New year, new you! That’s how it’s supposed to go anyway. An entire year has gone by and you walked out with nothing but a bag of regrets and a list of “What If’s”. But hey! The new year is right around the corner! A fresh start. A new chance to do it all over. This year you will make all the changes in your life and accomplish all your goals. You’ll finally quit your old boring job and start that new business you’ve always wanted. Maybe you’ll go on that new diet you’ve been trying to talk yourself into for months. Or even start waking up every morning at 6am to begin your day with a relaxing yoga session.
Why are you struggling?
Quite often than not, we LOVE setting ourselves these amazing “dream-big” goals. We love feeling that rush of serotonin when we imagine ourselves in the future, all of our problems and shortcomings resolved. This future version of us is happy and exactly where they want to be in life. Instead of a bag of regrets, they carry a bag of achievements with them every year.
Oh but if only it were that easy.
The Cycle of Despair
Setting goals and fantasizing about the end result is an amazing feeling. Seeing yourself in the shoes of a brand new version of you, one that is shiner and smarter and more organized and all the things that you have yet to be. But when we see the road ahead that it will take to get there, suddenly it all seems too much. Far too daunting and scary and hard and even impossible. And then comes the cycle of despair, where we become far too overwhelmed and demotivated and fall back into our old habits, putting off our dreams and goals for yet another year.
Sound familiar? So how exactly can you break out of this cycle? How can you overcome and conquer all these mental limitations that you set up for yourself, that ultimately set YOU up for failure?
1 . Don’t put too much pressure on yourself!
Often when setting goals, we compare the person we are in the present to an alternate version of ourselves in the future that we want to become. And while that can be extremely motivating to help push ourselves in that direction and give ourselves inspiration on exactly what we want to achieve, it can also be pretty detrimental.
By constantly comparing who we are now to someone we think we should be, that can be really demotivating. Instead of inspiring, suddenly it’s overwhelming and your goals will start to look more daunting than ever.
So, simply relax. Tell yourself that the version of yourself in the future is someone that you want to become instead of pretending to be for a short period of time. Engraining habits and teaching yourself a new lifestyle and a new mindset takes a lot of time and there is no way to cheat through it.
Use the vision of the future as a vague guideline for what you want to be and recognize that all solid and permanent and good things take time. You maybe be very far from your long term goals today, but with every little choice you make favouring a successful future for yourself, you will be that one step closer.
2 . Write them down!
Yes, that’s right. As cliché and maybe even annoying as this sounds, it can be quite crucial to your success. Sometimes, physically having our goals down on a piece of paper makes them seem so much easier to achieve. While mental visualizations and ideas are great and all, our heads are always bustling with ideas and thoughts and emotions and memories and are constantly flowing with information our brains are trying to process and store. It can be very hard to keep track of everything that needs to be done in everyday present life, yet alone plan for the future.
That is why it is so important to have our goals physically written down somewhere, for us to see, process and plan for. So grab a paper and a pen, or even just type up a digital list on your computer, and write down what you want to achieve. After it is written it will be more clear and ingrained in your head, which will make following through just that much easier.
3 . Set small goals!
We love to dream big. And it’s good to dream big. But how big, is too big? Sometimes the magnitude of our goals and our dreams can terrify us into not wanting to go for them after all. It’s amazing how quickly we become the master of excuses to hide from our fears of failure.
So instead of setting big goals, set small ones!
Yep, that’s right it’s just that simple. Break your goals down into small parts, as small as they can possibly get and slowly start to tick them off your list. Not only will they be SO much easier to achieve, but the pride and the accomplishing feeling you’ll get seeing yourself tick off all these goals will also be a powerful way to motivate yourself to keep reaching your goals.
Why does this work?
Human beings like numbers. We also have a tendency to pick quantity over quality. You’d be surprised how much more accomplishing it feels to tick off 8 small goals than just 1 goal, even if it was a big goal. So following through Step 2 (Write them down!) expand on your list.
For example, if one of your goals is finishing a project you have for school or work, instead of writing “Finish project.”, write down exactly what you need to do, in order to finish the project. Make a to-do list in order or urgency. Do you need to get supplies? Do you need to make graphs? Write an introduction? Send out emails?
Or perhaps you have a goal like: “I want to get fit and healthy”. That’s great and all, but what exactly does “fit and healthy” even mean to you? Instead of leaving it at that, narrow it down. How will you get fit? How will you get healthy? What are the smaller steps to this large equation? Maybe you’re going to join a running club. Perhaps you’ll finally use that gym membership and go 4 days every week.
Write down all the little things you need to do in order to achieve the big thing (in this case, our project) and not only is this an incredible way to organize yourself and keep you focused and on track, with smaller tasks at hand, we find them easier to finish, and when it comes to goals, less can be more.
4. Set specific goals!
As appealing as “go with the flow” sounds when it comes to our dreams, it isn’t necessarily the most practical way to approach our goals. For a lot of us procrastinators, having vague goals is just another great excuse for why we can’t seem to get things done. It’s confusing and we’re not exactly bothered to try and simplify it for ourselves when it is time to take action.
So do yourself a favour and simplify your goals down by making them as specific as possible when setting them. Instead of saying “Go to the gym”, specify how long you will go to the gym. What specific exercises do you want to do there? Will it be a leg day or will you do weight training?
Similarly, “Eating healthy.” is a great goal to have. But what exactly does that mean? Will you start adding more vegetables to your diet? Will you cut down on your sugar intake? What specific foods are you going to avoid? If you’re planning to cook at home more, what meals will you cook for? Any specific cuisines?
There are many, many different questions to ask yourself when setting specific goals, all of them unique to your unique goals. So ask yourself these questions and make your goals detailed so when it comes to taking action you know exactly what to do and have no more excuses to talk yourself out of it.
5. Be flexible with your goals
I didn’t mention setting specific dates in step 5 (Set specific goals!) and that was for good reason. Unless your goals are work/school-related and have specific deadlines you have to meet, make sure to keep your goals flexible. This is an amazing way to approach personal goals in particular. Since many of us have crazy schedules that are always changing, flexibility is something of great values when it comes to our plans.
So back to that gym example from earlier. Let’s say so far, you’ve set the goal: “Going to the gym for 1 hour to do 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of upper body weight training.” That in itself is a great goal. But taking action requires more than just what you’re going to do. You need to have timings too. Now, this part will vary for everyone depending on how tight your schedules are.
Setting the goal: “Go to the gym for 5 sessions a week.” is far more flexible than “Go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.” Life can be very unpredictable at times and if something comes up on one of your set days, it can be demotivating when you have to skip your day. By setting a specific number of sessions instead of specific days to do the sessions, you can fit in your activity whenever it suits you and it will feel less like a burden.
6. Be forgiving!
A big part of being human is messing up, making mistakes, not feeling up to it, disappointments and fluctuating willpower. And that’s completely okay! Some days you’re just not going to be up to it to make the choices to get closer to your goals, and you have to learn to forgive yourself for that. Some days you’re going to be too tired for that gym session or to cook that home meal or to finish your essay.
Along the road to success, there will inevitably be drawbacks and obstacles. If it were that easy, everyone would be there already. The important part is to acknowledge that your body and your mind need rest and if you can’t find the will to even try to push yourself, that is okay. Take the day off, and always remember that you have tomorrow to try once again.
Most importantly, forgive yourself. If you hold it against yourself, it will only hold you back even more and it can be very demotivating and upsetting. Come to terms with the fact you are still adjusting to your new habits and your new lifestyle and your body and mind need to take some time off. And when you’ve had your rest, bounce right back in where you left off.
Your drawbacks aren’t delays in your journey, they are a crucial part of your journey.
7. One day at a time!
Often times our goals can be very long term and if you’re constantly worrying about how you’ll get to that end goal, you can overwhelm yourself pretty quickly. So take it one day at a time. Instead of focusing on what you have to do next month or next week or even the next day, focus on what you have to do today.
Have your specific, small, flexible goals that you’ve prepared following the previous steps with you and apply them to each day. Don’t even think about the future workload, there is no point in stressing yourself out for something that isn’t even happening yet.
If you’re supposed to cook a healthy dinner today and finish 3 paragraphs for your college paper, worry about JUST that. Don’t stress about what to cook tomorrow or how you’ll write the rest of your paragraphs.
8. Keep your goals realistic!
Let’s be honest. You’re not going to go from being a total couch potato to a marathon runner in a month. I don’t want to use the word “impossible” but to put it frankly, it’s most likely not going to happen. Does that mean you’re never going to be a marathon runner? Absolutely not! It’s completely possible with the time and dedication necessary. And with that being said, keep your goals realistic in terms of time.
You can write down the goal of “become a marathon runner.” and keep that intended for long term, but when it comes to setting small, specific goals as we discussed earlier, make sure you don’t overwork yourself or throw yourself into something that is just far too intense for where you are now. If you’ve never run in your entire life except for when you needed to catch up with the bus, chances are, setting yourself the goal of “run 5k every day” isn’t going to be very helpful.
As good as pushing yourself to your limits is, setting yourself far too intense and unrealistic goals does nothing but rob you of your motivation and leave you feeling helpless and insecure. So start with running just one mile. Instead of studying for 6 hours, start with studying with 1. Don’t cut out sugar completely from your diet, just reduce it appropriately. Because at the end of the day, one mile is one mile more than no miles.
9. Gradually increase magnitude!
When it comes to long term personal goals, it is essential you increase the magnitude as you go. What does that mean? It means more gym sessions, more miles, more home-cooked meals and more risks. After getting used to achieving all your smaller goals, you’ll start getting into the habit of being productive and the rewarding feeling of accomplishment will be a great drive for you to want to do even better.
After a week of running that 1 mile, you can push it to 2 miles. Gradually increasing the intensity of your goals is a great way to keep pushing yourself but make sure you don’t push yourself too hard as that will only be demotivating when you struggle with the pressure.
10. Small changes for a big future!
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Don’t underestimate the power small acts hold over your big bright future. By following all the previous steps, setting small, realistic, specific and flexible goals, that you gradually increase in intensity over time, you’ll be absolutely amazed by how quickly your life does a complete 180.
The catalysts to this incredible change? The few small goals you started off with, set off this beautiful chain reaction of success. So every time you achieve and accomplish even when of your smaller goals, know that it plays a vital role in your bigger future.
11. Reward yourself!
Last but certainly not least. Reward yourself! Seriously, don’t forget this. Human beings thrive off positive reinforcement and if you’re not going to be your biggest cheerleader, who is? As great as that feeling of crossing off tasks and goals from your to-do list is, going that extra step to give yourself a pat on that back is even better. It doesn’t have to be a giant reward. As long as you are conscious of the fact you are being rewarded, that’s all there is.
Buy yourself something nice, have a cheat day, take a nice long warm bath with candles and bath bombs, go on a trip or take time out of your schedule to do something that makes you happy and relieves stress. This is completely up to you! Not only will this boost your happiness and teach you to care for your emotional needs, but it’s also a great way to motivate yourself to continue down the path of your journey of finally becoming that new you for the new year.
That’s it! Those are the 11 tips to help you take on the world of challenges and opportunity and ensure that when the new year does approach next time, that regret and self-pity is replaced with nothing but pride and accomplishment!
Read our article about a 3 step process to transform into the person you want to be!