Since 60% of us have already trashed our New Year’s resolutions for 2013, today seems like a good time to talk about goal-setting. Ugh. Yuck. Groan. Reject inertia, and let’s get started!
First, let’s discuss why most people fail to reach their goals. Failure, or what I call “delayed success”, occurs when people make a dream, which they confuse as a goal. Allow me to explain. Anyone can state what they want. “I want to lose weight”, “I’d really like to go to Alaska”, “I wish I could go back to school”, “I hope I can get a new car”. With those words and no plan, these are just dreams, not goals.
Over the years, I’ve heard every excuse in the world why someone can’t—or won’t—do something. Sometimes individuals have conflicted goals. By that I mean that the person’s stated goal conflicts with his or her behavior. For example, I once worked with families 7 days a week, never taking a day off. Although I love what I do, I knew I would burn out if it kept going, and I would lament that “I’d really like to have one day off to relax and recharge.” My husband looked at me and in his matter-of-fact engineer voice told me that “my behavior undermined my goal.” At first I defended my workaholic behavior, wearing it as a badge of honor, retorting, “I want to help these families! They need me.” Then I thought about it. I had to practice what I preach by setting goals and boundaries for my time. Within three months, I had all of my families scheduled within the 6 day timeframe.
There are patterns for successfully achieving your goals, and they include the following 7 action items, in no particular order:
1. Eliminate Self-Limiting Self-Talk
Listen to the voices in your head. Most of the time we are telling ourselves horrible things that defeat us, sometimes before we even begin. We often talk to ourselves in negative terms, which our brains cannot process as easily as affirmative terms. For example, if I tell you to “sit down”, you will plop yourself in your chair. Yet if I tell you “don’t stand up”, you have to think about it, even if just for a nanosecond. Telling yourself, “I will eat fruit”, is much more effective than telling yourself “Don’t eat sugar.”
Your brain laser-focuses on goals that are clearly stated. Get rid of these terms when setting goals:
• I’ll try
• I want
• I hope
• I wish
• I’d like (to)
These are all excuses for future failure. Think about the last time you told yourself “I’ll try not to eat that ice cream.” I know you ate it. Why? Because the brain cannot effectively use wishy-washy commands like these. How do you measure “trying”? You can’t. Sorry fellow teachers.
Replace the above commands to yourself with the following:
• I will
• I will not
“Do or do not. There is no try” -Yoda.
2. Create measurable objectives with subgoals and target dates.
Here are three examples, taken from my life.
• I will read 15,600 pages by December 31, 2013.
I will read for 30 or more minutes 5 or more times each week.
• I will lose 7 pounds by May 1, 2013.
I will work out at gym at least 5 times per week.
I will meditate for 15 minutes at least 4 times per week.
I will eliminate processed or genetically-modified foods from my diet.
I will plan my meals in advance.
• I will finish Level 3 of Rosetta Stone by June 30, 2013.
I will complete at least 3 lessons per week.
I will close my office door and post a “do not disturb sign” on the doorknob.
Notice how these are measurable and have termination/assessment dates.
3. Write it all down. Put them in a journal. Post them on sticky-notes throughout the house, on your laptop, on your iPad. Use a virtual sticky note on your phone. Post it to Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, etc.
4. Create a mantra. A mantra is a simple set of words that positively reinforce your belief in yourself, even on days when you really don’t believe in yourself. Say it out loud at least 3 times every morning and evening. I post mine on a sticky note on the mirror in my bathroom. “I am a patient and loving person.”
Here are some sample mantras that some of my clients have used:
• “I am loving and deserve love.”
• “I am an honor roll student.”
• “I am a happy, open-minded individual.”
• “I am successful and deserve to be happy.”
• “I am joy.”
5. Stick with your goals for at least 9 weeks before changing or giving up. 9 consistent weeks. If you skip a week, the clock starts over. Keep a calendar, indicating the start date.
6. Share your goals with at least one supportive person. There will be days when you don’t feel like working on your goals, and we all need a little boost from time to time. That said, shield your goals from negative-minded people in your life. These people have their own baggage and usually use excuses for their own failures to set up roadblocks for you.
7. Replace a negative activity with a positive activity. In order to achieve a goal, we replace a negative behavior with a positive behavior. For example, instead of watching NCIS for the 103rd time, I use that time to read my book. Instead of sleeping in and feeling groggy all morning, I schedule early morning workout classes at the gym. Instead of spending money on spontaneous lunches and dinners every day, I plan my lunches and dinners for the next few days.
So, as you revisit your goals, establish new goals, and develop your plan, remember to honor your commitment to yourself. Make it a successful year!