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New Year Resolutions – setting goals you can reach

New Year Resolutions – setting goals you can reach – As we are coming towards the end of 2023 our mind may be turning towards 2024 and the start of the new year. Often the new year is a time when we start to make promises to ourselves to make changes in our lives, whether it be to lose weight and get fit, cut down on drinking or smoking or take up a new hobby, the new year heralds new commitments to doing something differently.

The idea of starting new plans on January the first can be seductive. I don’t know about you, but I often tell myself that this time it will be different, this time I will just do it, this time I will make the change. Speaking personally, I have a sense of energy, movement and motivation and a belief that this time I really will make the change.

What normally happens is that the good intentions fade quite quickly as more often than not I give myself too big a challenge. For instance I am going to walk 15000 steps a day, go to the gym 3 times a week, eat perfectly and lose a stone in a month. All of this alongside my usual daily tasks and challenges. I am easily sidetracked and thrown off course because I am not doing what I set out to do perfectly and I feel like a failure pretty quickly.

Studies show that setting goals for ourselves can be beneficial. According to Locke and Latham (1990) who are leaders in goal-setting theory.

goals not only affect behavior as well as job performance, but they also help mobilize energy which leads to a higher effort overall. Higher effort leads to an increase in persistent effort.

Goals help motivate us to develop strategies that will enable us to perform at the required goal level.

Accomplishing the goal can either lead to satisfaction and further motivation or frustration and lower motivation if the goal is not accomplished.”

Having goals and wanting to make changes is not a bad thing, so why do new years resolutions so often fail? Below are some ideas of where we trip up and what we could do instead.

We start too big – we identify something that we want to change within ourselves and we decide that the whole thing needs to be changed, often too quickly, leading us to feeling overwhelmed.

Instead of trying to make a massive change such as give up drinking, stop smoking, lose three stone. It can be helpful to think about what smaller changes need to be made to achieve those things and then pick one of them and stick to it.

For instance, you want to lose three stone or seven pounds (the amount doesn’t matter). What are the small things you will need to change in your daily life to make that happen? It could start with make a shopping list before you go to the supermarket and stick to it. Don’t buy any foods that are not on your list. Or, get up half an hour early so that you can go for a walk before you go to work. Or, perhaps make sure you take your lunch break and go for a walk then.

The changes that you make don’t have to be big, but they do need to be consistent if you want to see change happen. Commit to one or two small changes for at least three months before you do something different. It is, I think, human nature to want things to be fast and dramatic, to commit to slow and small and constant can be hard work and not very exciting, but this is more likely to foster change.

We are not sure about our motivation – setting resolutions at new year can be a tradition that we take part in, we can get swept along by family or friends, often we can decide to do things without really digging into why we are doing it and how it will benefit us. For instance, maybe your new years resolution is to cook more. You have probably heard that cooking from scratch is better for you, you feel you should be doing it and you have an idea it will probably benefit you. But, do you actually enjoy cooking? Will you resent the time you spend on it? Are you any good at cooking? What is it that your want to achieve by cooking more? If for instance you want to cook more so that you can try different food, but actually you don’t really enjoy cooking, perhaps you visit a different restaurant once a month, or you take some of the stress out of cooking by using a subscription service like Hello Fresh or Gousto. Working out why you really want to do something will give you a clear idea of the exact changes that you want to see and will provide clear motivation.

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It would seem that the key principles of making new resolutions are:

  • to understand why you want to make a change
  • to understand what the specific changes are you want
  • to decide on small changes that you can make easily and sustain over a significant period of time.

Also, remember that you don’t have to wait until new year to set goals and start making the changes you want to make, you don’t have to wait until Monday or the beginning of the month, you can make a change now, today, this minute.

 If you feel that you would like to speak to someone about difficulties you are having making a change or setting goals, or anything else that is troubling you, you might find speaking to a therapist helpful. Paul offers Psychotherapy and counselling, EMDR and Clinical Supervision. If you are struggling with any issue and would like to make an appointment with Paul please call Paul on 07843 813 537 or fill in the form on the Contact Page, if he doesn’t answer he is probably in a session, please leave him a message and he will call you back as soon as he can. For more information about Paul please take a look at the About Paul PageFrequently Asked Questions Page and The Counselling Services Page.

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