Have you stopped going to the gym yet? If you made goals or resolutions for the new year in 2022, odds are that you’re losing steam by now. Don’t give up yet! With a few powerful tweaks and considerations, you can increase your likelihood for success. Take a look at your goals and ask yourself these seven questions:
1. Did I pick just one thing to change?
It’s tempting to want to overhaul a bunch of things at once – drink less alcohol, exercise more, read more books, get better sleep, drink more water, start keeping a journal…..there are many ways we fantasize about becoming “the best version” of ourselves.
The thing is – our brains and our bodies are mostly adverse to change. By and large, our whole system is designed to:
Seek the path of least resistance
Stick with the known (avoid the unknown)
This means that if you are going to change something and you want it to stick, you’ll have the most success by approaching it in a way that won’t immensely agitate your system. If we change one thing at a time, we give our bodies and minds a chance to adjust and recalibrate to a new normal.
Reflect on all the change that we faced AT ONCE when the pandemic started – wearing masks, using sanitizer, staying home, avoiding public spaces, limited social interaction, no travel, online everything, drastic change in school/work life. So many things all at once and yep…our bodies and minds went a little haywire.
Slow and steady change offers you the best chance for long-term sustainability. Start with just one goal first and give it your all.
2. Did I make it a short-term goal?
Our internal reward systems are really not that sophisticated. The idea of working away at something for a whole year can feel impressively uninspiring. We thrive most on quick feedback about our efforts and we love to see quick success.
Let’s say I made one goal: I want to read more this year.
What if instead I shorten it to: I plan to read 3 books a month for the first 2 months of the year.
That short term goal does not feel burdensome at all. In fact, it feels a bit like a little challenge I can muster a burst of energy for. It’s not something I need to sustain for 12 long months. I'm more motivated to push for it.
3. Did I tie it to my values?
The most powerful way to stay motivated for change is by connecting your plan to your values. Meaning...you’ll want to have a goal that you care a lot about rather than something you feel you “should” change or that others want you to work on. Some examples:
I value learning ---> goal for reading more books
I value my physical health ---> goal for daily movement
I value time with loved ones ---> goal for hosting a game night once a month
I value being clear-headed and energetic ---> goal to increase my days of sobriety
Research indicates that when we choose to frame our goals as connected to (and manifestations of) our deeper values, we sustain motivation even when it gets challenging.
Pro tip: continue to mentally repeat the value connection to yourself. “I’m getting up early to exercise because I value feeling strong in my body.”
4. Did I remove barriers?
Because change is hard for us to do, you’ll need to put a little forethought into any potential barriers that could stand in your way. In fact, you might have already noticed some of these in the last several weeks since January 1! Identify all barriers that you have control of and make a plan to manage them.
What might get in the way of my efforts with this goal?
Is there anything I can do or not do to make it easier for myself?
Do I have all the tools & materials I need?
Do I have buy-in from other people?
Do I have encouragement or accountability to keep me focused?
Have I decided when I will do it and set aside the time?
Have I set reminders so I don’t forget?
What other possible stumbling blocks can I control and manage?
5. Did I break my goal into small enough steps?
Often when goals and plans are abandoned, it’s because the goal itself was too large to begin with. The surest way to success is to start with a step that's a small stretch but not too big of a reach.
For example, going from 0 days exercising to 5 days a week exercising might be too large a jump. But starting small by going from 0 days to 2 days can feel like a reasonable stretch without being a ginormous effort you want to quit.
We are motivated by feelings of accomplishment, not feelings of failure. It’s easy to abandon a goal if we don’t make that first big leap we committed to. Start smaller with a goal that you can guarantee yourself to attain.
6. Did I give myself wiggle room?
Another factor that leads people to abandon their goals is the expectation of perfect compliance. As soon as there is faltering, the goal gets abandoned completely. For example: you make a commitment to 31 days of meditation in January, but as soon as you miss just 1 day, the whole goal goes in the trash.
Give yourself some breathing room. Any progress is good progress. An expectation of perfection stands in opposition of progress. It creates ineffective pressure and contributes to goal abandonment.
Focus on counting any positive steps you make and let them stand alone. Self-compassion and encouragement for your efforts on a new goal will go a lot further than expecting perfection and berating yourself if you don’t pull it off.
7. Did I trust bad data?
One last thing – a note about habit formation. There is no scientific amount of time it takes a human to create a new habit. It absolutely depends. You can easily find a ton of “theories” online about habit formation taking 14 days, 28 days, 3 months, etc. It's easy to feel defeated if it's taking you longer to do something than Google promised it would.
Please know that it takes however long it takes based on a multitude of factors, including (but not limited to):
how big and hard the change is for you - it’s much easier to start a habit of drinking a glass of water each morning than a new habit to wake up at 5am and do an hour-long walk outside.
whether or not you make it easier to make the change - by having accountability, a rewards system, pairing it with something you already do, removing barriers to successful implementation, etc.
your individual personality – some people are simply more prone to creating and adapting to new routines quickly.
how much it matters to you – if I need to have a new habit of being on time to work so I don’t get fired, that is likely to change very quickly (high stakes), whereas a new habit to write in my journal each morning might not stick as easily (low stakes).
Life is hard in 2022. The last two years have been grueling. We have lost an enormous amount of control and sense of certainty about our daily lives. Setting personal goals can be strikingly empowering and grounding if you do them thoughtfully.
When we feel unable to control the trajectory of the big world around us, we can feel empowered by creating purposeful change for ourselves.
A client and I were recently discussing the benefit of “choosing change on purpose.” We acknowledged the confidence we can feel in an unsteady world when we intentionally decide over and over to take control of the changes we personally choose make in our lives.
Don’t abandon your 2022 goals yet….just give them a quick look and a reboot if it’s called for!