By Amelia Powelson, PsyD
It’s February! Is this cold weather making you feel unmotivated? Have your New Year’s resolutions gone out the window? It’s that time of year when no one wants to go outside and everything feels like it takes more effort. That resolution to drink less, exercise more, put in the extra hours at work, stay on top of your schoolwork, or improve your relationship starts to seem less and less attainable. We continuously tell ourselves we’ll start next week or find ways to rationalize that it’s not that important. However, what is important is to not lose sight of your resolutions as you go throughout the year. You created them for a reason, right?
Many things get in the way of us making changes. Are you procrastinating? Feeling unmotivated? We often wait for the motivation to get started on our goals, but rarely does the motivation come to us while we’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix. The motivation comes from taking steps and seeing success. That’s why getting started is the hardest part. In order to get yourself started, create structure for yourself. Pick a specific day or time to start working on your goals. Put it in your calendar or set an alarm. Adding structure helps you stay on track.
Developing unhealthy habits or getting into a rut is much easier than making changes to get rid of the habit. The first step towards that change is to turn those resolutions into goals. We often look at resolutions in terms of absolutes that must be accomplished immediately, whereas goals are something that you work towards over time. It’s much easier to make gradual changes than a quick change overnight. You’re also more likely to have lasting results.
When creating goals, there are several important things to keep in mind. A great way to think of your goals is as “SMART.” These are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-restricted goals. Creating goals from this perspective helps us find a starting point and to stay on track. Broad goals such as eating healthy or losing weight give us little direction. They also seem daunting. We don’t know where to start and ultimately procrastinate. It’s best to think of that as your overarching goal, but then break it down into small baby steps.
Here is what to keep in mind when creating your SMART goal.
- Specific: Ask yourself what concrete steps you need to take to reach this goal. Break each of those steps down into small baby steps. This helps you find a starting point. If your goal is to lose weight, you may think of exercising. However, take that a step further, what type of exercise will you do and where will you do it?
- Measurable: Quantify your goals. Measurable isn’t about success. It’s about tracking. Focus on the logistics: how often you’re going to do something (or for how long), not the result. For instance, going to the gym two times a week. This piece is important because it helps us stay on track. Your goal may be something you work on for a long time, so taking note of your progress each day or week can help you stay motivated.
- Attainable: Small goals are attainable goals. If your goal is to work-out every day and then life gets in the way and you miss a day, you’re likely to get discouraged and view yourself as a failure. To avoid this, you want to start small by doing something one or two times a week. Sometimes it’s a matter of cutting back – not eliminating everything at once. For example, with smoking you may cut back from five cigarettes a day to three a day. Then as you master that, you gradually make it more difficult for yourself. When you reach these small goals, you’ll find yourself motivated to add more small goals that work towards your overarching goals.
- Relevant: Why did you set this goal? Are you worried about your health? Do you want a promotion at work? Figuring out why this specific goal is important to you is helpful because caring about it is going to motivate you. If it’s not something you want or find value in, you’re not going to push yourself as much. We want goals that align with what we truly want. Does it fit with your priorities and values?
- Time-restricted: You may have a hard deadline through school or work, but if not, think of a realistic time frame for when you want to accomplish things and set deadlines. Where would you like to be in one week or one month? If your goal is a lifestyle change, it may be a constant in your life moving forward, but you still want deadlines that focus on your progress. This allows you to have times to celebrate success and is a way to keep yourself motivated.
Another reason it’s important to start with small simple goals is because although it may be something you want, it may feel like it’s impossible to reach the overarching goal. Fearing you’re not capable of accomplishing something is a huge barrier. Since we’re our own worst critics, we rarely give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Completing goals may be a lot of work, but it is rewarding. The more we accomplish, the better we feel. That’s why crossing those small goals off your lists has such a high payoff.
Keep in mind that progress is not a straight line. Everyone has ups and downs, and getting side-tracked while working towards your goals is inevitable at times. Rather than focusing on how you didn’t follow through, focus on how you can get back on track. Keeping a positive attitude is a key point. Also realize that your best is going to look different each day. Due to many internal and external factors, you may not be able to do what you did the day or week before. Focus on giving what you can.
No one is perfect, and there is always the opportunity to learn and improve. That’s why it’s never too late to create goals for yourself, and no matter what you set out to do, making your goals SMART can help you reach them.
If you need help figuring out your goals or getting started, consider reaching out to a therapist Encircle.