It’s a new year! We generally tend to welcome it with a sense of excitement for the (planned or unplanned) prospects hidden within its 365 and a quarter days. The New Year means being more adventurous, getting fitter, cooking more often, spending more time with loved ones and, of course, spending more money and time on you. However, as good as your intentions are at the start of the year, your plans and motivation seem to dwindle by March. This may be attributed to a combination of things: poor goal setting, poor motivation and life.
No matter what the cause of the decline in sticking to resolutions may be, the end result often tends to be guilt, shame, failure or melancholy. These are feelings you commonly try to avoid or experience in small doses. There are ways to reduce these feelings. Firstly, by ensuring you know exactly what you want to aim for; secondly, by setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals; and thirdly by reflecting on your success or failure in staying with your goals.
What Do I Want?
This appears to be a simple question and yet many of us have trouble answering it with certainty. What often helps is to break this question down into smaller edible pieces, such as what do I want by the end of the month? Or what do I want in six months time? Try make the goal relevant to your life (home, work or play) or make it something that you have always wanted to do. You may even want to rope your partner or bestie in the activity. This will make sticking to your goal more fun and assist when motivation starts running low. Fun is a dominant element when setting goals. Without fun to keep motivation company, motivation may lose interest quickly.
Setting a Plan – SMART Goals
This is one of those little gems I took with me from my school days. I utilise this acronym in my daily life and it helps to ground me when tasks seem to be overwhelming. SMART goals are very useful when setting goals or resolutions or challenges (however you would like to phrase it – personally I prefer goals or challenges as they don’t tend to carry as much weight as resolutions) as they make us think about the goal and how to effectively action it. When setting goals, it always helps to write them down. This serves as a reminder of your objectives and holds you accountable to their realization. In this way, your goals start to exist and are no longer some random ideas floating in your head.
As mentioned, goals need to be specific. For example, getting fitter may translate into running 5 kilometres every day or doing 45 minutes of gym three times a week. One needs to detail the exact activities we intend on engaging in in order to increase your fitness levels. In doing this, it also highlights the necessary steps to ensure that you are able to achieve our objectives. Measurable goals tend to be easier to endure. By having a means to measure your progress, you often feel more positive, motivated, and often feel as though you are progressing. This leads to increased motivation and enthusiasm to continue with the activity.
Ensure that your goals are achievable. This means that you have the strength, time and any finances needed to carry out the goal. You are only setting yourself up for failure if you decide on a goal requiring time in the evening when you already have other commitments. This will only serve to place additional stress on you and lead to those feelings, often considered as negative, mentioned earlier on.
It is vital to be honest when considering your goals and what is realistic given your current constraints. It is unrealistic to aim for a month long tour of India when there are work, time or financial limitations obstructing your path to success. It may be more realistic to start planning for this trip by requesting leave for a set time period, working out a budget and beginning to save. Realistic goals mean they are more attainable and give you a sense of accomplishment once they have been reached. At these times, it is likely that feelings such as pride, competency, and happiness will rule thus leading to a greater self-esteem and well-being.
When setting goals, time is an important aspect to consider. Think of whether you are someone who prefers (or needs) immediate satisfaction or whether you are someone who is able to endure long periods of time before success. People in the former group may have to set short term challenges to reduce the chance of giving up or losing interest in the overall goal. These challenges should be linked to the overall goal but flexibility is often needed.
This is often an overlooked process. Through reflection, you gain insight into your actions, thoughts and feelings. You learn things about yourself as well as others around you. Explore what you did right and what went wrong on a particular task. Ask yourself those difficult questions and speak to people around you to gain insight into their opinions on the matter. This may assist you to make sense of your own judgements and feelings. Research demonstrates that written reflections are more powerful.
Critical reflection, where one would provide and question reasons for decisions or events while considering the broader historical, social and/or political context, is highly suggested. One part of reflection involves seeking alternatives and viewing things from different perspectives. This may include speaking to people you ordinarily would not speak to and researching a topic in more depth. It also includes becoming more honest about hidden parts of yourself, acknowledging them and accepting them (even if you do not like them).
Below are three points to get you reflecting, and maybe even thinking, more critically:
Analyse or challenge your assumptions. This may involve challenging beliefs, values, cultural practices and social structures in order to determine their influence on your daily life. When you challenge assumptions, you are challenging the way you see reality and the order of relationships. It is also well worth making a decision about whether you agree or disagree with these assumptions and want to work at changing them.
It is important to think about and be aware of how and when these assumptions have been created. Are their origins located in a social context or is it something that is more culturally ingrained?
Imagine a different way of being in your reality. Ask “what if…?” This provides you with an opportunity to challenge your prevailing ways of behaving, thinking and (definitely) feeling.
What you do with the discoveries made during or post reflection is up to you.
So this year, I encourage you to set goals; ones that are specific, realistic and relevant to your current life. Take some time to think about what you want to achieve before making a decision and setting a plan. Work on goals which will give you a greater sense of well-being, competency, achievement, enjoyment, purpose and gratitude. It’s a new year – opportunities are waiting for you.