“What keeps me going is goals.”
– Muhammad Ali
A year comes to an end and new one begins. It is the season when many of us enthusiastically commit to abandon old habits and acquire new ones. We might resolve to lose weight, adhere to an exercise routine, repair a broken relationship with a loved one, or deepen spirituality. The choices are endless.
Goal formulation is a worthwhile project. Goals are statements about what we want in the future. They help us organize our behavior. Goal attainment is positively related to life satisfaction and optimal quality of life. Attained goals can infuse our existence with enthusiasm, energy, passion, optimism, commitment, and inspiration, as well as meaning and purpose.
Given the saliency of goals, an important recognition is necessary. Sticking to them is not easy. Let us reflect on what we already know from past experience. By March or April, or even sooner, our January intentions will likely evanesce, with old habits having, again, the upper hand. Indeed, existing statistics have it that only 10 % of those who vow to change actually succeed.
These numbers need not discourage the pursuits of desired goals. They should simply inform us about the magnitude of the challenge while encouraging a search for ways to improve our chances of making them a reality. The proverbial cup is half full, not half empty.
Fortunately, abundant practical advice comes from research in psychology, business management and related fields.*
There are several ways to improve the odds.
- Focus your energy on goal-achieving, rather than mere goal-setting, as it is achievement that is associated with life satisfaction.
- Do not underestimate the task. Vowing to achieve a goal is vowing to embark on a behavioral change. This calls for disciplined effort. It involves the acquisition of a new habit. New neural pathways have to be established in the brain. A behavior becomes habitual in about 90 days of continuous repetition and practice.
- Note, too, that efforts to change trigger efforts to remain the same. Beware of, and befriend, your strategies of resistance.
- Consider the consequences of reaching your desired goals—both to yourself and to others. These could be positive and/or negative.
Also keep in mind that goals with a higher probability of becoming realizable, “good goals,” have identifiable characteristics. They are:
- Specific. To be a “better person” is vague. “I will enjoy conversations with my spouse/caregiver at the dinner table” is specific.
- Measurable. Operationalize goals in ways that can be tracked or logged; “I will lose and keep off 1 pound per week.”
- Attainable. “I will loose 15 pounds in 90 days” is doable, 50 pounds is nearly impossible and a program for failure or damage to health.
- Relevant. A relevant goal aligned with your life priorities helps you become what you want to become.
- Time-lined, as in “one week” or “90 days”.
- Clearly visualized. You are able to see and describe the change that you seek.
- Intrinsic rather than extrinsic in motivation. They express strivings of personal desired goals and contributions to community rather than materialistic pursuits such as fame and fortune.
- Approach-oriented rather than avoidance oriented. They aim to establish new behaviors rather than avoid undesirable ones—spend time with others instead of avoid being lonely; stay calm versus avoid getting upset.
- Challenging. Not too easy that it’s boring. Not too hard that it’s self-defeating or discouraging
- Energizing. They infuse life with zest, inspiration, hope, passion, commitment and purpose.
- Consonant with cherished personal values.
- Harmonious with other goals in one’s life.
- Publicly declared. By letting others know what we intend, we create accountability, which increases our chances of achieving the desired goal.
- Best pursued one at a time.
- Beneficial. They do no harm to self or others.
- Expressive of desired personal strivings and do not attempt to influence or change others.
- Within your control.
Have a Happy New Year!
*Norcross, J. (2012) Changeology: Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Adams-Miller, C.,Frisch, M. (2008) Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling.
This post was originally published by its proprietor, the Northwest Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. It is reproduced here with their permission.