By Ndunge Marquardt, LPC
By this point in the year you may be making great strides toward your New Year’s resolutions, feeling frustrated that you haven’t made as much progress as you hoped, or struggling to remember what those resolutions were. Whether you identify with any of those or you avoid making New Year’s resolutions altogether, I want to offer a different way to think about goal-setting.
Goal-setting has many benefits, including creating a long-term vision, guiding actions and plans, providing focus and motivation, and increasing self-confidence. New Year’s resolutions, however, can often result in frustration, disappointment, and feelings of helplessness. One of the reasons for this is that people typically look at the New Year as a time to make drastic changes, often from scratch. This can be overwhelming and frequently sets people up for disappointment along the way. As you’ve probably learned in life, lasting change happens slowly, with intention, and in a step-by step fashion. It’s hard to get the body you want overnight, or to develop a new professional skill in a week.
I recommend starting by reflecting on the previous year. Ask yourself, What went well? What worked? What can I improve upon? It’s also important to ask what didn’t work well. What habits do I need to change? What barriers to health and wellness do I want to address in this next year? Starting with a reflection on the past year gives you a good starting point and can also help you remember that you already have some strengths and good habits that will help you as you work toward new goals.
Next, think holistically about the goals you want to set. This means considering goals for emotional, social/relational, spiritual, and professional wellness, in addition to physical goals. Emotional goals might include seeing a counselor or making self-care a priority. Social goals might include investing in a particular relationship or setting boundaries in others. After you set the goals, spend some time evaluating them. Some questions to consider are: What specific change do I want to see? How will I know when I’ve achieved this goal? Is this goal realistic? What’s the timeframe? Am I trying to tackle too much at once? It’s important to think about different areas of your life, but you don’t want to take on too much and end up feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and unable to invest well in any one area.
After you’ve established specific goals and determined the timeframe for accomplishing them, write them down. Writing them down on paper or creating a computer document will help you solidify them and gives you an easy reference for one of the later steps. The next step is to identify potential obstacles and develop ways to address them. Some obstacles might include scheduling, health issues, or resistance from others. Even though you can’t anticipate every challenge, taking some time to think and plan ahead will give you confidence when challenges arise.
One of the main reasons to write goals down is to have something to look at when you want to evaluate how the goals are working for you. Put a reminder on your calendar for every few months to spend some time looking at the list of goals and checking in on how you’re doing. This is an important step because goals are not just about the end result. There is beneficial growth and learning that takes place when you stop to reflect on what’s working and what’s not. It can be easy to feel discouraged if you’re not making the strides you want, but make an effort to use this as an opportunity to grow and remind yourself that change takes time. You might find that the goal you set wasn’t realistic or the timeframe wasn’t appropriate. These insights can help you refine not just the goals, but also your goal-setting skills.
Last, enlist support from trusted loved ones. Who in your life can you count on to encourage you in this journey? Ask them if they’d be open to hearing about some goals you’ve set and would be willing to help keep you accountable. You may also find it helpful to identify someone you admire in a particular goal area, such as someone farther along in the same career, and ask for tips. If you have any questions or want help with goal-setting, we’d love to help. It’s never too late in the year to start making the changes you want.