New beginnings: making goals and keeping them

When I first started Coaching Ink, I collaborated with an amazing Melbourne based coach, Alex Kingsmill to write a few articles. One such article focused on goal setting and why New Years resolutions rarely lead to sustained behavioural change. As we are ramping up to the end of 2016 I though it was a good time to share this article with you. Enjoy x

Ever made a New Year’s resolution that didn’t come to fruition? Did you make one this year but feel like that very public declaration for a better you was a horrible mistake? You’re not alone!

So why do we continue to set ourselves up for failure year after year?  Part of the reason is we forget to set goals that connect to who we really are, goals that are aligned to our core values. In other words, we tend to get confused between what we really want to achieve and what we have been conditioned to believe is something we “should do”.

The most common goals during this time of year often relate to losing weight, getting fit or quitting smoking. They are all great goals that have the potential to generate positive health benefits. The problem is, often these goals are made because of external pressure: a family member made a passing comment about your weight; your best friend is training for a fun-run and keeps joking that you’re lazy; or the quit smoking ad made you feel guilty about your health. When this happens we can experience ambivalence between making a change and staying the same. Often this will result in a strong declaration for transformation but may lack any behavioural changes.

So how can you tell if you are a victim of external pressures and making goals that fail to motivate you personally? Try to tune into your self-talk. If you notice statements like “I should do x” or “I ought to do y” this could be a good sign that there may be external motivating factors.

There are also a number of practical ways to discover your own internal values, motivation and personal goals:

Create a values register: A good way to discover how well you’re currently meeting your internal values is through a values register. Write down your top five values, these could be things like emotional connection, financial stability, and meaningful contribution then rate each one according to how well you are currently meeting that value. For any that are not being met the way you would like, consider one or two ways in which you can boost that rating.

Write a letter from your future self: By using your imagination to create a future self you can discover areas in your life that may need attention and change. Pick a time in the future, perhaps 5 or 10 years away and write to yourself from that perspective. Imagine who you are at that time and ask yourself what does life look like? What do you see, feel and experience? What does your future self want to tell your current self? Once the letter is written consider what values appear and what seems to be of most importance? Is your current self on the right path or does something need to change?

Get SMART: By setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed, you’re likely to boost your chances of success.

Focus on Process: While it’s important to know what you want as an end result, research around goal theory suggests that process goals are also important. When developing goals, we tend to focus on final outcomes: I will lose 5kgs by May, for example. The difficulty here is that the end result is so far away; it can be hard to stay focused. To increase your chance of success, chunk down your bigger goals into more motivating and attainable process goals: I will eat from a smaller plate to make my meal seem bigger; I will walk the dog three times a week; I will add salad to all my sandwiches.

Reframe! Sometimes goals just need a bit of a tweak to make them fit better with who you really are. You might be keen to improve your fitness, for example, but training for a fun-run with your best friend just doesn’t motivate you. Instead, your aim might be to get fit enough to play tennis with your friends or kick the footy with your kids.

Get support: Having someone to hold you accountable to your goals are important to successful goal attainment. Ideally this person should be able to balance encouragement and motivation for the end result but also question times when you have slipped back into old habits.

Finally, a qualified coach can help you identify the goals you really want to achieve, make a motivating plan of action and hold you accountable to stay on track.