By Sophia Godkin, PhD
Would you be surprised if I told you that the most important deciding factor of whether or not you accomplish your goals starts the moment you create them? That’s right. Because everything that happens later with your motivation, or lack thereof, is a function of whether the goal you designed was designed well for you.
How often have you set an intention to move more, eat less, and be kinder only to find yourself sitting on the couch, munching on cookies, and uttering unpleasant remarks at your partner, sibling, parent, or friend just days later? Yes, we’ve all been there. And no, it does not mean you are a failure and are doomed to be a sedentary adult who overindulges and isn’t so fun to be around. All it means is that your goals weren’t designed well for you.
Just as not all bodies are created equal, not all goals are created equal. And the main reason why so many goals fail is that they were not created with you, the goal-seeker, in mind. So here are the top three tips for creating goals that are so perfectly fitting for you that they are accomplished the moment you create them.
1. Assess for success
Assess your current state of mind, state of body, and state of life as it relates to your goal. Take stock of how you’re feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically and create your goals to suit. Are you feeling mentally clear, free of stress, physically energized, and excited about life? Do you have the daily support of family, friends, and your environment unwaveringly in place? If so, now is the time to start forging towards that goal. If not, make your only goal to do more of what makes you happy. In a few days or weeks, reassess where you are in body and mind and adjust your goal planning according to how prepared and likely you are to succeed.
We don’t give up on our goals because we lack motivation or ability; we give up on our goals when we perceive that we’ve failed. And the likelihood that we perceive failure increases exponentially the more out-of-tune our goals are with our current internal (mindset) and external (social and physical environment) world.
When you create goals that are aligned with your current state of being, you set yourself up for success. And feeling that you’ve succeeded is the key to creating further success.
2. Work with, not against, your self-identity
Our self-identity governs everything we do in our lives, from the thoughts we think, the actions we take, the occupations we gravitate towards, to how and with whom we choose to spend our time. It is who you perceive yourself to be and it is the answer your mind comes up with to the question “Who Am I?” Your personal answer, whether it is “I’m a go-getter”, “I’m a people person”, “I’m a food lover”, “I’m an athlete” or any myriad other possibilities reveals valuable information about how to create a goal that you can effortlessly accomplish.
For example, if part of your self-identity is that “I am a people person” and your goal is to increase the amount of time that you spend exercising each week, you would do well to support your goal by signing up for a group exercise class or program. Not only will it accomplish your goal of moving more, it will meet your very intrinsic need of connecting with others. If, however, you as a “people person” want to eat more whole, healthy foods and less processed, unhealthy foods, you would do yourself a big disservice if you created a goal “to no longer accept invitations from friends to dine out”. Because this goal doesn’t take into account the primary reason why you love going out to dinner so much in the first place (ie to spend time with your friends), it would only be a matter of time before you were perusing menus and making unhealthy choices at all the local restaurants and diners again. In this case, a more suitable goal for your self-identity might be “to ask about the quality and freshness of ingredients when ordering food with friends in a restaurant”, “to choose only steamed, broiled, or baked items off of the menu”, and/or “to ask friends to take turns hosting dinners each week where you can ensure healthy, nutritious options are available.”
The more your goals align with all aspects of who you consider yourself to be, the more likely they are to stick.
3. Pay close attention to your environment
Why do you look or move in a certain direction, or take a certain action over another? It’s because your brain deemed something to be interesting, important, or worthwhile in your environment and decided, in a matter of milliseconds, to give it its attention. Our lives are full of people, objects, situations, and sensations that constantly grab our attention. And though most of this happens unconsciously, we can choose, with conscious awareness, to set up our environment to drawn our attention to those things that matter and help support our goals most. The key is to infuse your environment with triggers that are personally meaningful to you.
If you are inclined to “get lost” in your work, for example, and your goal is to take more breaks throughout the day, you can create elements in your work space to direct your attention away from work and towards taking a break. One simple way to set up your environment for success might be to bring a few plants into your office to direct your brain’s attention to rest and relaxation. Another way might be to place a photo of you playing with your kids on your desk to serve as a reminder of why mental and physical rejuvenation is so important to you – when you take small breaks throughout the day, you greet your kids with energy and a positive mood when you step through the front door after work. Yet another way is to use an internal trigger (your breath) and train your brain to pay attention to it as a mental trigger to relax and unwind, a common practice in meditative and yogic traditions.
Whatever your goal, you always have an option – to let your environment take your attention wherever it wants, or to create an environment that directs your attention to those people, objects, situations, and sensations that support you in achieving your goals.
How about the good ol’ pep talk to motivate and inspire yourself to change your behavior? Positive self-talk and self-motivation can be wonderful elements of behavior change, but truth be told, if you consider the person for whom you’re creating goals (you) when you’re creating them, you’re far less likely to need effortful self-encouragement and far more likely to accomplish your goals.
You wouldn’t try to squeeze a square peg into a round hole… it just wouldn’t fit. So why create and pursue goals that are misaligned with the essence of who you are right now? A simpler, more effective way forward is to go out and design goals that fit your natural tendencies, preferences, and needs and then revel in the amazement that there actually is no goal that is beyond your reach!
Are you looking for guidance in getting to know your mental, physical, and emotional self as you create and follow a plan to reach your goals? Just head on over to ph360.me to maximize your goal readiness, fit, and success as you learn all about what your unique body and mind need right now.