Filed under: Goals
Whatever you want to accomplish in 2017, those New Year’s resolutions are a good thing. Setting goals can help you achieve optimal performance. Use the tips below (based on recommendations from the American Psychological Association) to help you actually achieve those goals.
- One at a time. Trying to do everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time instead: Break your goals into pieces you can build on.
- Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You might be eager to get started, but begin with the more manageable goals and build up to the really challenging ones.
- Share. Talk about your goals and progress with your family and friends. They can be your biggest supporters. It might help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and it even might interest them enough to join you.
- Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to reach your goals. If you’re struggling with one aspect of a goal, seek out advice and support. You also can get help from HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills, with evidence-based information that can help you progress towards your goals.
- Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection is an ever-moving—if not impossible—target, so don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being your best, not perfect. If you make mistakes, recover and get back on track—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead, and you might find it brings your goals even closer.
For more information on how to become your best, check out HPRC’s Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.
Nearly 50% of adults set resolutions, but it can feel overwhelming to stay motivated to reach those big goals. Still, you can make things happen by focusing less on big life changes and more on forming daily, manageable, automated habits. For example, resolving to lose 50 pounds this year can feel daunting, but focusing on eating less and moving more might seem doable. Keep the following in mind as you create new habits.
- Connect habits to everyday situations. A habit is something you do every day without putting much thought into it. You can build new ones by leveraging or replacing habits you already have. For example, if you’re trying to increase daily steps, pack your sneakers when you pack your lunch—something you do every day—and commit to taking a walk before lunchtime.
- Repetition matters. It takes thought and intention to start something new, but the more you do it, the more automatic and effortless it gets. So take action regularly.
- Think and act like you’ve already succeeded. When you set future goals, train your mind “as if” you’ve already attained that goal. How would someone at a healthy weight think? What would he or she choose to eat? Putting future aspirations into present tense makes it easier to form daily habits that contribute to the goal.
- Practice compassion. It’s a myth that new habits take 21 days to form. The truth is they take much longer. In the process of “sticking with it,” you’ll likely experience some setbacks. Instead of marking setbacks as failures, be kind to yourself. But get back on track as soon as you can.
New Year’s Day is a great opportunity to mentally wipe the slate clean and plan new goals. But remember: What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. Work on small habits so you can reach your big goals.
Do you make a New Year’s resolution every year to “get in shape” and then approach year’s end dissatisfied? The problem might be that fitness is a long-term goal that’s hard to keep in focus. Goals that seem more in reach often feel more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race and can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably see the finish line as closer than it really is. However, runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate the distance to a finish line as farther than do runners who are fit and highly motivated. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and fuels effort towards achieving the goal.
That’s all well and good if you’re already out running that race, but sometimes getting off the couch is the hardest thing to do when you’re out of shape. And even if you want to get in shape, your poor fitness can affect whether you believe you can achieve your fitness goals.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape. Keep your eye on the prize! The “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or even be a post-race reward, such as a healthy post-workout smoothie.
Remember, some goals are harder to achieve than others, but you can stay the course by imagining what's coming, keeping the self-talk positive, and setting SMART goals along the way. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach. Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being closer, perform better, and—perhaps most important—don’t consider the exercise as difficult. So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you’ll have something motivating to look forward to.
Leaders conduct after action reviews (AAR) with Warfighters to provide feedback on mission and task performances in training and combat. Try doing the same at home, and conduct a “year-end review” of your personal goals.
- What was supposed to happen? Think back to the end of last year: What did you look forward to working on? Which goals—personal, social, academic, financial, physical, and otherwise—did you set? What about your expectations for staying on track with things?
- What actually happened? Based on the goals you set, take stock of how things went. Did you hit the mark? What progress did you make? Did any goals fall completely by the wayside?
- Evaluate “sustains and improves.” You might be tempted to assign a label of “success” or “failure” to each of your goals once you’ve compared where you wanted to be with where you actually ended up. Instead, think of goals as a constant work in progress. Devise a list of “sustains” to highlight strategies you used to help gain some ground on important goals, underscore what went well, and understand what got you there. Reflect on “improves” to balance the scale—by acknowledging shortcomings, deficits in motivation, or resources—and draw attention to ineffective strategies.
- What about next time? Put it all together and imagine what this coming year will look like. Which strategies will you adjust? How will you prioritize forgotten goals? Who can you reach out to for support? What resources can you leverage? What about new goals?
Remember: Intentional reflection drives purposeful action. Life is your most important mission. As the clock ticks down on this year, take a moment to evaluate what’s happened so that you can increase accountability, get focused, and feel energized for the New Year.
Turn small nutrition goals into healthy habits! A habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition. It’s an action associated with a cue that’s associated with a performance. For example, service members always cover their heads before stepping outside. The cue is “going outside,” and the action that follows is “putting on your cover.”
Once you form a habit, you do the action without thinking. And if you don’t do it, you likely will realize that something isn’t quite right. These same principles can be linked to changing healthy eating behaviors. So, use these tips to make a new “healthy eating habit.”
- Set a small goal. You might think, “I’ll eat an apple every day.”
- Plan a simple action you can do daily. You might think, “Every time I work out, I’ll eat an apple afterwards.”
- Choose a time and place to perform the action. You might think, “I’ll go to the gym every afternoon.”
- Do the action during the designated time. The cue is “working out,” and the action that follows is “eating an apple.”
- Write it down. Sometimes it helps to keep a written record while you’re working on a new goal. Doing so can help you track progress and celebrate successes.
It’s commonly thought that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. However, recent evidence suggests it actually takes 66 days to 10 weeks before the habit’s yours for good. Remember: It gets easier each day that you do it. Before long, you won’t be thinking about it at all. The more you tie your actions to cues and make the actions automatic, the easier it will be to include the habit into your daily life.
Still, you might experience setbacks along the way. Don’t get discouraged. Try again the next day. Take the time to make one new eating habit, which will give you confidence to make other healthy changes!
While it’s good to “think positive” when setting lofty goals, think about what might prevent you from actually getting there too. Imagining success should (and can) inspire you to put in the hard work needed to do well. However, dreaming of how things could be down the road might make them feel so tangible that you don’t do what’s needed to get there.
That’s why it’s more realistic to picture where you want to go along with what might be in your way. Then you can either decide that the goal is out of reach or plan to deal with the obstacles in order to succeed.
Here are four steps to help you overcome obstacles and reach your goals:
- Identify an important goal that’s challenging and achievable. For instance, maybe you’re aiming to improve your PFT score by 20%.
- What will it mean to accomplish your fitness goal? Maybe you picture yourself being more active with your family at home and then performing well on a mission.
- Consider what stands between you and your goal. You can still keep your eyes on the prize. But you need to recognize the obstacles. Maybe exercising in the dark makes you nervous, or you’re less organized, or even tired, so it feels like an uphill battle.
- Strengthen your awareness and face obstacles with an “if…then” plan. Here’s an example: “IF my fear of nighttime running creeps up, THEN I’ll put on my high-visibility clothing and stick to well-lit streets.” Here’s another: “IF I find myself disorganized and grasping for time, THEN I’ll walk around the block while planning my day.” Or how about: “IF I feel tired when I come home this evening, THEN I’ll take a short walk or jog and go to sleep right after.” If…then plans help you face your fears instead of hiding from them.
Try this four-step method to shift from just dreaming about important goals to tackling the obstacles along the path to accomplishing them. And you might find this works even better if you combine it with setting SMART goals.
To accomplish your New Year’s resolutions, really think about the obstacles you’ll face to make those changes happen. Resolutions often come with optimism, but then they tend to fade and become forgotten. Notice how many people are at the gym for the first few weeks of January, then later stop coming. One reason resolutions don’t work out is that people underestimate how hard it will be to maintain the changes. Believing that changes will be easy can initially fuel your motivation, but it also makes following through less likely.
If you want to experience the satisfaction of following through this year, consider the obstacles now. This way, you can picture what you need to do to overcome your obstacles and experience success.
Here’s an example: You want to get more fit. You could enthusiastically decide, “This is the year!” and join the masses of people who are no longer in the gym in February because you found out later that you “don’t have the time.” Or you can set SMART goals aimed at realities you deal with. This means envisioning the steps needed to overcome your obstacles, such as:
- I am working out 5 days per week!
- I know it’s a challenge after my kids are out of school, so I’ll ask my boss if I can arrive at work earlier so I can squeeze in a mid-day 45-minute workout later.
- On days when I can’t make it to work early, I’ll do some work from home in the evening after the kids are in bed.
- When worse comes to worst, I will jump rope and do push-ups and sit-ups after the kids’ bed time.
- When I have to, I’ll arrange play dates on weekends to get my workout in
Whatever your goals are, keep in mind that they’re easier to accomplish when they’re SMART goals:
It’s a well-established method for fitness-oriented goals—to lift a certain weight, cycle a century, or run a marathon in a certain amount of time—and it works equally well in other areas of life. Maybe you want to reach a specific rank at your job or finish college by a certain date. Goals aren’t just for dreaming big; they’re for achieving.
- think through exactly what you’re aiming for;
- determine if this goal is a good fit for you;
- measure and track your progress;
- use success-oriented language to think and talk about your goal; and
- break down the end goal into manageable steps.
Think of a goal that you’ve been working for lately or that you’re about to go after. How about all those New Year’s resolutions? Do you know why you want it? In other words, what’s your motivation? Do you simply love what you’re doing, or is there a reward you are pursuing?
Being clear about what motivates you can help fuel your motivation with intention. For example, if you’re a runner, maybe you love the feeling of pushing yourself hard with training runs. On the other hand, maybe it’s the end result—the accomplishment—associated with completing another marathon that’s the fuel to keep you going or even push you to the next level.
There isn’t one right form of motivation, and your motivators might be a mix of little steps and big outcomes. Remember to enjoy the steps along the way; they can make the experience more enjoyable. But sometimes remembering your ultimate goal can help you persist on days when you’re just not feeling it.
Often when you’re pursuing a goal, you’re part of a larger community, and you may find that just being involved is motivation itself because of the people you meet, the places you see, or the experiences you have along the way! It’s true what they say: The journey matters.
Whether on the playing field or on a mission, of course you want to succeed. Dreaming of positive outcomes can drive you to train hard. But you may have noticed that when you only focus on the outcome, you’re distracted from the important ingredients for success. Your successes will unfold more easily if you develop goals centered on what’s in your control rather than how you compare to others. Learn more about setting different kinds of goals in this HPRC article on sport psychology goals.