Helping people to achieve their goals is my business. So, it stands to reason that I also teach people how to set goals they can truly achieve. If I allow a client to pursue an unattainable goal and she fails, that’s not her fault. It’s my job to make sure she is set up for success.
We humans are so hard on ourselves. I guess the desire to constantly improve is one of the qualities that make us human, but the flipside of that virtue is like (new reference) the Black Swan…..obsessively driven, to the point of self-destruction. Oftentimes our well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions morph into another excuse to beat ourselves up. Like we need more.
Every January, there are a plethora of articles and blog entries floating around, spouting “New Year, New You!” and “How to Set Realistic Goals.” They all say the same thing and seem to repeat every year, don’t they? I used to think this was annoying and unoriginal, but this year it occurred to me that maybe they are necessary. Maybe we humans don’t pick up on a good message the first ten times around. I know I am constantly re-learning the same lessons, conking myself on the head like I could’ve had a V-8 (old reference).
This is why I decided it was okay to write my own Resolution blog. But I’m going to forego the typical “goal setting” guidelines in favor of a more heady approach. Please use the comment box to add anything you think I left out.
1. Never underestimate the power of language.
Your mind is hyper-sensitive and incredibly powerful. It will take the tiniest kernel of an idea and spin it into a sticky web of negativity that rules your every action. If you set a goal like “This year I resolve not to eat so much damn ice cream,” you are making two major mistakes:
First of all, you have left your mind way too much room to rationalize, to define and re-define (what exactly is too much?), and ultimately convince yourself you didn’t do a good enough job. Try to be more specific, but more importantly, try to use language that is positive and doesn’t imply something negative about yourself.
Secondly, when you set a goal not to do something, you create a void. What will you do instead of eating ice cream? Try rephrasing that same goal like this: “This year, I resolve to discover three new, healthier dessert options that I really enjoy.” Or maybe, “This year, I will designate one day per month as the day when I can eat ice cream, and on that day, I will eat a whole frickin’ pint of that shit.”
See, now you’ve incorporated all those other goal-setting techniques (make it measurable, make it specific), but the bigger message here is that you’re setting a positive goal. A goal for what you will do instead of what you will not do. Only give your brain affirmative, positive nuggets to chew on. You’ll find that adherence to a clearly defined, positive goal is much easier than striving for some vague idea of perfection.
2. Be honest with yourself.
Every year, before I write down my resolutions, I review the previous year’s goals and evaluate how I did. One in particular stood out from 2010: “Go to Europe.” This has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I was fully planning on doing it last year until I met Matthew and everything changed. But that was in October 2009. In January 2010, I already knew that I would be moving to Asheville. “Change your entire life, relocate, learn to live in a whole new way….” not one of my resolutions. Yet that is the big accomplishment of 2010, is it not? Why would I set a large travel goal when I knew that all my savings would be put toward the move? And why would I think it would be healthy to leave the country for an extended period of time while still trying to settle in and adjust to my new home?
Okay, hindsight’s 20/20, but the point is that if I had taken a moment to honestly consider the year ahead, I would have made a very different resolution. One that I could look back on and say, “Yup, did that one.”
3. Make a fun one.
In 2009 I decided to see every Oscar-worthy movie before the Oscars. It was the year of Heath Ledger’s Joker, No Country for Old Men, The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire, so I picked a good one. This had all the markings of a “good” goal – specific, measurable, time-sensitive – but it was also really enjoyable, and it allowed me to do something I’ve never been able to do before: watch the Oscars and actually be engaged. It also had absolutely nothing to do with improving myself as a person.
I advise everyone to include one goal that is completely frivolous. “Save up for and buy that pair of boots I’ve been eyeing,” or “Finish reading my Vanity Fair before the next one arrives.” You will still benefit from the feeling of accomplishment that comes when you achieve your goals, and this is a healthy thing. Success is addictive, and you’ll want to see what else you can achieve.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Negative self-talk is running rampant these days. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it, but we are definitely our own worst critics. This year, when setting your resolutions, take a moment to listen to the thoughts in your head. Are you thinking, “Awesome! I’m totally going to do this and it’s going to be great,” or “Yeah, whatever. Only eating ice cream once a month? I’ll never be able to do that because I have no willpower and am a fat-ass?”
If it’s the latter, try imagining if you overheard someone talking to your best friend that way. Or better yet, imagine what you would do if someone in real life spoke to you that way.
Your thoughts are just thoughts. There are good ones and bad ones and they mostly repeat themselves over and over again until you cut them off. They are not reality. Reality is the puddle you just stepped in because you were listening so intently to the voices in your head.
Don’t take yourself so seriously. Life is not supposed to be miserable.
5. Tell somebody.
If you make your resolutions public, you are more likely to follow through. (You are also more likely to set some reasonable goals, because a good friend will tell you if you’re being ridiculous). You will be motivated not to let your friends and family down, and this can be very powerful. Share your plans for the year with those close to you, and encourage them to do the same. Maybe you can even make a resolution to help your friend stick to their resolutions. It’s always easier to do things when you have help.
To that end, I will share one of my resolutions with you. I intend to post two blog entries per week, and now that you all know that, I will be extra motivated to make that happen.
Good luck everyone, and Happy New Year!