It’s the beginning of another New Year. For many people, this is a time for New Year’s Resolutions. You may be planning to get fitter, spend more time with friends, or learn a new hobby. But sticking to these plans is easier said than done, so what can we do to improve our chances?
Goal-setting is an evidence-based way of helping you make the changes that you want to make, and to achieve the things that you want to achieve. Goal-setting is not only a useful method of achieving New Year’s resolutions, but it is also an important part of cognitive-behavioural therapy and is therefore an important tool for improving mental health.
So how can we improve our chances of sticking to the goals that we set?
One method of improving our goal-setting is to follow the SMART method. This method of goal-setting adds structure and measurability to your goals, meaning you’re more likely to stick to the plans that you set. SMART is an acronym which stands for:
Specific: Goals which are too broad can often feel overwhelming and difficult to achieve, so it’s important to think carefully about how to make your goals more specific. For example, rather than setting the goal of ‘exercising more’, try making a specific plan, such as ‘to run for 20 minutes each day.’
Measureable: Another important aspect of successful goal-setting is to make your goals measurable. When goals are measurable, it is clear when you have achieved them. For example, rather than setting the goal of ‘speaking to friends more’, it might be better to set the goal of ‘ringing one friend each day’. Seeing that you have achieved a goal is great motivation for achieving other goals as well.
Achievable: Crucially, your goals must be achievable. Failing to achieve your goals can be disheartening and there is little point in setting a goal that you will not be able to achieve. One way of making goals more achievable is to break them down into smaller parts. For example, rather than setting the goal ‘to run a marathon’, it would be better to first set a smaller goal, such as ‘to run 3km every day for two weeks’, and then another goal, such as ‘to run 5km every day for three weeks’, and so on.
Relevant: It is important that your goals are relevant to you. Sometimes people may set goals for other people, rather than themselves, or set goals which are not directly related to what they want to achieve. Think carefully about why you have set the goal and if you don’t think its relevant to you, consider changing the goal to something else.
Timed: Setting a timeframe for your goal can be invaluable in helping you to achieve it. If the timeframe is long, think carefully about whether it would be helpful to break the goal into smaller chunks.
In summary, the SMART framework is a useful method of increasing your ability to meet your goals by helping you to create a clear picture of what you want to achieve and by improving your motivation for achieving it.
Other tips for goal-setting
As well as the SMART framework, there are a few other tips that many people find increases their chances of sticking to their goals.
First, when setting goals it is important to try to frame them in a positive way (e.g. to run more regularly) rather than a negative way (e.g. to lose 5kg). Thinking about what you want to strive towards, or achieve, rather than cut out, or lose, increases your motivation for sticking to your goals.
Second, writing your goals down can make them easier to follow and achieve. Try writing your goals down and placing them somewhere visible, such as on your desk. Seeing your goals written down will serve as a useful reminder for what you want to achieve.
Third, make a plan for what you will do if an obstacle gets in the way of your goals. For example, what if you were trying to be healthier and your friend asks if you’d like to go for some fast food? Deciding in advance that you will decline the offer but suggest doing an activity together instead, will mean that plans are less likely to be derailed.
Overall, it’s important to remember that goal-setting is a skill like any other and you need to practice in order to get better. So don’t be put off if you’re struggling to meet your goals and don’t beat yourself up. Instead, review your goals against the SMART framework above, be patient, and try again.
If you feel you need help identifying and achieving goals, a professional therapist may be able to help you. Click here for more information.
Writer for Cognitive Practice