When the end of the year approaches, traditionally, many of us take the time to reflect and set new goals for the following year. It is a common phenomenon to look back at the intentions and resolutions we had, only to realize that it might feel as if none of them have been accomplished. When it comes to goals for 2021 – However challenging the past year may have been, try not to let yourself be discouraged by the setbacks you may have endured. Instead, be proud of what you have accomplished!
Maybe that is why it might be better to let go of setting goals and enjoy what you have achieved. Setting goals can cause immense stress. When making new year’s resolutions, we decide that this year will be the year of change. A few months later, nothing has changed. The result is immense feelings of guilt and stress that might negatively impact your mood and other goals you were working on. Goal setting is personal: if it makes you productive and happy, then it works for you. If not, maybe it is better to let go of new year’s resolutions.
Resolutions have to do with behavioral change and long-term benefits. Generally, change is not fun in the short term. Without setting goals and sticking to them, most people get stuck in their so-called ‘comfort zone.’ We avoid behaviors that do not pay off in the short term or cause pain. When trying to change and set achievable goals, the goals must offer more positives than the current situation. For example, it might sound great to lose those extra 20 pounds when you want to lose weight. But is it realistic? Are you willing to change your diet and work out three to four times a week? The real motivation and intrinsic goals have to be greater than wanting to look great on the beach next summer. Often there is a deeper motivation, such as wanting to be fit to deal better with fatigue. Finding your intrinsic motivation helps to understand what really drives you!
Have you decided that you want to set goals for 2021? Follow the four steps of the WOOP method to help achieve them:
Find a quiet and comfortable place to be alone without any distractions. Turn your phone in airplane mode and close your eyes. Set your phone alarm for five minutes and focus on the goals that you want to achieve. It is important to formulate them as concretely as possible. For example, instead of “lose weight,” the goal will be to “lose 15 pounds in six months.” Determine if the goal is achievable, challenging, and appealing enough for you. A goal that is too easy or one that prevents you from ever doing something again, doing something every day, or following someone else’s might become counter-effective. “Never have unhealthy snacks again” is probably not feasible, and neither is “working out in the gym for two hours every day.” These goals often lead to frustration, insecurity, and demotivation. Think about concrete, achievable wishes, such as “fit into my favorite jeans again,” “start a new study,” or “spend more time with my family.”
Once the wish is clear, try to envision what the wish will do for you. What will change for the better with that salary increase, a new degree, or without those extra ten pounds? Maybe it provides the opportunity to buy that house, a new career path, or to play football with your kids. When envisioning these results, focus on the pleasant feelings that come with the thought. The more detailed and rewarding you envision the change, the stronger the motivation grows. Positive and motivating examples would be: “I have more financial security,” “I am proud of my intellectual development,” or “I feel fit enough to entertain my kids.”
When you know exactly what you want and why, it is time to convert these dreams and wishes into practical steps. Start with asking yourself what keeps you from realizing your wish. Why is it difficult to eat healthier and to work out twice a week? What keeps you from studying once a day for an hour? Concentrate and think about specific situations where you did not do what you wanted to do. Why did it not work? Who was with you? What were you doing? How did you feel? The answers to these questions can provide useful insights for you to behave differently in future situations.
“At night, I am too tired to do anything other than watch television,” “I do not know how to cook healthy,” or “My phone keeps distracting me,” are all examples of obstacles that you might encounter impeding follow through to your personal goals.
Understanding what these personal stumbling blocks are is the perfect preparation for the final step. In this stage, it is crucial to make an “if-then plan.” The “if-then plan” concisely describes what you will do to keep your intention when an obstacle blocks your road to success. Describe the specific obstacle in the “if” part of the sentence, and the new behavior that will help you is described in the “then” part. Understanding and having a plan helps you recognize and be more responsive in critical situations and adjust the behavior – almost immediately – in the right direction.
For example, “When I feel low on energy to work out, I will put on my sports clothes and go for a short run before I sit down in front of the television,” or “If I want to focus on studying, I will put my phone in another room.”
Final Note: Happy 2021
Whatever your goals, make the process fun! Rewarding desired behaviors has a more positive effect on reaching your goals than punishing undesirable behaviors. Punishment brings on those feelings of self-doubt and guilt when you’re not achieving your goals. When we reward our behaviors, we create a Pavlovian effect between the behavior and the reward. This effect makes it more pleasurable to continue toward our goals.
The rules for rewards:
- The reward must be come during or immediately after the behavior.
- The reward must be strongly related to your motivation.
- The reward should not derail your goals. (E.g., when focusing on weight loss, do not use unhealthy snacks to reward yourself after a workout.)
- Choose a reward that motivates you!
Whether or not you will make New Year’s resolutions this year, I wish you a happy and healthy 2021!