The turn of another year provides a chance to reflect, take stock and set new goals. Around half of us set New Year’s resolutions, most commonly around health and fitness (losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking or reducing alcohol and caffeine intake) or our finances (paying off debt, spending less and saving more). Yet, less than 10% of us stick to these new goals for more than a few months. Why? Usually because we set unrealistic, vague targets during a time when we are most likely to be feeling the ‘January Blues’ and lacking in motivation. Besides, it is notoriously tricky to change old, comfortable habits. Yet, when we don’t make the changes we set out to this can leave us feeling like we have failed which can be detrimental to our mood and self esteem.
What can you do to maximise your chances of achieving your goals? Psychologists use the S.M.A.R.T. criteria to bring about personal development and behavioural change.
S - Specific - Be really specific about what your are resolving to change (rather than ‘get fit’, set a concrete goal such as ‘I will do 20 mins of exercise three times a week’ and put it in the diary).
M - Measurable - Set a way to measure progress and make a plan (e.g. paying off a set amount on a loan per month).
A - Achievable - Chose something that is achievable. We are more likely to achieve change when we are motivated so focus on a goal that you feel passionate about and that will make a real difference to your life. Absolute goals (such as I will never drink alcohol again) can be harder to achieve than moderate, achievable changes.
R - Realistic - Is this change realistic? Does it fit with your lifestyle in terms of time commitments, money etc? If not, can you adapt it to make it so? (e.g. joining a gym can be timely, expensive and impractical could you achieve the same results by going for a smart walk?).
T - Timely - Set a realistic target for when you want to achieve your goal by. Setting smaller mini goals and keeping track of your progress, along the way, helps.
Remember, a new year doesn’t just wipe the slate clean. Our stories carry into this new chapter, shaping its narrative. Often the habits we resolve to change (such as over eating, smoking, drinking too much or over spending) actually serve a function. Many of these behaviours are ‘vices’ we use to manage stress or emotional difficulties or to self soothe. If we don’t address any underlying issues or find healthier coping strategies then we can be setting ourselves up to fail, because we will only crave the solace they provide, however unhealthy. Taking some time to honestly reflect on why we have become dependent on these default behaviours and then taking steps to address any issues and to develop more healthy coping strategies gives us a much better chance of success and reaching our full potential.
Wishing you all the very best for 2017!