Filed under: 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.
When you set lofty goals, it’s exciting to envision lofty results. This should (and can) inspire you to put in the hard work needed to accomplish these goals. But indulging in fantasies of how things could be down the road might make them feel so tangible that you don’t do what’s necessary to get there.
A more realistic approach is to picture not only where you want to go but also the obstacles that might prevent you from actually getting there. You’ll either decide that the goal is out of reach, or you’ll make plans to deal with the obstacles in order to get to where you want to go.
Here are some steps to help you overcome obstacles and reach your goals:
First, identify an important goal that you think you can actually achieve, but one that’s still a bit of a challenge. For instance, maybe you’re aiming to improve your APFT score by 20%.
Next, think what it will really mean to you when you accomplish your fitness goal. Maybe you picture yourself being more active with your family at home and then performing well during a mission to succeed and protect others.
Then consider where you are now and think about what stands between you and your goal. You can still keep your eyes on the prize. But you need to honestly recognize the obstacles. Maybe exercising in the dark makes you nervous, or you’re less organized than you could be, or you’re tired from not getting regular sleep, so it feels like an uphill battle.
Finally, strengthen your awareness and face the 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.
This four-step method can help you shift from just dreaming about important goals to tackling obstacles on the path to accomplishing them. And you may find this works even better if you combine it with other techniques such as setting SMART goals.
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.
Have you ever wondered how different people’s perceptions of the same thing can be so drastically different? Take exercise, for example. You know it’s good for you, and most people should be doing more of it. Yet when asked, some people will say they love to exercise, while others see it as an overwhelming and impossible task. Our perceptions say a lot about what we value, how we’re feeling, and what we desire, which in turn affects motivations, actions, and even physical performance.
You probably find that the goals that seem more in reach are more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than the ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race, and you can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably estimate that the finish line is closer to you than it really is. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and effort towards achieving these goals.
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. Runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate distance to a finish line as being farther than do runners who are fit and more highly motivated. So even if you want to get in shape, sometimes your poor fitness can affect your perception of being able to achieve your fitness goals.
While negative perceptions might make it harder to get in shape, this doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape just because you’re less fit. Keep your eye on the prize! Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being nearer and actually perform better; most importantly, they don’t consider the exercise as difficult.
So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you will have something to look forward to. This “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; it could be the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or it could 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 is coming and keeping the self-talk positive. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach.
Facing your fears with confidence looks easy in the movies. In reality, though, we often feel confident after we face the things that scare us. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a new form of “mindfulness” skills-based counseling that has been shaking up traditional therapy and self-help. With ACT, you face the hard stuff and then feel less anxious (not the other way around). ACT can help people move forward—both those with diagnoses and those dealing with more generalized anxiety. ACT teaches us that we can DARE to face our FEARs.
“FEAR” keeps us stuck:
- Fusion is about letting thoughts rule behaviors (such as “I can’t do it”).
- Extreme goals mean chasing impossible ideas (such as aiming to do a triathlon when you can’t run five miles yet and don’t have time to train).
- Avoiding discomfort is waiting till the time “feels right” before you start moving forward.
- Removed from values means you aren’t identifying what’s really important to you.
But we can “DARE” to move forward:
- Defuse. Allow yourself to take thoughts less seriously; they’re just thoughts, not facts.
- Accept discomfort. Let uncomfortable feelings exist while still doing what’s important.
- Realistic goals. Set out to do things that are within your control (such as running three miles today and four by next week).
- Embrace values. Ask yourself big-picture questions about what’s really important to you, and let your answers drive your behavior (such as “I finish what I start”).
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.
There is a structured technique to setting goals called “SMART.” It stands for “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Relevant, and Time-sensitive.” Using the SMART technique can help you to jump in to a goal now, fuel your motivation, and help you follow through. Check out HPRC’s Answer “Set SMART goals” to learn how you can put this method to work for you.
If you’re looking to get healthier, stronger, more energetic, or less injury-prone, setting goals can help you achieve this type of optimal performance. Use the American Psychological Association’s five tips for “Making your New Year's resolutions stick“ regardless of the time of the year.
- 1. One at a time. Doing everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time by breaking your goals into pieces to build on.
- 2. Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You may be eager to get started on your performance goals, but start with manageable goals and build up to the more challenging ones.
- 3. Share. Talk about your goals and progress with family and friends, as they can be your biggest supporters. It may also help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish and might interest them enough to join you.
- 4. Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to achieve your goals. If you know you are struggling with one aspect of your goal, the best thing to do is seek out advice and support. Use resources such as HPRC's Mind Tactics to get accurate information that can help you progress towards your goals.
- 5. Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection, if not impossible, is an ever-moving target. Don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being at your best, not achieving perfection. How you recover from mistakes matters—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead and get back to your goals.
For more information on how to become the best that you can be, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies: Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.
The USDA’s SuperTracker is an interactive, online tool that will help you set personal fitness goals as well as log and track your exercise habits and progress. Create a personal profile to manage your weight, record your fitness activities, and keep a food diary. SuperTracker offers tips, support, and detailed feedback to keep you on a healthy path in 2013 and beyond. Start the New Year off on the right foot—and then the left foot, and then the right foot again!