According to U.S. News, an overwhelming number of New Year’s resolutions “fail” by the second week in February. How can so many seemingly motivated people fail so quickly? Was it the resolution that failed? Did the person who created the resolution fail? Positive psychology has taught us a lot about human potential and overcoming obstacles by connecting to our innate strengths. Maybe the resolution was a failure because it was poorly constructed in a haphazard way based on outdated guidelines.? Maybe it was a failure because it didn’t take into account important individual variables, such as the importance of a creating an intrinsically motivated goal that is strongly tied to a burning desire to make the resolution come to fruition?
Effective goal setting requires clarity (creating a clear and measureable goal). Unfortunately, many people set goals based on the expectations of others. I have a friend who is a registered dietitian. Every January she is flooded with appointment requests seeking consultations for weight loss. Interestingly, she describes countless numbers of individuals who are attending appointments to appease a friend, family member or health care professional who encouraged the individual to schedule the consultation. She describes individuals who “know” they “need” to lose weight, but acknowledge that they aren’t certain they are ready to put forth the effort to make it happen. While she has many highly motivated individuals, there are an equal number of people who appear dumbfounded when asked about their goals and willingness to develop a plan. Some sort of response along the lines of – “…I don’t know…my (fill in the blank – wife, husband, partner, friend, mother, father, doctor, etc.) told me I needed to meet with you.” While this trend may be changing, many of us from a young age have been conditioned to seek answers outside of ourselves. Many of us are operating on autopilot. As a result, many people don’t truly know what they think or how they really feel. When setting New Year’s resolutions (or any goal) consider taking the time to ask yourself:
- What do I really think? (vs. automatically responding to the requests / suggestions from others regarding what you should do)
- How motivated am I to accomplish this goal? (Low, Medium, High)
- How do I really feel about it? (Focused – Somewhat focused – Ambivalent)
- Do I believe it is possible? (Definitely – Somewhat – Not at all)
- If I believe achieving this goal is possible, how willing am I to consistently put forth the effort to makeit happen? (Definitely – Somewhat – Not at all)
Countless people verbalize wanting to lose weight. A person could be abundantly clear that they want to lose 20 lbs. by March 15th – a fine example of a clearly defined and measureable goal. While clarity combined with the ability to quantify the goal is a necessary part of effective goal setting, it is often insufficient. Developing curiosity about the goal(s) that come to mind is an important step. In the weight loss example, one might ask: Why 20 lbs.? Why March 15th? Is a 20 lb. weight loss realistic for ___ in that time frame? Often, people set goals based on external variables. With weight loss, many people may look at a BMI (body mass index) chart for their height and automatically conclude that they “need” to be at a specific weight in order to be “healthy.” The problem is that achieving a particular weight in a set time frame might not be achievable regardless of what others say you “should” be able to do, be or achieve. Setting unrealistic goals based on externally defined variables is a potential fast track to inadvertently sabotaging your goal setting efforts. Setting a weight range (ex. anywhere from 15-20 lbs.) and shifting one’s mindset (a common sports psychology tool) toward making progress rather than clinging to one particular outcome (i.e., a 20lb. weight loss by March 15th) is a more flexible approach that might offer a reprieve from the all or nothing approach.
Food for thought:
- Is my goal something I really want to achieve?
- How confident am I that I will be able to achieve my goal?
- How willing am I to take action on a daily basis to achieve my goal?
- What additional support may I put in place to help me achieve my goal?
- If I am not very willing, what is getting in the way?
Jennifer Lauretti-Robbins, PhD, ABPP