Welcome to the start of a new year and a new decade. It’s the perfect time to start fresh with long lists of life-changing, mind-altering New Year’s resolutions. But instead of setting you up for success, they might be flawed from the get-go.
The word resolution holds a lot of weight with its reputation as an all-curing solution with no room for failure. New Year’s resolutions often focus on specific aspects of a person’s life in hopes that it will improve their happiness — so of course it’s appealing to make them, but resolutions seldom make it until the end of the year or deliver desired results.
But 2020 is your year, so let’s talk about strategies for you to create constructive goals for positive self-improvement.
Let’s follow Carlo, the Sheaf’s copy editor, through his New Year’s resolution. Carlo made it his goal to attend all his classes in 2020, documented in his tweet on Dec. 30, 2019. What Carlo didn’t realize when he made this goal is that it’s almost impossible to reach when you consider bus delays, sleeping in and the common cold. Not to mention the possibility that student conferences or extracurricular events might mean that he has to excuse himself from a class.
Be mindful of your mindset
The goal you create is just as important as the plan for reaching it because it sets the tone for your mindset. It is counterproductive to your success if the goal you set is framed with negativity.
For example, people might focus on centering resolutions around things they dislike about themselves and want to change. But by creating this goal based on self-hatred, you are fueling your goal with negativity. The motivation you have pushing you forward is not healthy or constructive if your motivations are built from negativity.
If your motivation is fueled with self-loathing, then every minute spent towards your resolutions reinforces this negative perspective of yourself. Failing to meet the goals you’ve set for yourself can act as reinforcement to your feelings of inadequacy, pushing you further into a self-destructive mindset.
But let’s stop here — and stop Carlo at this road block, too — take a few steps backward to help him figure out a more constructive goal and plan to reach them.
Interrogate your motivations
The first stop to goal setting is identifying your motivations for change and what you are trying to accomplish. Goals based on intrinsic factors are more likely to be successful than goals based on extrinsic factors.
Intrinsic motivation is the desire to fulfill action through internal cues such as enjoyment or interest in action, whereas extrinsic motivation is the desire to fulfill action through external cues such as gain rewards or the avoidance of consequences. Put more simply, it’s the difference between being motivated by yourself and your desires versus needing a reward to keep yourself motivated to progress.
When asked, Carlo disclosed his motivations for his New Year’s resolution to be significantly influenced by some of his classmates and family who have told him that he “should” attend classes more often.
Carlo also revealed that he wants to focus on prioritizing school. While focusing on attendance could mean prioritizing school, setting a perfect attendance goal based on other people’s opinions might not be the best method for Carlo.
Creating a goal centered around something that will bring you personal satisfaction is the most effective way to motivate yourself to reach success. Goals that result in personal satisfaction rather than materialistic rewards are also more beneficial for your wellbeing.
Positively framed, intrinsic motivations are the strongest and most likely to lead to success. Positive motivations focus on working towards a change or increase whereas negative motivations focus on avoiding negative outcomes.
By using positive frameworks, Carlo can refocus his goal on being mindful of his academic habits and how they influence his success. A key factor in implementing goals is being self-aware of your habits and behaviours and how they may help or hinder your success.
Setting a goal to attend all classes without examining your class engagement may not be effective. There is a difference between being physically present in a lecture versus being engaged.
Expect the unexpected and plan for it
The jury is still out on the reasons why New Year’s resolutions have such a high failure rate, but it is commonly attributed to unreasonable expectations. You cannot meet a goal that is based on uncontrollable factors. Without having goals based on factors you can control and adjust, you cannot enhance your functioning.
Now, let’s come back to Carlo. The goal he set for himself doesn’t allow him to work out a plan for success because he cannot account for every factor that might interfere. With his goal focused on perfection for the entirety of the year, there is no room for unexpected absences.
Carlo created his goal to be reliant not only on his actions but on the actions of others and of nature. His goal could easily fail not from his own actions, but from the actions of drivers, public transit operators, roommates and every other person that influences his path.
With one small uncontrollable event, Carlo could quickly fail to meet his goal and likely lose motivation to continue on until the miserable days at the end of the term. Even if the rational part of your brain knows you likely will not reach your goal, it doesn’t make the feelings of shame associated with failure any less real.
By setting an unattainable goal, Carlo has set himself up for disappointment — and don’t forget about all his Twitter followers rooting for him, too.
Once you clarify your motivations and your intentions, you can reconstruct your goal. This process can be somewhat complicated, and it’s important to remember to re-evaluate each component as you go.
There are many methods for setting effective goals and it may be hard to choose the one that is best for you. The EEE model, SMART(ER) and the themes and mantras approach are a few great options.
Themes and mantras:
Some people prefer to choose a word, theme or mantra to influence more specific goals and focuses throughout the year. This can help you to remain focused on improving a certain aspect of your life while continuously monitoring progress and adjusting expectations as needed.
The use of a word or mantra allows for more flexibility on the degree of change you implement. Having a consistent reminder of what you are working towards can help you to be more mindful in your everyday actions to work towards self-improvement in the area you’ve chosen.
This approach can help you refocus throughout the year on what changes would be the most important for your development. Whether you make multiple goals within your mantra, use your mantra as something you are mindful of incorporating into your daily routine or some combination of the two, the best way is what works better for you.
There are many key considerations when it comes to goal setting, but there is no rule book. One goal and process working for one person does not mean it will work for you — your goals should be completely customized to your needs.
The EEE model of goal setting suggests that goal setting ensures success by enlightening us, encouraging us and enabling us. It is a person-centered approach designed to prioritize individual needs.
Goal setting can provide meaningful insight into our abilities, weaknesses, daily habits and priorities. Goal setting works to unveil our deeply rooted behaviours that influence the way we live our lives.
Goals help motivate us to be courageous and execute plans. Success from goals can help individuals regain self-confidence, better preparing people to succeed at future goals.
While some people may find it easy to identify things they would like to change, it is more difficult to determine a plan to actually reach your goal. One method of goal setting often known as the golden rule, is SMART(ER) goals.
Success and goal management:
Falling off course when striving towards self-improvement is not uncommon. Allowing yourself to fail, learn from your behaviours and get back in the self-improvement game is a lot less common.
One of the most important things about goal management and success is re-evaluating your goal as you go. This might be a daily, weekly or monthly check-in with yourself to see what is and isn’t working in your plan to help ensure that you are getting what you need from your goals.
Working towards goals and big changes can feel overwhelming and stressful, making you wonder if it will be worth it in the end. But before you give up on yourself, make sure you consider all the benefits that come with achieving your goal.
When you’re stuck with a low mood, become frustrated and lack the motivation to continue, it can be difficult to see the good that’s ahead. The path to success is not linear, and you will have some ups and downs during the process, but don’t let this make you lose sight of the bigger picture.
Even if your resolution is centered on one area of your life, striving for better habits can positively affect other aspects of your life, too. Things might not happen all at once and they might not happen smoothly, but nothing feels as good as the feeling of success.
Try not to let yourself be overwhelmed by everything happening at this time of the year. Allow yourself to take things slowly and be mindful of how your actions affect your wellbeing.
If going to the gym four days a week does not make you feel happy, look into something else. Your goals don’t need to be absolute, definitive, soul-crushing tasks on a checklist of do or die — allow yourself flexibility.
Take care of yourself this year, and do what’s best for you.
Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor
Graphics: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor