One of the most common traditions associated with the new year is resolutions. Too often people fail at meeting their resolutions by the end of the year, and most fail before February ! Although you may plan out your goals and make consistent effort to reach them, it is not always enough. I’d like to introduce some psychology into the mix so you can finally reach your goals!
What stage of change are you in?
One of the most valuable things you can do before jumping into a goal is to understand where you may be cognitively towards goal setting. This is where the Stages of Change come in. This comes from a common therapy modality named Motivational Interviewing . Together we are going to assess which stage you are in is so you can adjust as needed before moving forward with what we call SMART goals.
The first stage is Precontemplation. If you are in this stage you probably haven’t even thought about setting a goal or making a change. I am assuming that most of you reading this article are not in this stage because you likely have a goal in mind. However, if you feel you may be in this stage I encourage you to reach out to a therapist to see how you can move past this.
The second stage is Contemplation. Many of us find ourselves in this stage during the new year. If you are in Contemplation you have a goal in mind and want to make it happen, but it can feel challenging or daunting to actually commit to the goal. For example, losing weight. You may really desire this and could have even created a plan. However, being stuck in this stage means you are fearful to go all in. In this stage it is imperative that you assess what may be keeping you stuck in this state. Maybe you feel you aren’t strong enough to do this or that you’ve tried to lose weight before, and it hasn’t worked. I invite you to explore the negatives of staying in this space and the potential positives of committing to your goal.
The third stage is Preparation. As we will discuss later in this article, someone in Preparation phase is building their SMART goals. You are planning when and how you can achieve your goals. You may even have involved others in your goal to be more successful. Although Preparation can sound good and is an essential stage of meeting your goal, it can become easy to delay change. You may be stuck in constant planning mode so that the actual first step of your plan never happens. Write down or explore with a therapist what taking that first action step would mean.
It may be advantageous to ask yourself “Am I really ready to change?”
The fourth stage is Action. As you can tell by the title, in this stage you are taking the tangible steps to reach your goal. These are steps outlined in your SMART goal. The Action stage can be frustrating as it is accompanied by both successes and failures. Identify individuals who can support you during these times. Reach out to a therapist, connect with friends or family, or hold yourself accountable by creating small rewards along the way. This is a challenging stage but can be so rewarding.
Imagine how good it will feel to get to this point!
The final stage that we are all hoping to get to is Maintenance. You are continuing to implement your goals for long-term success. How might your life be different if you are in this stage? Come back to this during times of frustration from earlier stages. Once you have identified which stage you are and are solidly in the Preparation stage we can focus on SMART goals.
Set SMART goals!
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. We will refer again to the example of losing weight as this is a common goal for a lot of individuals. You may start with a goal such as I want to lose 50 pounds by the end of the year. Although there are some aspects of SMART goals being used, this can be adjusted to make it more manageable. First step is be Specific. We could break down this goal even further to start small. Example, I want to lose 12 pounds by March. Already this is sounding more doable. Remember if the goal feels like too much continue to break it down.
Next we have Measurable. You need to have a way of tracking your progress. In this instance it’s fairly easy to measure yourself on a scale. However, what if you have a goal such as, “I want to feel stronger”, that’s not as simple? In that instance you may have to break it down to something like, “I want to increase the amount of weight I can lift by 10 pounds,” or “I will be able to go on a 5-mile hike.” Now you will know if you have completed this or not.
Third is Attainable. Is your goal actually achievable? For example, would 50 pounds be unhealthy for your body or have you tried losing 50 pounds before and you end up feeling discouraged before you get started? Again, break down the goal so it feels achievable. A good measure is to use a readiness scale.
Ask yourself, “From 0-10, how confident am I that I can reach this goal?”
If you find yourself answering 0-6, your goal is probably too difficult and you need to adjust it. If you answer 9 or 10 your goal is too easy and needs to be modified. The sweet spot is 7 or 8. This will give you the greatest chance of achieving your goal.
Being Realistic is our next measure. Not only does this goal need to be attainable, but is it realistic to what you are needing and wanting when it comes to your long-term goals? Say you have a goal of reading 20 books in a year when you actually hate reading. Sure, it may be good for you to read more, but it’s not something you can really see being very applicable in your life. Whereas maybe your goal to lose weight is very important because you want to improve your overall health.
If it is not something you are invested in, chances are you won’t accomplish it.
Finally, we have Timely. Simply put, do you have a time limit on your goal? A timely goal is to lose 50 pounds by the end of the year and/or lose 12 pounds by the end of March. A non-timely goal would be to lose 50 pounds. Without giving yourself a deadline, the sense of urgency is not there. Make it an achievable time limit but a time limit nonetheless.
Support yourself this year by setting your goals up for success.
Write them down, keep them where you can see them, and most importantly break down the goal as you need to. Small and consistent steps are more easily maintained than large and drastic steps.
Written by Aubrey Payne, LCSW