“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
– Zig Ziglar
Embarking on a journey of self-improvement often begins with a burst of inspiration. For many of us, that collective push comes as we ring in a new year. New Year’s resolutions can be promising and highly motivating, yet pursuing these goals is often the exact challenge that throws us off track- how ironic! In fact, studies have suggested that only a slim 6% of people managed to keep their 2023 New Year’s resolutions, underscoring a common struggle. Whether it’s the pull of old routines or the chaos of life, that initial enthusiasm tends to fizzle out- regardless of how slow and steady of a start. Though perhaps it’s not about lacking dedication; it’s about using that growth mindset to create a clear direction and maintain motivation.
1. Choose a Challenge
Have you ever felt frozen in place, overwhelmed by the overflowing number of tasks in front of you and not knowing where to even start? Start your journey by writing out all changes you’d want to see for yourself, and circle ONE goal to make your focus. Neuroscience tells us the loftier the goal, the more likely you are to fire off brain circuits needed to create action. Instead of an easy goal close within your reach, keep it realistic, but dream big!
2. Define your Vision
Forget title goals and vague results- “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to get good at cooking”- and clarify what you want this goal to look like. Pay attention to the action required for the result, taking it from “I want to be a better reader” to “I’m going to read more”. Go even further and quantify your goal: run a mile in 10 minutes, read 10 novels, have 5 fluent conversations in Spanish. You need a clearly marked finish line.
3. Establish a Timeline
You’re clear about what you want to see, so decide on when you want to see the results. A full year is more than enough time, and this “annualized thinking” and distant timeline may be the exact reason 94% of people abandon their goals. When stress is channeled, our mind sharpens and motivates action to meet an upcoming deadline. The “12 micro-resolutions” approach gives a month per focus, and authors of “The 12-Week Year” suggest a 3-month quarterly cycle that offers a time window that aligns with cultural rhythms. Consider the nature of your goal, and your relationship with procrastination, and deadlines.
4. Break it Down
Now, get really specific. What’s the main activity you’ll do to win? Writing embeds it in your nervous system, detailing every action you intend to take with a pen and paper. Detail increases your likelihood to succeed, helps you track progress, gives a clear path, and in turn keeps motivation. What will you do, which days of the week, and for how long? Specificity is a key feature to setting and achieving goals, so don’t forget hurdles you might face, and how you’ll jump them.
5. Engage Your Brain
What about when your motivation naturally starts to fade? This middle problem usually comes right after a strong start before you see enough progress to push you forward again. Dr. Maya Shankar suggests a way to create a positive loop: break up the journey into mini goals and shorten the length of challenges. So instead of keeping your eye on the “lose 50 pounds” prize, start with the first 10. The little wins matter, but don’t celebrate every sign of progress. Flip a coin before rewarding yourself, and that random “heads” keeps you going the same way a casino can.
6. Show, Don’t Tell
You might think that sharing plans for achievements will keep you more accountable and likely to succeed, but we suggest letting your success speak for itself. The more personal time you spend with the goal, the better off you’ll be! Avoid the early reward our brain receives from positive feedback, and celebrate later. Don’t tell your haters either – being discouraged or having an “I’ll show them!” mindset interrupts that deeper drive that enjoys the process.
Remember, it’s not just about reaching your goals; it’s about becoming a better you along the way. Zig Ziglar reminds us that rather than hitting that finish line, it’s about who we become along the way. Take charge, set goals that make sense for you, and let your actions do the talking. You’ve got the power to shape your story.
Happy Goal Setting!