The new year has begun, and you’ve started the mantra: 2015 will be my year. You’ve reflected on the past twelve months and have resolved to make changes in your life. But how do you make sure you get past January before giving up?
The Science of Goal Setting
In an article on TED, writer Nadia Goodman interviews Kelly McGonigal, psychologist at Stanford and TED speaker, about how to work with your brain in setting and achieving goals. Setting goals is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. In order to make it work, you first have to pick a goal that will mean something to you once fulfilled.
McGonigal says to think about what you want and ask yourself why you want it. Not just one time, but keep asking why. “For example, if you want to quit smoking, ask why do you want to quit? Then, if you want to quit for your health, ask why do you want good health? Then, if your answer is to be alive long enough to meet your grandchildren, ask why do you want to meet your grandchildren.” This exercise gets at the core of why setting the goal is important for you in the first place.
Another tip is to take small steps and focus on each of those steps without worrying about the result. This can help keep things in perspective. Oftentimes we set goals that are attainable, but we’re so focused on what that result will look like that we overlook opportunities to move in the right direction. McGonigal says, “small changes can pave the way for bigger changes.”
In an article on the American Psychological Association (APA) website, psychologist Lyn Bufka, Ph.D. says “It is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”
The APA provides several tips that can give those small changes more meaning. They recommend only making changes to one behavior at a time. While you may want to have “a new you” for the new year, focusing on one component of your life will be more manageable. Talk about your goals. By sharing your experiences with family and friends, your goal becomes more concrete. It also leads into another tip, which is to ask for support. When your family and friends know what your goals are, they are more able to help you achieve them. And finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail or falter. Every small achievement is a step in the right direction, and berating yourself will not make things better.
Need more help? Time magazine published a list of specific (and scientific) tips that can help.
- Start day matters. If Monday starts your work week, have it start your resolution, too. That way you can keep track of your progress the same as you would a work week.
- Don’t improvise. Figure out your plan and write it down. You’re more likely to keep it than if you wing it.
- Backup plans give you an out. An out that you don’t want if you’re looking to achieve your goal.
- Even over odd numbers. Focus on an even number to achieve your goal. Your brain might trick you into thinking this arbitrary number is meaningful. (Walk two times a week instead of three.)
- Double or nothing. Hate losing money? You might be more inclined to stick to your goal if it’s going to cost you.
- Piece by piece. Break down larger goals into bite sized pieces and check those bad boys off your list!
- Use willpower wisely. Kind of like the “choose your battle” mantra. If you save your willpower for the big fights, you’ll be better equipped to win them.