Many people that I talk to have lots of goals and changes they want to make. They will often spend hours talking about these things with friends and family or their own therapist. And they will spend more time writing them down and planning for them, but when it comes time to actually make the changes they remain stuck. We all get easily caught up in finding the "perfect time" because we tell ourselves that "we really want to do this right" or "we don't want to fail again". Instead of focusing on our goal or the value in making the changes, we tend to fall into the perfectionism trap because if our goals are perfect, how can we miss, right? So, we make our goals bigger and better. We say we will start on Monday. We say we will start at the beginning of the month. We say that we need to wait until we finally get that promotion or our friend can join in with us, or it's exactly 71 degrees on a sunny day and you're feeling like it. Inevitably we can't start making changes because our parameters around change never meet our unrealistic requirements or we do start, but the bar is set too high and we find ourselves failing again. Most people repeat this pattern for most of the year and become increasingly frustrated and hopeless until January 1st.
For most people around the world January 1st is the holy grail of changes and possibility. It's the ultimate fresh start. Why start your new goals on an ordinary Monday when you could do it on the first day of the year? We take painstaking time going and buying the perfect journal and pen to write out our new goals because we aren't going to mess this up again! We keep our same goals, but make them even better. After all, this is the first of the year. We need to be serious this time! So we set our grand goals, ring in the new year and wait for change to find us. What could go wrong?
Chances are that a lot of this probably sounds familiar. Some people never start these changes because the new year can feel exhausting and overwhelming. Others do start and make it a few weeks or even months before they find their goals fizzling out. This goal making process can feel endless, repetitive, defeating and frustrating. The majority of people come to the conclusion that they are the failure. They start to believe that they are the problem, that they can't elicit positive change and that there is something inherently wrong with them. But what if their goals are failing them instead?
We often fail to set appropriate and realistic goals. We are so hungry for change that we decide we need to do it all at once or perfectly and we can't start or sustain progress. We place too much emphasis on magical thinking or attach too many rules to our goals (such as starting on a certain day of the week, exercising everyday without fail, etc) and we can never keep up. It's helpful for us to look at our goals individually and make them smarter. People who use SMART goals tend to see results that are much more sustainable and feel greater success.
What are SMART goals?
-Specific: The more specific we make our goals, the greater chance we have of achieving them. There's a big difference between saying "I want to save a lot more money" versus "I want to put $100 a month into savings". See the difference? Clarifying what we want can make the goal feel much more manageable and helps us understand what we are actually trying to do. It's helpful to ask yourself the following:
-What do you want to achieve exactly?
-Where? How? When? With whom?
-Measurable: How will you know when you've reached your goal? If your goal is to "run more 3 days a week with a friend", what does it mean to "run more"? It's crucial to get out of the never ending hamster wheel of having a goal. We need to see and feel progress and giving ourselves concrete evidence and breaking it down helps. "Running more" is not concrete evidence, increasing your mileage by a certain amount each week or running a 5K in four months would be more effective as it is measurable.”
-Attainable: Is your goal actually attainable? Can you invest the time and money needed? Do you have adequate resources? This is where people often get stuck because they don't have what they need to make effective change. If you want to go back to school, but don't have enough money saved or can't find time with a busy work schedule, this goal might not be attainable.
-Relevant: How is this goal relevant to you? Why are you doing this? If our goals don't fit in with our values, it's hard to feel invested. If your goal is to read more books, but you dislike reading for pleasure and are feeling pressure to read more because your friends do, this goal is going to feel much harder and probably won't be achievable.
-Timely: How much time do you actually need? Making goals timely requires some balance as we don't want to be too stringent (running a 5k in 3 weeks with little running experience) or too flexible (running a 5k someday). Having a deadline can help us stay on track and not get lost in our goals.
SMART goals can be extremely helpful in giving us a head start, but they also won't work unless YOU do. Writing goals down and having accountability can help keep you on track. And remember, the best part about goal setting is that you can start any time! Sure, January 1st feels good, but it's also a lot of pressure. Taking the expectation of perfection out of the equation frees us up to make the changes we need in order to have a healthier, more peaceful life.