Goal-setting is at its highest point around the first of the year. But all too often, the grind of our everyday routines distract us from reaching the finish line. Before we know it, days turn into months, in what seems like the blink of an eye, and we end up putting our dreams on hold until the countdown of a new year. According to a study by the University of Scranton and published in December in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 92 percent of people who set goals as New Year's resolutions fail to achieve them. I've been guilty of this myself, in the past, so I know just how frustrating it can be. But instead of staying stagnant and continuing to let my dreams fall by the wayside, I wanted to know the secrets of the 8 percent of those who do achieve their goals. I did some research on the habits of successful people and this is what I found.
1. Real change begins with a shift in mindset.
As a communication researcher, I love seeing what I call "the mindset movement". What most people refer to as a shift in mindset is actually derived from a combination of theories known as cognitive reframing, or looking differently at a person, situation, or relationship and intrapersonal communication or self-talk. Most people apply these concepts in the form of an affirmation, a short statement that offers encouragement and support. Using affirmations to replace negative thoughts with positivity is a great way to rearrange your thoughts. Changes in your mindset, even small ones, can be used over time to help you cope with problems, embrace change, and move you in the direction towards reaching your goals.
2. Get clear about what you want.
When setting a goal, it's important to understand what exactly you're working towards. For example, if you're looking to improve your love life, ask yourself some key questions like: Am I looking for a committed relationship or do I want companionship, instead? Am I ready for a long-term relationship or a close friendship? When you don't really know what you're looking for, then you may not recognize it once it shows up. Oftentimes, it's easier to identify what we don't want but we're unclear about what we do want. This is why it's important to seek clarity. Eliminate vagueness.
3. Make a plan & write it down.
I didn't always understand the importance of having a written plan but now I see it as a way to organize my ideas, and it serves as a tangible representation of my thoughts. I've also learned that it helps to have physical evidence of your goal. Vision boards, checklists, or daily planners work well for personal ideas. And business plans are usually required for aspiring entrepreneurs. While I've used this strategy in my romantic life by making a "bucket list" of what I want in a future partner, this idea can be extended to specify your goals, whether it's getting into shape, meditating, or writing a book.
The key to a great plan is to be specific, so try creating a plan that specifies when, where and how often you plan to work on your goal. Instead of just saying, "I want to work out," you could write something like, "I plan to work out at the gym for 30 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday of next week." Once you have it on your calendar, or somewhere you can see it, it's no longer an idea but something you are responsible for checking off your list.
4. Save money to fund your dream.
Whether it's a dream vacation or starting a new business venture, your goal will likely require some kind of cash flow. I like to use what I call the trade technique where you trade the money that you would usually spend on one monthly expense, for another. For example, if you are someone who subscribes to a monthly subscription box, manicures, or haircare, you'll use the money from those expenses to go towards your "vacation fund". It's not easy, but it's worth it knowing that your money is going towards something more valuable than acrylics.
5. Find a coach, mentor, or accountability partner.
These days, you can find a person for everything from financial advising to career planning. I, myself, work as a Breakup Coach so I recognize the value of having a checks and balances system in place. Not only do coaches hold you accountable and provide support, but we also seek to help our clients maximize their potential with positive feedback and practical strategies to reach their desired results.
6. Set small goals.
Experts suggest when you have a long-term goal, like writing a book, that it's best to break down your goals into more short-term ones. For example, if you want to be a writer, set a weekly goal for a certain number of words you'd like to write. This does two things: first, it creates a sense of immediate gratification because you've completed something you set out to do. Second, it coincides with the bigger picture of writing your book and gets you one step closer to your goal.
7. Celebrate success, no matter how small.
It's helpful to acknowledge the progress you're making towards your goals. Celebrating your accomplishments can remind you of how far you've come and motivate you to continue on. You can do this by cutting a deal with yourself. Decide if you do 'X' by 'Y' then you'll reward yourself with 'Z'. Take time to reflect on what you accomplished. A win is a win.
8. Send yourself a reminder.
Write yourself a letter (or an email) in the future and schedule it to send to yourself on a certain date. You can do this in one of two ways. First, you can write a letter to your future self to remind you of your goals and deadlines you set for yourself. It may even help you remember ideas that have slipped your mind. You can also write yourself a "love letter" just to check on yourself, love on yourself, and encourage yourself. Remember to be kind to your future self and remind yourself how proud you are of everything you have accomplished.
9. Take a break if you need to.Shutterstock
Burnout is a real thing so taking time to reset or tweak your original plan may be necessary. Just be sure that if you take a break, you establish a timeline for getting back to work. When I was going through my breakup, I gave myself a designated amount of time to cry. I decided that I could cry for a day, a whole day if I needed to, but then I'd pick myself back up the following day and get back to my routine. That doesn't mean I didn't cry again after that day, likewise, you may need another time to step away and reset again, but the important thing is to not allow your break to become permanent.
10. Stay the course.
Consistency. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear explains the importance of consistency and describes how breakthrough moments can change the trajectory of our goals. The moments leading up to the breakthrough are what the author calls the "plateau of latent potential." Clear uses the analogy of an ice cube to illustrate how shifts in temperature from 29 to 31 degrees seem to do nothing in terms of melting. But with the increase of just one more degree (to 32 degrees), the ice cube begins to melt.
Just as we can't see the inner workings of molecules in an ice cube, it's important to remember that while we may not always see the process working, that doesn't mean it's not. If you get a chance to read his book, I think you'll find it's packed with tips for successfully creating habits.
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