By Sophie Weissensteiner
We have nearly reached halftime in this year’s calendar, which means it’s time for some self-reflection. At the beginning of a new year, some of us set resolutions, aims, or goals, but all too often we lose sight of them, get distracted, and go back to bad habits.
Maybe you just need some clarity to bring back the positive spirit that will help you remember all of your intentions for 2021. Let’s try to understand why it’s not that easy to stick to new habits and how we can manage to make them work.
First things first: Why do we set resolutions each year?
To answer this question, we talked to Catri Barrett, certified life coach, podcast host, and founder of personal education brand, The Curiosity Club, about our motivations behind setting resolutions, the pros and cons, and the best way to stick to them.
“For many, New Year’s feels like a fresh start and an opportunity to improve on the 12 months previously. With the beginning of a new calendar year comes the hope of change and for things to be better and different.”
The leading force behind setting New Year’s resolutions or goals is almost some kind of desire to improve ourselves. A new year is a chance for a new beginning or a new chapter of becoming the person we’d like to be.
Catri Barrett says, “The idea that we should always be striving for more, doing more, and be better has reinforced a culture of perfectionism and never feeling good enough. New Year’s is the pinnacle of this, and for many individuals who cling to the possibility that their future self or situation will be better than their current reality, the idea of a ‘fresh start’ can be tantalising.”
The pros and cons of resolutions, aims, and goals
Committing to New Year’s resolutions can have a positive effect on your life but when putting too much pressure on yourself, they can also be counterproductive. Catri Barrett identified the pros and cons for us, to help us understand the impact on our self-development.
“The pros of setting New Year’s resolutions are that they can give you a sense of autonomy over your life, which is a fundamental human need. The self-efficacy of setting goals allows an individual to regain a sense of control over where they’re heading, what they’re doing, and how they’re feeling.”
“One of the main cons is that many individuals set themselves hugely unrealistic goals and in doing so are setting themselves up to fail. It brings out an individual’s perfectionistic tendencies where they deem themselves a failure if they achieve anything less than 110% of what they set out to do.”
How do we set the right goals?
It’s not always easy to set goals because sometimes we simply don’t know what we want exactly. There are a lot of ‘general aims’ in our society, especially when it comes to life goals including success, career, or relationships. There are certain expectations that can vary culturally that tell us what we’re supposed to do, achieve, or work for. But there is never a one fits all.
Even when it might be challenging, we need to find our journey. Instead of writing down all the things you think you should want to improve (based on society’s expectations), you should take time to listen to yourself carefully. Catri Barrett says as a coach, she sees much more positive results in her clients when they focus on how they want to feel.
Some tips on how to evolve achievable and valuable goals:
Catri Barrett says…
1. “Make sure it’s something you really want: Get honest about who you’re setting this goal for, is it really for you, or are you striving for something based on someone else’s expectations on you or because you feel it’s what you ‘should’ do?”
2. “Break it down: A technique I use with coaching clients is called future casting. Set the larger end goal and then break it down into small goals working up to the larger one.”
3. “Manage your mindset and reframe failure: the more you tell yourself you’ve failed and there’s no point in continuing if you miss a day, or go off track, the less likely you are to feel motivated to keep going. No one ever perfectly achieves their goals, those who come closest are the ones who have had ‘blips’, but have gotten back on track again instead of saying ‘well, there’s no point now, I’ve failed’.”
4. “Focus on how far you’ve come rather than on how far you’ve still got left to go.”
5. “Enjoy the process and practice being your own biggest cheerleader.”
So, how do we revisit our aims for this year?
Get your notes and revisit them
Sometimes we forget what we wanted to focus on and intentions become blurry. A dip into the past is what you need to make yourself aware of the goals you wrote down months ago. There’s no harm in checking your notes in case you’re not sure if those goals still apply to your current circumstances.
Bring some clarity to your mind
Now that you’ve made yourself familiar again with the things that you wanted to focus on in 2021, you may like to think about what it is that you would like to change in your life. Ask yourself what are your goals, aims, and intentions for the remaining 6 months of this year and beyond.
It’s important that you know the differences between these terms to make sure you have a clear idea of how you’ll make them work. An extra list might be helpful for you to visualise and categorise goals, aims, and intentions. When you have structured your thoughts, you are ready for some self-reflection.
All you need for this step is time. Often we get caught up in our fast-paced lives and all we really need is to slow down and be still. Thinking about your decisions, choices, and wishes in a generous yet self-critical way will help you find your path.
Gain some perspective
A good way to gain some perspective is to talk to yourself like you would to a friend.
For example, in January you decided that this year you would only buy second-hand fashion when you need a new piece in your wardrobe.
In the first couple of months, you realised that it’s harder than you thought when you were looking for pre-worn basics. Instead of getting frustrated and zero in on your aim, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.
Prioritise and adapt
Do you realise now that you might have set too many goals for this year or they are simply not attainable? Maybe you were overly motivated and didn’t think how your aims will transfer into real life. No problem! We’ve got you covered. Better come to this realisation now than never. What you may need to do, is to prioritise your original goals, and stick with those that seem most important to you or make them more attainable.
Rewrite your resolutions
After you revisited your aims, it’s time to rewrite them. Remember, think about how you want to feel to make your aims and resolutions customised for your needs.
Try to incorporate your goals, aims, and intentions into your everyday life
One step at a time. Take your time and don’t be too harsh on yourself.
Be gentle with yourself
Never forget that!
Last but not least, how do we get back on track when we failed our aims?
Catri Barrett kindly provided us with a step-by-step guide on how to get back on track:
1. “Focus on progress not on failings, if you’ve fallen off the wagon with your goal. Instead of seeing it as a failure and giving up, see it as a ‘blip’ and get back to it. For example, running two out of seven days a week is better than none at all.”
2. “Break your big goal up into micro-goals to make it more manageable and less daunting. For example, if your goal was to run a marathon, set your first goal at 3 miles by ‘x’ date, 5 miles by ‘y’ date, 15miles by ‘z’ date, and so on.”
3. “Prioritise intention over the outcome. If you imagine your goal is to reach the peak of the mountain, it’s important to set an intention for how you’re going to achieve that. How do you want to feel walking up the mountain and what do you need to prioritise in order for that to happen? For example, your intention might be to ‘mindfully’ climb the mountain so that you can prioritise pausing to take breaks and enjoy the view.”
“The process of how you achieve your goal is a lot more important than the outcome as it’s the ‘process’ that will take months, if not years, and the result of reaching the peak will often be much more fleeting.”
4. “Develop a daily reflective practice – at the end of each day. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What went well today?
- What do I need to forgive myself for and leave in the past?
- What would my future self thank me for doing tomorrow?”
Here we go, there is a lot to think about on how to revisit our aims for this year and those ahead. It’s so easy to give up on good intentions in times like these, however, that makes it even more important to take the time we need to grow with them.
Change comes gradually, all we need is time, patience, and faith. Let’s get our notebooks out, embrace our aims and goals, and work towards them in a compassionate and mindful way.