Set your goals wisely
Spring is a time when everything comes to life again. More sunlight, warmer temperatures, and longer days give us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose. Spring is the ultimate time to spring clean not just our homes. When spring comes, many people decide to transform their lives with positive changes. They want to get rid of an addiction. They want to eat healthier. Play sports, learn foreign languages, improve their personal relationships – the list goes on and on. Gyms and swimming pools are again full of people who decided it’s time to get off the couch and do something about their health. Just like at the beginning of the year, appointments with nutritionists, coaches, trainers or psychotherapists are booked solid. Some of those who have failed to stick to their New Year’s resolutions make another effort to achieve their goals. Yet after a few weeks, the group of those eager to change again becomes smaller and smaller, and plenty of people have a feeling of yet another failure in reaching their goals...
Why does it happen? A lot of us make mistakes right at the very beginning, when we set our goals – we set too many goals and the probability of their achievement is very low, given our circumstances and resources we have at our disposal. For example, a person who has plenty of time and money, and an army of helpers (dieticians, psychologists, personal coaches), will find it easier to lose weight or tone their body than a person who not only cannot afford professional and customised advisory services but is simply exhausted after a day at work or doing household chores. For such a person, even finding the time to take seemingly small activities, such as going for a walk or cooking a healthy meal rather than eating fast food, will require much more effort and determination. Which makes it even more commendable.
What can you do to improve your chances of reaching your goal? Divide it into smaller steps; ideally, ones that will allow you see the results in shorter time, provided you put in enough effort, of course. Each step in the right direction will help you build a habit of success if you learn how to notice and reward your wins, however insignificant they may seem.
Do not compare yourself to others!
Each of us is unique. We have different personalities, different bodies, predispositions, skills, beliefs and life experiences. Our personal, professional and financial circumstances also vary. You might want to take that into consideration as you are setting your goals!
It is worth getting inspiration from people who have achieved what you want to achieve, and take advantage of the best practices. However, before you start beating yourself up for failing to achieve what others have, stop for a moment and think – what were the circumstances of that person and what helped them? Think what you can use and who you can ask for support. Different people required different amounts of effort to attain the same result.
Do not compare yourself to others; instead, compare yourself to where you were one week or one year ago. Ambition and the willingness to keep up with the best helps only in some situations. Most often such comparisons are the source of lower self-esteem, a feeling of not being as good as others and of being weaker. As a result, it leads to even more mental block, demotivation and malaise. By thinking “I am pathetic because I haven’t achieved what others have”, you make it even harder for yourself to motivate yourself to take an action. Even the ones that you are actually able to complete.
A toxic mixture of guilt and shame
Psychologists have long known that the biggest barrier to success, getting rid of addictions or learning good habits is in ourselves. The mixture of guilt and shame, in particular, is extremely destructive. When you keep blaming yourself for failing to reach your goal, when your “inner critic” keeps calling you hurtful names, when you feel ashamed because you have only achieved a part of your goals, you are only reinforcing the habit of failure rather than motivating yourself! On the one hand, you start seeing yourself as a loser, on the other hand, you produce the fear of taking an action, because to you it means failure and stress. If you keep blaming yourself for failures or for not making enough progress, you deprive yourself of energy and self-confidence. And it’s hard to get motivated without those things...
As a result, it gets even more difficult to make the change you desire, and you are even more scared that you will fail to meet the expectations (particularly your own expectations!). You are less likely to give it a try, again and again. You give up faster – “why bother? I will fail anyway...”. Your belief that what you are doing makes sense and your self-esteem are getting lower and lower. And this is how you create your own “habit of failure”...
Celebrate even the smallest victories
Few of us are lucky to get enough motivating feedback at work and at home. So, we need to give it to ourselves so that we mobilise ourselves and keep on track.
Learn to notice your progress and celebrate even the smallest achievements. It increases your self-motivation and a sense of empowerment. It encourages you to stay on track and put in effort as you take your next steps.
Reward yourself not only for performance but also for the effort you put in it! Remember that it is not all up to you. It is often the case that the results are below your expectations, even though you did your best. If you do not recognise your efforts, it will be more and more difficult for you to achieve your goals.
My clients often tell me during our coaching sessions that they don’t know how to be happy about their successes and at the same time they are hard on themselves in case of a failure, or when they consider their achievements not significant enough. In the long run, such an approach takes away your joy of life and your sense of self-esteem. You end up living in constant fear of failure. You feel too weak or not good enough. It’s time to change it!
Building a sense of your worth and a habit of appreciating yourself for who you are is equally important for reaching your goals as self-control, diligence, determination or choosing the right methods, given your circumstances and personality.
There are hundreds of inspiring books on the market with tips on how to change your habits and reach your goals. There are two that I want to recommend to you in particular: “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It” by psychologist Kelly McGonigal.