As you enter the New Year, you may be tempted to create glorious and idyllic goals for yourself for 2021. Maybe you are thinking about losing weight, writing that book, or starting that company you have been dreaming about for a while. Whatever your goals are for 2021, certain factors can increase and decrease the likelihood of your achieving your resolutions in 2021. Many of us have already experienced the guilt, embarrassment, and even shame that come from setting a grandiose goal only to abandon it after a few weeks or months. Achieving goals and changing habits is difficult, and it requires time and energy.
Why Do Most Goals Fail?
Researchers have uncovered two main reasons why we fail to achieve our goals. The first reason is that we may not have a comprehensive understanding of the work required to achieve our goals. For example, losing weight sounds simple enough. However, when you break down the goal of losing weight, it requires a significant amount of effort in many areas. Losing weight requires you to reduce calories, increase consumption of healthy foods, drink more water, and exercise regularly.
When these behaviors are broken down on a daily basis, a significant amount of intention and effort will be given to this goal. When we oversimplify the amount of energy and effort it will take to achieve a goal, we are more likely to not achieve the goal we set out.
The second reason why we struggle with achieving our goals is that our attention shifts from our outcome or reward to the effort it is going to take to achieve our goals. Let’s use the same example of losing weight as your goal; when you set that as your goal you are motivated by the outcome or the reward of losing weight. The focus on losing weight is what initially motivates you to set your goal. However, after some effort and time are put into reducing caloric intake, exercise, eating healthier foods, and drinking more water, your focus shifts from the outcome of losing weight to the work it takes to lose the weight.
When our focus is on the effort and energy it takes to achieve our goal instead of the outcome, we are more vulnerable to becoming discouraged and unmotivated, and we tend to give up on our goals.
Factors That Increase Success in Goal Achievement
It can be really tempting to set a large life goal at the beginning of a new year. If you have done that before without much success, you are not alone. It is important to understand that failing at your goals can be an important part of achieving your goals in the future. Failure is an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and to refocus our efforts in more successful and effective ways. Our mindset and the way we think about ourselves and our goals play a major role in our ability to achieve our goals and attain the outcomes we are striving for. Intentionally engaging in healthy ways of thinking is important when you are experiencing difficulty and low motivation during the change process. Healthy cognitions (ways of thinking) that can increase your likelihood of achieving your New Year’s resolutions are listed below.
Focus Your Attention on the Desired Reward
Directing your attention to your desired outcome, or the reward of your goal, can help you feel motivated throughout the change process. It will feel impossible at times to stick to your diet or to put on your gym shoes and go for your run. During these moments, it is important to redirect your attention to the reward you are trying to gain instead of the work it is going to take to get there.
Be Flexible in Your Thinking, Accept Mishaps Along the Way, and Do Not Personalize Mistakes
Engaging in change is hard. so it is important to recognize that your best effort looks different each day. Some days you may be able to adhere to your specific diet, and other days you may slip up and eat that cookie you’ve been eying on the counter. Accept that you ate the cookie without personalizing it as something wrong with you; progress is slow, and change doesn’t occur in a straight line.
Let Go of “All or Nothing” Ways of Thinking and Behaving
If you happen to eat that cookie we spoke about, it can be tempting to just throw caution to the wind and indulge in the chips, soda, and candy that you have stashed in the pantry. When you have a slip up, try to remind yourself that it is part of the process of change; it does not mean that you have failed at achieving your goal. Many times we find that the one slip up along our journey can cause us to go overboard because we adopt a belief that “I’ve already screwed up so I might as well go all in.” It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have a slip up (which is to be expected) and still stay on track toward your goal.
Be Patient With Yourself
It is no secret that setting and achieving goals is challenging. Be patient and tolerant with yourself throughout the process to help you maintain a healthy level of motivation. The process isn’t going to be perfect, and you will make mistakes along the way. Embrace those mistakes as a normal occurrence and leave it at that. You can do hard things.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.