It’s that time of the year where people are making New Year’s Resolutions, or “setting intentions” or picking a word for the year. Whatever we call it, January is famous for declared personal changes. If you did decide on self-improvement in 2021, there is a trick to making sure your goals sticks! Have you already abandoned ship on your resolutions? No worries–we can help you get back on track if that is your hope!
In my field, we like to talk about setting realistic and reasonable goals. When I am working with a client, it is important that the changes they envision for themselves are things that are actually possible. For instance, if a Senior in High School tells me that after graduation they are going to be the next Aaron Rodgers, so there is no need to create a post-High School plan……we may need to look at that a bit more.
So what would a “good” goal look like for you, your kiddos, your partner, etc? As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, let me share with you that if you want to be successful, your goals need to be: S.M.A.R.T.
Goals that are too general tend to feel overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to start or even what the purpose of the goal is! For example, if your child says that their goal is to be “the best artist”, it is hard to determine when they’ve reached that goal or what that would even look like. A more specific goal would be to “learn how to use oil-based paints to create sunset portraits.” Now we have a direction to go with developing artistic ability and a specific skill to practice!
As important as being specific, goals should also be measurable. As you are creating the goal, ask yourself what milestones can serve as markers to determine if progress is being made on the goal. For instance, a longer term goal such as improving endurance while running can be broken down into measurable steps. In this example, a measurable goal could be “I will be able to run a quarter of a mile farther each week without having to stop to walk.” At the end of the week, you will be able to determine if you have reached this goal or not, even if your larger overarching goal is to be able to run The Bix one day. You’ll know you are making progress!
A: Appealing & Attaintable
Goals that suck just…..suck. Although we all have to do things we don’t want to do, we should also have life goals that excite us. Those goals should also be attainable, meaning that they are realistic. I never in my life saw 5 feet of height, so the WNBA has never been a realistic goal for me. But, I do love to travel, so an appealing and attainable goal would be to save $1,000 over a 10 month period to take my family to see Mount Rushmore. It’s an attractive goal because it speaks to my wanderlust and it’s attainable if I save a little at a time. This is a goal I would be internally invested in, which means I am more likely to see it through.
A goal that is relevant means that it makes sense in the existent structure of your life. If you’re a yoga instructor, learning a new workout technique makes sense! Taking a course in pouring concrete doesn’t make sense since construction has nothing to do with your field or your natural talents (I’m assuming). It is of course a good idea to be well-rounded in your abilities and interests, but your growth goals should still be complementary to the natural rhythm of your life. I am highly allergic to cats and will never own a cat. Therefore, learning how to groom a cat–as interesting as it potentially could be–would be a huge waste of time.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in relation to goals is that they allow them to linger indefinitely. Our goals should have a very specific projected ending such as one month from now, 6 months from now, by our anniversary, etc. And remember, there can (and should be) small measurable sub goals within a larger goal and those sub goals can have their own dates (see also “measurable.”)
The other helpful hint when it comes to goal planning is to utilize motivational psychology to keep yourself excited about achievement. We know that psychologically, humans tend to shy away from anything that initially appears to be too hard. It’s our brain’s natural way of protecting itself from stress overload. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t challenge ourselves, but just that we need to be strategic in how we do it. So I recommend what is known as the “snowball effect.” Write out your goals or tasks in order from easiest/most enjoyable to hardest/least enjoyable. You are more likely to get started if you begin with the easiest thing and as you gain momentum, you build natural motivation to keep going. By the time you get to your least favorite, you are more intrinsically motivated to reach that level of satisfaction where everything is checked off the list. This method also works really well with your kiddos who are home remote learning due to COVID!
To wrap up, here is an example sentence that embodies the S.M.A.R.T. goal strategy. It’s a goal that I personally think we should all endeavor to this year:
“In 2021, I will read 3 QC Moms blog posts per month to achieve my goal of reading 36 pieces of solid parenting material by the end of the year, so I am a happier and better supported local Mama.”
There you go. You’re welcome. #noneedtothankme
Want to help your kids develop some goals in the new year? This blog on kid’s money management is a great place to start!: https://quadcity.momcollective.com/2020/12/26/a-kids-guide-to-money-management-in-the-new-year/
Visit this great article for more clinical information about S.M.A.R.T. goals
Does setting goals feel psychologically exhausting right now due to COVID? You are not alone, but there is a way!