year then please get in touch. As well as my 1:1 coaching programme I am currently offering a limited number of one-off goal setting sessions to help set you up for your best year yet. You can book directly here for a free initial chat.