Identifying Goals and Barriers to Success
New Year’s Resolutions: Identifying Goals
New Year’s resolutions often get a bad rap – and for good reason: According to statistics, only about 8 percent of people who make resolutions achieve them (source: StatisticBrain.com, citing Journal of Clinical Psychology). So, what goes into identifying goals, such as resolutions, and what are the barriers to success?
Common Resolutions and Goals
The same data set cited above shows that 49 percent of people have “infrequent success” in keeping their resolutions. So, if nearly half of people can report at least some success in reaching their goals for the year, there is hope. If half the people report some success, but only 8 percent report total success, where is the disconnect?
Let’s begin with the list of typical resolutions, or goals. These are the top resolutions reported for 2015:
- Lose weight
- Get organized
- Spend less, save more
- Stay fit and healthy
- Enjoy life
- Learn something new
- Quit smoking
- Help others achieve their dreams
- Fall in love
- Spend more time with family
Some items on that list have a tangible definition of success: For example, either you quit smoking or you didn’t. That’s easy to measure. However, others are much less well-defined. What does it mean to “enjoy life” – and how do you define that for yourself? And can you really put a timeline on falling in love?
If you don’t have a clear vision of what success means for you, or if you set goals that are largely out of your control (falling in love is a prime example), then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Common Barriers to Success
As noted above, one of the biggest barriers to success is choosing goals without a clear definition. Additional barriers may include:
Lack of motivation
If your goals are really just a list of “shoulds” (I really should lose weight in 2017), then you are less likely to work to achieve them. Sincerely wanting to make a change or achieve a goal has to be the first step in goal-setting.
No clear action plan
If you have set a goal, but don’t know the steps to take to achieve it, your resolution could end on day one. Lofty goals, such as earning a new degree, require a clear action plan of several steps to achieve.
The goal is too big
Big goals can feel overwhelming if you try to tackle them all at once.
The goal is too small
While smaller, achievable steps can help you attain a big goal, a goal that is too narrow in focus might not inspire the kind of motivation or life change you are really seeking.
A Psychology Today article summed up the power habit has over the brain:
“Brain scientists…have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by ‘not trying to do it,’ in effect just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.”
Big life changes can evoke a variety of emotions, from fear to sadness. When these emotions pop up while working toward a goal, it can be tempting to retreat from them – and to give up on the goal as a result.
How to Set Clear Goals and Achieve Greater Success
With those barriers in mind, tackle your goals list or resolutions using this framework as a guide:
Understand your motivation
You are more likely to achieve goals that truly motivate you. Let go of any goals that begin with the phrase “I should…” Replace them with goals that begin with “I really want to…” Genuine motivation is the first step toward changing behavior and your life.
So, you want to be fabulously wealthy and have the greatest love life in history. Don’t we all? While the big fantasy might be what motivates you at the beginning, try to get real with yourself. What is it that those fantasy goals would bring to your life? Less stress? A happy marriage? Once you can identify your true motivation behind each dream, you can create more realistic goals.
Be prepared for setbacks
Most goals come with some level of risk and challenge. It won’t always be easy. Tell yourself that you can handle those setbacks and that you won’t be daunted by them. Going in with a touch of optimism about overcoming inevitable bumps in the road will help you manage them better.
Change your mindset
As noted above, changing habits requires a change in your thinking. Be prepared with new phrases and internal scripts that will help you get out of habit mode and into life-change mode. (See my past articles on changing negative thought patterns and practicing mindfulness for help.)
Ask for help
If you don’t know where to begin, ask your partner or a trusted friend for help. Research additional resources that can help you reach your goal (a career coach, a weight-loss support group, a financial planner, etc.). Just because a goal is personal doesn’t mean it has to be achieved entirely on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As part of your trusted team of advisers, working with a therapist can help you break through some of the common barriers to success. From changing negative thought patterns to facing habitual emotional responses, therapy can be a safe place to begin making big life changes.
To learn more about setting goals and making positive life changes through individual therapy, please contact me to schedule an initial 50 minute consultation at my office for no charge. I do not charge for the initial meeting, so that you can decide if working together feels right for you. I am a Denver, CO therapist serving the Cherry Creek, Park Hill, Capitol Hill, Uptown, Mayfair, Washington Park and Bonnie Brae areas.