New Year, New Goals — Maybe
The New Year’s celebrations have come and gone. You’ve made your resolutions or you feel vaguely guilty that you didn’t. After all, that’s what the new year is all about, isn’t it? We’re supposed to take stock and set new goals for the coming year. Never mind that most people break those resolutions within about 48 hours. Never mind that breaking them leaves us with a sense that we’ve failed ourselves and perhaps someone else yet again.
Why do so many people’s good intentions fall flat? New research on goal-setting gives us some answers. Not surprisingly, all goals are not good ones. Not all goals actually motivate people. And not all goals get us where we really want to go.
If you’ve repeatedly set goals that don’t work for you, you might gain some insight by considering these possibilities:
Is the goal threatening?
Let’s say you want to finally lose the 25 pounds you’ve gained over the last five years. Or maybe you want to finally start a savings account by putting 10 percent of your salary into the bank. Just thinking about the goal makes you anxious. You wonder if you can do it. You don’t really believe you can. You are careful not to tell anyone else about the goal because you don’t want the humiliation of admitting that, yes, you once again failed. A goal that threatens our sense of competence and self-discipline is a goal that is sure to fail.
Does the goal seem too hard?
We’re told we are supposed to “aim high;” that goals by definition are something we haven’t yet achieved and need to work toward. But it’s one thing to try to stretch our limits. It’s another thing to set ourselves up to snap them. Goals that are helpful are goals that people see as a reasonable challenge, not as a setup for failure. Maybe it’s more realistic, for example, to set the goal of losing 5 pounds in the next month by making healthier choices instead of shooting for losing all your extra weight. Maybe it’s more realistic to put a few dollars a day in a piggy bank for a few weeks before you make that auto-deposit in your savings account. Once you feel even a little successful, you are more likely to re-up for doing more.
Is the goal going to limit your thinking?