New Year, New You?

What is so challenging about sustaining effort toward a goal?

Aaaah, sweet January! So many of us start with new resolutions and goals. This magical clean slate can do wonders for the psyche. What does it feel like to imagine the world anew? How does it feel for you to create a new story for yourself? Exciting, fun, productive, successful, happy… these are often the positive emotions that we attach to our resolutions when we envision success.

Every January I hit the gym and am reminded of the jubilant and dedicated resolutions of health that are evidenced by the overflowing parking lots, crowded group classrooms and steady traffic on the equipment. Those of us who are regulars grumble a bit, and I often remind myself that this too will pass once we hit the month March. Which leads me to my big question: What is so challenging about sustaining effort toward a goal – especially when it seems attainable, actionable, and will benefit us in one manner or another?

Exercising more, spending less, reading, sleeping, eating better; these are all common resolutions for the New Year. You might have one or more of these on your own list.

Here’s what I know is hard: sustained effort.

Whether it is difficult to keep going or the finish line seems so far away, it can be a true challenge to get from point A to point B. Here’s what helps me and my clients:

Three Steps to Building Momentum for Your Goals

1. Get Real

2. "Buddy Check!"

3. Self-Compassion

1.       REALITY CHECK: Have we set realistic and measurable goals? How would you measure success for a goal like “I’m going to be healthier this year.”? That could mean anything. Quantifying our goals creates a pause for us to determine the meaning of that big goal and how we will know when we are making progress. “I should be able to get to the gym every day” might not be the easiest goal to set when our previous habit was 0 days per week. It might be more realistic to quantify that goal – 3, 4, 5 times a week? Small, quantifiable steps inside of big goals often lead to more consistent results.

2.       BUDDY SYSTEMS: It is easier to fall off the wagon when we go it alone or keep it to ourselves, and there’s a certain level of accountability that occurs when we say things out loud. Some of us prefer to tell a friend or confidant. Others go so far as to post it to the world. Whatever your level of accountability, the best practice is to find the system (and a cheerleader) that works for you. Who is on your cheer squad?

3.       FORGIVENESS: Everyone struggles with something. Consistency takes practice. Did you hear that? Practice, not perfection. It can be hard for many of us to get back onto the horse when we have a misstep or slip in effort. Are you “shoulding” all over yourself until you decide it is so painful to fathom you might try again? Guess what? You’re not alone. Give yourself a little slack. What isn’t working? What is doable RIGHT NOW? You can always do better when you learn from the missteps.

This year my personal resolutions include a whole lot of goals, big and small. They are quantified and my buddy system is cheering me on and holding my feet to the fire by my own request. For those of you who know me, I like the psychology of lists, and I am looking forward to crossing off a few accomplishments in the next 30-60 days. I’m tackling my first bite-sized goal: Exercise 4 days a week for 30+ minutes. Cliché, right? Perhaps, but I fell off that wagon over the last few months, and I feel so much better when I move regularly. So, with a little forgiveness and a plan in hand, I’m off to make things happen. I’m tracking my efforts because I love data – it makes me happy when it shows an upward trend. See what I did there? I just publicly outed myself with one of my goals.

Kate Barrett