You may recall from earlier this year that I hate New Year's resolutions. In an unexpected turn of events, I'm finding myself setting resolutions for 2020. Except, I'm calling them "goals", and they have nothing to do with the fact it's the beginning of the year. This is all just poor timing on my part. Ha.
In this post, I'm going to share some backstory on my change of tune, some tips I've recently learned from others, and a document to get you brainstorming.
Over the past month or so, my inability to set and achieve goals organically became the topic of conversation in many therapy sessions. This conversation all started by me saying some variation of "I don't understand how people decide to do things, then just do them" on multiple occasions and a morning at the gym that ended in tears (if I'm being honest, it started in tears and just didn't get better from there).
It didn't take long to come to the conclusion that I had been going about this whole goal-setting thing the completely wrong way. Although I've used SMART goals in a work setting, I had never really applied those concepts to personal goals. Then came a realization that most goals I had ever set were actually just the tasks I needed to complete to reach the goal - this was a mind-blowing concept for me. Lastly, there are more outcomes to your goal than simply succeeding or failing.
For a quick refresh on SMART goals with a financial example:
S - Specific: Increase my savings by $1,000 by July
M - Measurable: Amount in savings can be measured by checking your banking app regularly
A - Attainable: Setting aside an additional $150 a month for 7 months fits in your budget
R - Relevant: This addition to your savings will help pay for a long vacation next year
T - Timebound: There are 7 months from the beginning of the year to meet your goal
While out of town for the holidays, I've had some time - thank you, 4.5-hour flight and parents that live in the middle of nowhere - to stew on some of the ideas I've discussed with my therapist and put together this list of tips that may help you with your goal-setting.
1: Tasks aren't goals.
Until recently I set goals like "Go to the gym 3 times per week" or "Walk at least 8,000 steps each day". I never realized that these weren't actually goals but the actions I needed to take to reach my goals. The goal I should've been working toward was "Lose 1 pound per week for 3 months".
Differentiating the overarching goal from the tasks needed to achieve the goal makes more room to try to different approaches and stick with your goal. When confusing the task for the goal, I was prone to give up the moment I went to the gym two times instead of 3. Now I know that I have options for how to reach my goal.
2: Start with your values.
A lot of my goals have started with ideas of what I should doing. That doesn't really set you up for success. Instead, make sure your goals relate to your core values - time with loved ones, a healthy lifestyle, or chasing your career, for example.
Starting with your values helps you stay committed by aligning with things you definitely care about. For example, I'm not likely to set a career-oriented goal for the year because climbing the corporate ladder isn't a priority for me. Yes, I want to do well at my job and move up, but funneling a ton of energy there will take time and effort away from things that are more important to me.
3: One setback doesn't mean you failed.
I'm notorious for giving up on something as soon as I "fail" - like trying to eat healthier then having a doughnut at the office the next morning. That doesn't mean you should give up completely. Some days are easy, and some are a lot harder. The good thing is you can start fresh the next day.
4: Everything isn't black and white.
This may just be a "me problem", but if something I attempt doesn't turn out perfectly, it's an abject failure. When it's time to evaluate your progress against your goal, being 85% there is a whooole lot better than the 0% you started from. At that point, it's important to say "Hey, I did a good job and accomplished a lot!" and learn what you can improve upon next time.
5: Leave room for compassion for yourself.
You're probably starting to see a theme here based on the last two tips.
Things happen. Priorities change. Just because a goal is attainable or relevant when you set it doesn't mean it will be a month, 6 months, or a year from then. If you bail on a goal because it no longer serves you, that's a-ok. That doesn't mean you're a failure or you deserve to beat yourself up about it.
6: Get creative.
Think outside of your typical goals or resolutions. Losing weight is a pretty common goal - one that I'm setting for myself this year, actually (yay for pants that fit again!) - but stating it as "Lose X pounds by the end of the year" is kind of boring and discouraging if it's one you haven't been able to meet before. Rethinking how to verbalize the same goal in a new way will get you re-energized! I think I'm going to go with being able to fit back into my favorite bathing suit by summer. We'll see how it goes!