It’s that time of year when people reflect and set “new goals” or “New Year’s resolutions” for themselves. As you can imagine, it is easy to make New Year’s resolutions, but much more difficult to complete them. When I reflect on the goals that I have been able to maintain or the goals my patients have been able to achieve, the following three strategies were most effective.
1. Make it Positive.
The best way to accomplish a goal is to operate from a place of “yes” rather than from a place of “no.” To see how this is true, try doing some simple exercises with me.
First, shake your head “no.” When you shake your head “no,” what do you feel? Now, nod your head “yes.” What feelings arise? If you are like most people, when you shook your head “no,” you might have felt the muscles in your face tighten, an increase in negative emotions, and even a tendency to take a step back. However, shaking your head “yes” is often accompanied by feelings of peace, acceptance, and happiness. So what does positivity have to do with accomplishing a goal? We often try to accomplish a goal by telling ourselves “no”— no more cake, no more hitting my younger sister, no more feeling anxious. However, when we focus on the no, it is human nature to fight it (we actually take a step back). By focusing on the “yes,” or the positive benefits of changing a behavior, you will find it easier to achieve your goals.
2. Shine a light and keep the light on the goal.
It often feels like we have an “angel” and a “devil” on our shoulders directing our behavior in very different directions. The “angel,” often in a quiet voice, encourages us to take actions that will meet our long-term goals, whereas the “devil” voice, almost without thinking, pushes us to give in to what feels good in the moment. So what can we do to beat that devil voice? Keep your goals front and center.
Two ways I have found to keep your goals front and center are by using Advantage Cards and/or a daruma doll. An Advantage Card, a technique I learned from attending a workshop on CBT strategies for weight loss given by Dr. Judith Beck, lists all the advantages of accomplishing your goal. However, it is not enough to make an Advantage Card, you must also commit to reading it every day. By reading your Advantage Card, you are reminding yourself consciously of why accomplishing your goal is so important to you. (To learn more about Advantage cards go to https://beckdietsolution.wordpress.com/).
A daruma is a Japanese doll created for goal setting: you color one eye to set the goal and when the goal is completed, you color in the second. While working on your goal, the one-eyed daruma watches you and serves as an ongoing reminder of what you are trying to achieve. My patients have used darumas to help them be more organized, lose weight, or speak more respectfully towards their parents. I have used a daruma to help me stay out of the kitchen at night and complete my manuscript for my upcoming book on teen grit. (See daruma website for more information -https://www.welovedaruma.com/en/about_daruma.html).
3. Make it easier to reach your goal and harder to fail.
In his book, Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, psychologist Shawn Achor writes about wanting to run more and watch less television. So what did he do to accomplish this goal? He took the batteries out of his remote control and slept in his running clothes. Think about what you can do to make it easier to achieve the behavior you want.
First, do not take on too many goals. Instead, focus on changing one area or one behavior at a time. Break your goal down into small, manageable steps so your overall goal does not seem overwhelming, especially at the beginning when you are the most likely to give up. Pre-commit and make it public. Pre-committing makes it more difficult to change your mind. For example, I write down in my planner the classes I am taking at the gym that week. By making it public (sharing your goal on social media) or by having an accountability partner who will keep you on your toes, you are much more likely to follow the “angel” voice. We are also much more successful when we set up our environment in a way that promotes our goals instead of thinking we can put ourselves in a tempting environment and not give in. For example, I have been trying not to eat late at night. I found I was much more successful when I did not go into the kitchen after 8pm instead of thinking I could just go into the kitchen and not be tempted. Remember, everyone messes up sometimes. But, often when people get off track they overreact, turning a small problem into a bigger one, or by blowing off the rest of their goal. In this way, a simple lapse can end up causing more damage. Instead, acknowledge the lapse, but give yourself credit for getting back on track.
Just one last thought- instead of just focusing on what your goal will mean to you, see if you can connect your goal to a higher purpose. Ask yourself, how can my goal not just benefit myself, but others as well? When we are passionate about our goals and can tie them to something outside of ourselves – we can truly SOAR!
Wishing you a happy and a healthy NEW YEAR – a year full of successes.
Please see my website (drbaruchfeldman.com) for additional blogs, articles, and presentations and follow me at twitter at carenfeldman@carenfeldman.