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Jennifer Lauretti, PhD, APBB
Given that losing weight is one of the top New Year’s resolutions, I thought it would be fun to continue to write about goal setting and New Year’s resolutions using weight loss as our guide.
In the previous post, I mentioned that 92% of people who set New Year’s resolutions fail to achieve them. Needless to say, this statistic does not provide much hope for future success – or does it? Maybe a better question to ask is what did the 8% of people who achieved their goal do to be successful.
When you set a goal, how clear are you with regard to the details? Most people set a goal by saying something along the lines of “I want to lose weight”, “I want to get fit” or “I want to eat healthier.” While identifying what you would like to accomplish in a general sense is a good start (many people struggle to name and claim what they want) – it is insufficient to achieving your goal(s). Being too vague is one of the top reasons why people fail. What if you said, I want to lose 20 lbs. – is that clear? It is definitely clear, but we can do better. If you said, I want to lose 20 lbs. by March 15th – that is more specific and clear. The challenge here is that identifying what you would like to do, is only part of the equation.
Your Powerful Why
While setting a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic & time-oriented) goal is certainly part of successfully achieving goals, many people jump to identifying WHAT they want to accomplish without first getting abundantly clear about WHY they want to accomplish their goal / why it is important to them. There is a science to goal setting. Recent research supports getting clear about the meaning and purpose of your goal for your life; this clarity will serve as a foundation for your goal. Let’s take losing weight for example. As we’ve mentioned, being specific about the exact amount of weight you would like to lose and when you would like to accomplish this goal is crucial. What is missing from that equation is why you want to lose weight. If we think about behavior as serving a function or a purpose, it is important for us to connect to what we would like to accomplish and why that is important in our lives now. Without understanding why we are doing what we are doing, and connecting it to the core part of ourselves that gets us fired up to do things we often don’t want to do, it will be very hard to sustain the behaviors necessary to achieve our goals. For example, think of a time in your life that you didn’t want to do something, but you knew you had to do it. While I love my profession and feel honored to work with wonderful colleagues, I can tell you that there are some days that I would much rather sleep in and have a relaxing day. In New England (where I live) in the winter, there are many days I would rather stay in a nice, warm cozy house rather than go out and brave the snow and freezing cold temperatures. But, despite feeling a certain way (unmotivated) I drag myself out of bed, get on with my day and head to work. Why? Other than a paycheck, I find myself thinking about my colleagues and the people who are counting on me to show up, be present and do my best work. It is important to me that I honor my commitments. Integrity is a core value that powerfully motivates me. Therefore, it is important to me that I honor my commitment to my colleagues, the people I am scheduled to meet with who are counting on me, and most importantly myself. In the weight loss example, connecting wanting to lose weight with why it is important to you is a critical and often overlooked first step.
Regardless of your specific goal, questions you should ask yourself:
- Why is this important to me?
- Why now?
- How do I imagine my life will be different?
- How will achieving this goal benefit me/my loved ones?
Interestingly, you might be asking yourself – why is asking WHY an important step in setting effective goals? We’d be curious to hear your thoughts about the importance of getting clear on what is commonly referred to as “your powerful why.” The key word is your powerful why. So many of us set goals based on other’s expectations. The challenge with external expectations and extrinsic rewards is that they are less powerful because they are often less meaningful to us. When we can tap into what is deeply meaningful to us, it can be incredibly energizing. Our powerful why has the ability to propel us forward and revitalize us when (not if) the going gets tough.
You might be thinking, these questions are ridiculous; I don’t have time to do that! If so, try it out and see if this exercise helps you. Only you will know whether or not this step is important for you. The alternative is to do more of the same and possibly achieve results similar to what you’ve achieved in the past. The key will be to find a way to keep your powerful why present in the forefront of your mind. Some people use screensavers, sticky notes, images on their phone, etc. to remind themselves daily of why what they set out to accomplish is important to them.
When it comes to weight loss, there is a good news/bad news scenario depending upon how you view it. Losing weight is insanely hard. It requires hard work, perseverance, willpower, and an inner drive to keep going. For some, just reading that sentence would be enough to discourage them from even trying. For others, they would read that sentence and immediately think – I’m up for the challenge! Did you notice your reaction? Which camp are you in? When you read the sentence describing the level of difficulty regarding losing weight, did you feel discouraged or challenged? Your reaction might give you a clue regarding whether or not you’ll find yourself in the 8% of people who achieve their New Year’s resolutions.
Some of the best predictors of success involve managing our emotions. Do you have grit? How determined are you to achieving your goal(s)? These factors combined with the ability to problem-solve and overcome obstacles will significantly impact whether or not you achieve what you set out to accomplish.
For example, with our losing 20 lbs. over the course of 3 months example, let’s look at a common scenario. Unexpectedly, you suffer a minor injury and your workout routine is interrupted. You twist your ankle, you need to use crutches and you aren’t able to walk for an extended period or run for 2 weeks. What do you do? How do you respond? How you answer this question will determine your success.
In our experience, a majority of people get very frustrated and discouraged, get off their routine and have a very difficult time getting back on track after they recover. Many people give up and lose sight of their goal. In this example, the people who give up focus on the injury as the reason why they got off track, when in reality it is their ability to manage their emotions (in this case frustration and disappointment), problem solve (plan for the 2 week recovery period) and move on.
Set a Timeframe
You may be familiar with the concept of reverse engineering. It is a process whereby you identify a longer-term goal and work backwards to accomplish it.
If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail.
It is important to note, setting a date to identify when you plan to accomplish your goal, is another example of a necessary yet insufficient condition to successful goal setting. It is important to create a detailed plan clearly identifying when will you accomplish your goal in combination with what specific actions you will take on a monthly, weekly & daily basis that will enable you to make progress toward achieving your goal.
Identify WHAT you need to do within a timeline to achieve your goal. Hint: Many people overlook the daily habits necessary to achieve their goals.
An additional step in effective goal setting is to think about potential obstacles that might impede your ability to achieve your goal and create a plan for addressing those obstacles. Identifying obstacles is a commonly overlooked part of effective goal setting. It is important to think about when things go wrong rather than if things go wrong, in an effort to proactively problem-solve. In the weight loss example, if you know that Friday nights are “pizza nights” at your house, this could be a potential barrier to achieving your goal. Creating a plan and communicating the plan to your loved ones is one example of a potentially challenging situation that is proactively addressed. Only you can decide the details of the plan, but a common compromise might be to have a large salad included with the pizza order and eat a smaller portion of pizza. An alternative might be to refrain from eating pizza by eating another food item but still joining the family for dinner. The details aren’t as important as the process of anticipating common obstacles and creating a plan that suits you/your unique situation.
If you set a goal without a clear plan, you may want to reconsider your goal. Is it realistic? Is it too overwhelming? On a scale from 1-5 (1 = lowest; 5 = highest / most motivated) ask yourself how ready, willing and able am I to move forward and take specific actions to achieve my goal(s)? What is getting in the way?
Publicly declaring your goal(s) and connecting to a support person who can be an accountability partner is a wonderful way to stay connected and on track with you achieving your goal(s).
The 8% of people who successfully achieved their New Year’s resolutions did so by moving forward with absolute clarity, conviction and an unwavering commitment to overcoming obstacles and accomplishing their goal(s).
Ask yourself – Are you interested in achieving your goal or are you committed to achieving your goal?
If so, what’s your plan? Please post your responses here in the comments or on our Facebook page. Together, let’s be part of the 8% who accomplishes our New Year’s resolutions!