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Do New Year’s resolutions really work?

New Year's Resolution

Experience the feel-good factor of creating achievable goals

We’ve all done it – we’ve all set an outlandish New Year’s resolution that we could only keep for a few days, weeks or even a few months, before either breaking it, or forgetting about it altogether.

In this article, we’re going to explore the psychology of goal setting and how it’s possible to achieve real change by setting more achievable goals.

Work with the experts at goal setting

A large part of therapy is about accurately identifying behaviours and their root source, and then working with our clients to determine how they want their life to be and how to make change happen. If you think about it, goal setting is at the heart of what we do day-in, day-out. Our approach is simply a lot more in-depth and is tailored to all the individual quirks and nuances of a person’s unique psyche.

How we see goals

Defining a series of goals is generally quite easy for most people to do, most of the time. It’s fairly easy to see a stunning new car roll down the street and think “that’s the car I’d like to buy one day.” Many people are also good at creating goals that are more behavioural in nature – “I’d like to be happier next year.”

However goals, in and of themselves, can also simply be nice future-oriented stories that we tell ourselves from time to time, in a momentary act of self-soothing. If you don’t think beyond the goal and how you can make it happen in your day-to-day reality, it can remain forever in a future that never comes to pass, a picture in your imagination.

Goals are important, but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to achieving what we want.

Exploring obstacles to goals, is where it’s at

Having a generalised goal of, say for example, wanting to lose weight this year, offers a good starting point. However, in therapy we like to explore why you haven’t achieved this goal – especially in relation to goals you’ve tried to achieve in the past but have experienced some level of failure each time you try.

By mapping out obstacles to achieving this goal, we’re able to help you focus on changing the self-defeating patterns that have prevented you from making progress during past attempts.

In fact, you can ask yourself, right now, in relation to a goal you’ve found difficult to achieve – why haven’t I been able to do this in the past? At what point does it all go wrong?

These obstacles can be psychological in nature. Take for example, a young lady who is having difficulty losing weight. She might think it’s because she lacks discipline. However, in reality, she may fear intimacy with her partner. Or she may not want to be ‘seen’ because it would provoke unwanted attention or teasing by the men in her family of origin, or it once provoked jealousy in the women surrounding her while she was growing up. As we can see, she was unnecessarily hard on herself for lacking discipline, when the real reason thwarting success, was something entirely different.

Sometimes the psychological obstacles we face in life are completely unknown to us and are buried deeply within the subconscious mind. Often, they are childhood fears and don’t make sense to our rational, adult minds. Creating goals on your own can and does work, however, you can attain success much quicker when you work with a professional who can easily see things that may be hidden from your view.

Step 1 to setting achievable goals – be honest

Being completely honest with yourself is a vital first step when it comes to creating goals. This in no way means being hard on yourself, beating yourself up, berating yourself or being overly critical of yourself in any way, shape or form. It means finding some time and space in which you can compassionately be real about what’s not working and recognise places where you know change is needed – or even, recognise that you have no idea what the obstacles might be. If that’s the case, simply saying to yourself you’re willing to find out what the obstacles are and you’re willing to work on them, is a step in the right direction.

Step 2 – create goals that feature specifics

Saying you’d like to lose weight, or that you want to have a better relationship with your children, for example, isn’t going to be enough. In the example of wanting a better relationship with your children, what does that look like in the real world? Does it mean you get to work an hour earlier, so you can help put them to bed each night? Does it mean reducing lifestyle expenditure so you can work part-time, and/or from home?

In the example of wanting to lose weight, does it mean eliminating one type of food from your diet, like red meat? Does it mean getting off the bus one stop early, so you can build a 15 minute walk into the first part of your working day? Goals that feature specifics, in terms of real world actions, or that feature measurable factors, are key to bringing about real change.

Adding in specifics is also a way of committing to your goals, another critical factor in success. At the clinic, we find that many of our clients have come to view their weekly sessions as another form of commitment to their personal growth and development. Even while clients are travelling, they’ll still check-in with us via skype, as a way of committing to their goals.

Step 3 – predict your motivational levels and stay connected to your goal

While creating goals in Step 2, it’s really important to consider your motivational levels. What do we mean by this? Well, studies have shown that motivation levels change over the days, weeks and months. At the start of the year, just after we’ve experienced the great indulgence of Christmas, it’s very easy to say “I’ll never touch another glass of wine/chocolate truffle again” – especially if you indulged quite a bit! Motivation levels are high after certain extremes. However, what are your motivation levels like during other states that will crop up during the year – like boredom, fatigue or stress.

The goals you create in Step 2 need to be formed in conjunction with knowledge of your unique motivation levels as they vary throughout the year. This is critical in enabling you to stay connected with your goal, even when external and internal factors make it challenging.

We’ve helped countless individuals transform their lives and experience real change that lasts. If you would like to discuss how we can help, then please do contact us for a confidential chat.