The new year is right around the corner, and we all know what that means: new goals for a new you! How many of us get excited about changing those bad habits in January, only to give up in frustration when March rolls around? I imagine more than a few hands are raised—including my own!
Goals don’t achieve themselves. And when setting goals, many people bite off more than they can chew. They want all the change as soon as possible, so they overwhelm themselves with unrealistic expectations.
The key to actually achieving your goals this year is to set realistic expectations for your life and season. If you’re a third-year nursing student with clinicals and classes up to your ears, it’s probably not wise to add “work out six days a week” to your schedule. Instead, underwhelm your goal-spectations so you can attain a measure of success. Following are seven tangible, realistic ways to set goals that will actually stick in 2018.
1. Know what you want to change in your life.
You can’t change what you haven’t measured. Don’t base your goals on what other people are accomplishing or what they say you should accomplish; base your goals on what you personally need to change in your life. To determine this, you have to take a long, hard look at those areas that need improvement.
Acknowledging failure is uncomfortable, but by analyzing what isn’t working in school, work, life and health, you can then determine what you want to change.
2. Write down what keeps you from changing.
The reason we don’t change those bad habits is because something else gets in the way. It might be social media or some other form of distraction. It might be addiction to some types of food. It might be a bad habit of trying to stay friends with your ex. If you continue to revert back to the things that keep you in defeat, you won’t attain your new goals.
Write down the things you tend to do when you SHOULD be working toward your goals: eating snacks out of the pantry, scrolling through Instagram, texting your ex, watching cat videos, etc.
3. Make your goals convenient.
If you want to drink more water, buy a water bottle and keep it with you at all times. If you want to go to the gym, pick one near your place of work or your home so it’s right along your normal route. We tend to make time for the things that are convenient. If something is too difficult to accomplish during the crucial early stages of habit-forming, we struggle to actually make it happen.
4. Make your bad habits inconvenient.
As we make our goals as convenient as possible, we must simultaneously make our bad habits as inconvenient as possible. For example, if you’re trying to work out every morning, keep your phone in airplane mode across the room so you don’t end up mindlessly scrolling for 30 minutes in bed. If you’re attempting to eat healthier, don’t buy processed snacks or keep any tempting foods in the house. By removing the source of temptation or difficulty, you can help yourself stay on track.
5. Set actionable, reasonable goals.
Be sure to set goals that are reasonable for your stage of life. If you’re working 50 hours a week, attempting to work out for an hour five days a week probably isn’t realistic—at least if you’re still maintaining a social schedule, cooking dinner at night and getting enough sleep (three things you also need for a well rounded, healthy life). It’s better to set the bar low at first and steadily raise it than to set unrealistic goals for your season. In the workout example, you might start with the goal of working out two days a week for the first month. Then make it three. If you attain these goals, you can add more to your schedule.
6. Break your goals down into daily and weekly steps.
Once you’ve set realistic goals for your season, break them down even further into actionable steps. If your planner just says “Work out three days a week,” that’s too abstract to make possible. Pick which three days you will work out. Choose two different times on those days to schedule the workout: your first choice (say, 6 a.m.) and your backup (5 p.m.). This way, you know when you will take the step toward your goal and you have a plan if you sleep through your alarm.
7. Track your progress and give yourself rewards.
Remember: Habit-forming and achievement of goals is a process. You aren’t going to achieve your goals overnight and you will have days when you don’t accomplish what you wish. Even so, track your progress! Even if you fail one day, don’t let that keep you from trying again the next. Seeing how far you come will give you momentum for the next goal.
It can also help to give yourself healthy rewards. If you’re attempting to save $500 over a few months, you might plan a special date or event when you reach the goal. Generally, try to avoid rewards that defeat the purpose of your goal (e.g., eating well for 30 days and bingeing on donuts at the end).
Our goals are only as good as our own self discipline. Ask the Lord to show you what goals to set and how to achieve them. If you set goals that are Spirit-led, you’ll have His strength to accomplish them.