The New Year is an excellent time to reflect on the past and resolve to make changes in your life that will bring you more happiness and fulfillment. Despite our best intentions, we often start out the year gun-ho about our resolutions only to find ourselves flagging by the end of January, just before giving up and forgetting about them altogether. This leads us to question why we make resolutions to begin with. Not sticking to resolutions has less to do with self-limiting beliefs like, “it’s too hard” or “I don’t have the time” than with how we set our goals and build a plan for success. So consider this two-part blog series a handy guide to help you set your goals for the year and stick to them.
First we will focus on exploring our intentions, and putting together a sound process. We will lay the groundwork that will allow you to clarify exactly what it is you want. In Part Two to follow, we will push through the overwhelm and get cracking on the “how.”
Rules of Thumb for Successful Goal Planning
Define Your Why
So you want to lose ten pounds. Why? The true purpose of your goal and how it serves you in a meaningful way is what will help you stick to it. Find reasons that will resonate with who you are, the traits and characteristics that you value and are demonstrative of the lifestyle you would like to lead. Seeking the true purpose of your goal will help you stay on track. It will come to mind when you are facing roadblocks because you have made a personal connection to it.
Through the process of uncovering the “why” you may change up the goal altogether, to something that is intrinsic (inward) over extrinsic (outward).
The goal of “losing ten pounds” may become “I want to fit into my favorite jeans since when I wear them I feel like my best self,” or, “I want to be able to lift up my toddler and carry her up two flights of stairs without huffing and puffing.” These are examples of intrinsic goals. They reflect a desire for health, vitality, and longevity over the harsh and somewhat arbitrary goal of a 10-pound weight loss. “I want to show off poolside and be the hot mom on our Spring break to Florida this year” is an example of an extrinsic goal. The emphasis is placed outside of yourself and feeds the drive to rely on others’ perceptions of you to determine your self-worth.
Here are some more examples of intrinsic versus extrinsic goals:
- Extrinsic: I want to be powerful and achieve success.
- Intrinsic: I want to gain solid leadership skills and attributes to be successful and make an impact.
- Extrinsic: I want to be admired and respected.
- Intrinsic: I want to deepen my relationships with people that matter to me in my life.
- Extrinsic: I want to get into this school because it’s prestigious.
- Intrinsic: I want to get into this school because the engineering program is top rated and will equip me with the skills I need in a competitive job market.
Intrinsic goals are more fulfilling because they connect to deeper core values that affirm your true sense of self. Extrinsic goals fuel the vicious cycle of trying to measure up to what you think others’ expect, like being popular or earning accolades or praise. This is the same concept discussed in this previous blog post on the perils of social comparison. Extrinsic goals do not tend to bring more happiness or satisfaction along the way or once they are obtained. Since these goals do not reflect your true desires, they can lead to feelings of emptiness and disempowerment. Goals that are intrinsically motivated focus on the personal desire for learning, development, and even joy, all of which naturally fuel our motivation.
Focus on the Process
It can be good to have a concrete, measurable result, such as a ten-pound weight loss. However, focusing on the process allows you to both stay in control and find more joy along the way. It is about the journey! When we set lofty goals that are outside of our control, we end up feeling like failures, when really, the goal just wasn’t properly set. The “I want to lose ten pounds goal” is insufficient on it’s own, it lacks both an intrinsic motivation and a means to obtain the goal. A process-focused revision might look more like “I want to do one spin class, one barre class, and run 10 miles every week.” This is also easier to measure on a more consistent basis, and still leads you in the direction of the result you desire.
If you are a high achiever, you most likely have many ideas about what you want to see, do, and achieve in your life. All of these ideas can be so overwhelming that you may not even know where to start. Write your goals down and say them out loud to practice facing your fears. This will not only boost your confidence, but when you voice your goals out loud, they become more tangible.
Consider setting only two or three goals in one or two areas of your life. These will make them easier to remember and always front of mind. Your tertiary goals are more likely to fall into place when you are feeling empowered and accomplished in the areas you prioritized. Having too many life goals at once leads to feelings of overwhelm and paralysis. Start by journaling your goals and ambitions, and then just waiting to see which of those ideas become more prominent in your mind over time, which goals float to the top? Give your busy mind a week to meditate on your goals before establishing your priorities.
Now that we have discussed the “why”, please check in soon for the next post in this series when we will tackle the “how”.
Kerrie Thompson, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and organizational consultant in private practice in NYC. To find out more, contact her here.