It can be a lot of fun to set goals. They make us feel empowered, like we are taking a giant step forward in life, taking a stand to do something in our own best interest.
But the day-to-day work toward reaching goals is not so easy. Life seems to get in the way and, before you know it, not only has the goal not been reached, but you may not recall exactly what you did toward meeting it. The result is frustration and disappointment, which can lead to beating up on yourself, as well as not feeling your best physically. The boost to self-esteem that goal-setting creates can then turn into a knock on your self-esteem.
In my experience, there are a few reasons why people don’t meet their goals. For one thing, their goals aren’t specific enough. They set goals like “eating better,” “getting more exercise,” or “having more friends.” Or their goals aren’t realistic, like “losing 20 pounds by spring (when it’s already March). Or they don't reallly know what to do to reach their goals.
So here are some ideas to consider when you set goals:
Set specific goals. Decide exactly what you want to accomplish and what that would look like. For example, not just having more friends but adding one new friend to your support network, not just losing weight but losing ten pounds.
Set goals that are realistic. You remember that phrase, one day at a time. You can also set smaller goals that are realistic for you. If you have a timeframe in mind, is it realistic? Do you have the finances to realize your goal? Are there factors outside of your control that you need to consider? Look at the potential constraints and consider modifying your goal. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals. And keep in mind that when you reach a goal you can always create a new one.
Make your goals action-oriented and positive. It’s always a good idea to write your goals someplace, and then refer to them. And when you do that, write them in a way that will be motivating, and not feel like you are scolding yourself. Rather than setting a goal like “stop sitting around so much,” write it as “get two hours of fun exercise each week.” Or, instead of “stop feeling so lonely and down in the dumps,” write your goal as “spend one evening each week with a supportive friend.”
Have a strategy in place. People often fail in reaching their goals because they never really thought through how part of their goal. What is it going to take, day by day, week by week, to reach your goal? For example, what are you going to do to have a healthier diet? What food choices are going to have to be made? Or what is it going to take to have a better social life? Who are you going to call, or where are you going to go to meet people?
Ask for help when you need it. You may find yourself spinning your wheels on the how to aspect of your goal setting. If so, is there someone who can give you some coaching? Somebody on your healthcare team? A friend who has been through a similar situation? Or do you need to get on the Web and do some research? The more thinking you do about your strategy for reaching the goals, the more likely you are to be successful.
Visualize success. And speaking of success, what does success look like? Take the time to create a clear picture in your mind of what success will look like. And then take time every day to sit with that vision in your mind. The more clear the vision is, the more likely your mind is to wrap around it and, subconsciously, find ways to achieve it. Don’t forget that your mind is working on helping you to get what you want even when you aren’t aware that it is. Why do you think we have dreams?
Watch your self-talk. If you find yourself wallowing in doubt and self-criticism, give yourself a pep talk, if not a stern talking to. Remind yourself that change is a process, that you are doing what you can, and that you need to be on your own side if you are going to reach your goal. How about a little compassion for yourself, along with some tough love?
Be ready to come up with a new strategy. Life sometimes gets in the way of our goals, and what we think we need to do to reach them. And sometimes we find that what we thought would help us to reach a goal isn’t going to work so well. It may be time to develop a new strategy. A setback is an opportunity to take a look at what’s not working, and to figure out what we may want to do instead. Again, this is a process. So be flexible!
Give yourself rewards along the way. A pat on the back is always nice but a reward is even nicer. Even the simplest things, like taking a break, having some fun for an evening, calling a friend to brag, spending a little money on yourself. Take time to celebrate yourself.
Enlist your support team. As I always say, don’t go through this alone. Letting people who care about you and can be supportive – and not critical – can give you an additional boost in reaching your goal. Your support team might also be able to help you by asking for some accountability, maybe an occasional check-in to let them know you are doing what you said you’d do.
Don’t let working toward your goals become an exercise in futility. Instead, develop powerful, achievable goals that you can live with, and that will help you to live better.
What’s working for you? Need some support? Let us know what’s going on with your goals!
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