“A dream without a plan is just a wish.” –unknown
New Year’s is right around the corner, and with the change of the calendar comes a slew of media and advertisements centered on resolutions. According to Neilsen, (an organization that studies consumer trends and interests), common New Year’s goals include: losing weight, enjoying life “to the fullest,” spending less and saving more, and spending more time with loved ones. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t so effective at achieving these goals. According to one Neilsen poll, “43% of Americans say they plan to lose weight by making healthier food choices, but 76% said they did not follow a weight loss or diet program in 2014.” The gap between intention and action, especially when it comes to health-related behaviors, is glaring.
So how do we avoid setting ourselves up for failure?
In order to meet a goal, first let’s look at the characteristics of a healthy goal (remembering that redefining healthy as healthy-for-you is essential!):
- Think positive.
One way to make a healthy, achievable goal is to focus on adding the positive instead of removing the negative. For example, if you want to curb binge eating, you might focus on eating meals at regular intervals rather than cutting out many types of foods. If your goal is feel better about yourself, (perhaps by criticizing yourself less), you might focus on pursuing opportunities that help you define yourself in new ways or approaching difficult situations with more compassion and mindfulness.
- Talk it over.
Talk to someone – a friend, a trusted family member, a doctor or therapist or coach. These people can be a sounding-board to make sure that you are choosing a realistic goal having others who know about your goals also provides you with a support network and forces you to be more accountable.
- Choose a “SMART” goal.
This acronym is frequently used in goal setting. A SMART goal is:
Action-oriented, and achievable
Having a SMART goal means you have a specific goal, a plan to accomplish it, and a timetable in which to do it in. If you are recovering from an eating disorder, then you probably already know about the importance of these concepts.
Looking at some of the top ten American goals, some of these are not SMART. For example, “living life to the fullest” is a wonderful goal, but it’s also wonderfully vague. This goal could be clarified, and in a lot of different ways. Living life to the fullest could mean facing fears or trying something new each week, keeping track of things you’re thankful for in a gratitude journal, or finding specific ways each week to work towards whatever you value most.
To increase the likelihood of achieving your goal:
- Focus on the journey, not the endpoint.
Focusing solely on the destination that you haven’t yet reached will only lead to frustration and unhappiness. Instead, enjoy the journey and celebrate the little steps made each day. One way to celebrate is to create a positive rewards plan for accomplishments achieved on the way to a larger goal.
- Plan for obstacles.
It is inevitable – life happens and things will not always go smoothly. This is true of recovery from an eating disorder, and it’s true for many other kinds of change as well. The greatest achievers though, have considered in advance the potential obstacles to their goals and how they might handle them, leading them to be better equipped when something does arise. Flexibility is critical if, for example, your goal is not to skip meals and you wind up with a college schedule that has you in class from 12pm to 2pm each day. Rather than forsake the goal, contingencies could be created – eating lunch earlier than you’d prefer or having a mid-day snack and a late lunch. Or let’s say that your ambition for the year involves meeting a physical goal, like running a marathon. Weather might disrupt a marathon training plan, but some people have already thought about how they might deal with this situation instead of waiting until it occurs. They know how to switch around work outs, or do some other activity in place of running, while those with no plan may just abandon their goal that day.
- Remember the ‘why’.
Think about why you want this goal. What are the benefits of success? Remembering why helps with motivation. Write down these points and use them to help renew your commitment when the goal seems too difficult or you want to give up.
- Count your successes instead of your shortcomings.
According to Psychology Today, high achievers are motivated by accomplishments. Focus on what you are doing well and you will be well on your way to meeting your goals.
Happy and healthy New Year to all!