It doesn't have to be New Year's Eve to dedicate yourself to your goals — you can recommit any day of the year, including today! As a psychotherapist, I help people throughout the year develop and maintain new habits to keep them motivated and achieve their goals. So even if you've fallen way off the wagon, here are 5 techniques to help get you back on track.
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Technique #1: Reevaluate Your Goals
It’s not always clear whether you’ve chosen the best goals until you’ve taken them for a test-drive. It makes sense to try something out for a few weeks and then reevaluate. Maybe running hurts your knees, but you discover that you love to dance. Don’t wreck your knees or stop exercising altogether because you swore you’d run everyday. Dance! Collect information along the way and modify as you go. According to researchers at the University of Toronto, a common obstacle is false hope syndrome, in which people underestimate just how difficult certain goals are to reach and tend to blame themselves rather than the impossibility of the goal itself. One way to address this pitfall is to seek external feedback when setting goals. If you feel like throwing in the towel, don’t give up. Speak with a professional to make sure you are setting appropriate benchmarks. Changing your goal to a new goal is way more effective than not keeping any goal at all.
Technique #2: Don't Sweat a Setback
It’s OK if you got off track yesterday — today is a new day! It is all too common to treat a setback as a total failure. The truth is that your response to the setback is far more important than the impact of the actual event. Use this experience as a valuable opportunity to learn about yourself so that you can do it better next time. You missed a week of workouts? No big deal. It’s Monday morning (again), and it’s time to hit the gym! So much of life is beyond your control, so there’s not much point in beating yourself up over every stumble and stutter. Instead, take this opportunity to recommit to your goal. Small setbacks can seem important in the moment, but they are of little consequence in the long run once you’re back on track.
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Technique #3: Simplify Your Decision-Making
Studies show that when confronted with too many decisions, people struggle with what is known as “decision fatigue” and begin to make poor choices. Additionally, it is difficult to accomplish vague goals. Rather than “save money,” which is poorly defined and requires a thousand small decisions every day, set up your bank account to automatically deposit 5 percent of each paycheck into a savings account. Anything you can automate, rather than having to repeatedly make discrete decisions about, will free up your focus, willpower and energy for other tasks.
Technique #4: Plan Well
With any action goals, I recommend that people start the month by taking out their calendars and making a schedule. Front-load decisions by making “appointments” with yourself that you treat as seriously as you would a meeting with your boss. Additionally, research shows that using “implementation intentions” (aka preparing to face temptation with an “if-then” plan) is a powerful trick for maintaining commitment. For example, if your goal is to be more patient and argue less with your partner, when you feel irritated, commit to taking three breaths before speaking. Surprisingly, many studies have shown that making these little “if-then” plans substantially increases the likelihood of achieving your goals.
Technique #5: Reframe It as Fun
This is perhaps the most important tip of all. Find a way to enjoy the process of achieving your goals. It is far easier to maintain a long-term commitment to something that you genuinely enjoy doing. Flip the script. Turn your goal into a game. When working with clients, I highly recommend that people break larger goals up into small steps. Find a cool app that helps you track your progress as well as organize the stages of achieving your goal. Work out a friend so that you keep each other accountable. These tiny efforts add up to serious impact over time. It will feel great to accomplish your goal, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey!