We’ve all done it.
The holidays arrive with all of the eating, drinking, and merrymaking that come along with them. Somewhere in that, we start thinking about our New Year’s goals. Once we decide on a goal, we wait until January 1st to actually implement it.
Losing Steam by Week Three
The first week of the New Year is exciting and we feel motivated because unlike all the past New Year’s goals, this is something that we really want to accomplish. Maybe we start going to the gym every day, or throw out all of the junk food in the pantry, or delete all of our social media apps, or start showing up to class early to feel more prepared.
Then, the second week of the New Year hits. The holidays are over and we begin questioning our confidence in ourselves to reach our goal. We stop going to the gym consistently, slowly start resorting to unhealthy food choices, download the social media apps back onto our phone, and decide that showing up early for class isn’t that important.
According to U.S. News, by the third week of the year, 80% of people already stop working toward their New Year’s goal. Why?
There are some essential details about goal setting that many people do not know but should if they want to see their New Year’s goal all the way through (BONUS: These details can help in areas of your life beyond New Year’s goals).
What You Need To Know First: Motivation
Have you ever considered the “why” behind your goal? Why is motivation so high during that first week of the New Year, or the first quarter of school, or the first month of a new job, yet inevitably dwindles? It doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t serious about your goal, school, or work; it could simply mean that you don’t understand the orientation of your motivation.
According to Ryan and Deci, psychologists known for their studies on motivation and personality, the orientation of a person’s motivation has more to do with motive than level of motivation. In layman’s terms, it’s all about the “why” of a goal.
Which Type of Motivation Results in Long-Term Commitment
There are different types of motivation that drive us based on the type of goal or outcome that is desired. The two more distinct types are intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is drive based on pure interest or satisfaction, which you don’t necessarily get recognition from. You may feel this when doing a hobby, volunteering, or getting exercise; things you do because you like to.
Extrinsic motivation is drive based on a certain outcome or reward. You may feel this when competing for recognition, going to the gym to gain approval, or signing up to volunteer out of guilt.
The important thing to know is that being intrinsically motivated often times result in a more long-term commitment than being extrinsically motivated. For example, if there are two people who both have a goal of losing body fat but only one of them gets enjoyment out of exercising while the other dreads going to the gym but goes because they want approval, the person who gets satisfaction out of exercising will be the one who sticks to their goal. This doesn’t mean that the person who doesn’t enjoy the gym can’t lose the weight; it means that they need to find something else enjoyable that can produce the same outcome. Possible solutions could be enjoying cooking really healthy meals, or joining a rec sports team.
Why Goal Setting Is Important
A study by Miami University and the University of North Texas notes that goal setting is one of the best methods to increase performance and productivity in areas like sports, education, lifestyle and business. Setting specific, challenging goals have been proven more effective than ambiguous or effortless goals, or those with no end date or time frame.
If you reflect on it, you will probably agree that a lot of the success that you have achieved is largely in part to goal setting. Whether it was as a part of a sports team, business, relationship, study group, or personal aspiration, there must have been some sort of goal setting before your achievement(s), or else there would be no structure, specificity, or due date.
Goal setting helps people develop intention, focus, and the feeling of competence. Without competence, we lack the belief in ourselves to do anything of worth, which can have some serious negative affects to our mental health. More generally, goal setting is the most reliable way to guarantee that your goal will be accomplished.
Setting & Starting Your Goal: Make It Meaningful with S.M.A.R.T.
Now that you have an idea about how the orientation of your motivation can help determine the fate of your goal and why goal setting is important, it’s time to set a goal so you can feel your competence grow!
First, the goal that you set for yourself should have meaning. There are several ways to really distinguish meaningful goals. One method I have seen great success with is S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely.
S.M.A.R.T breaks a goal down into specific parts to address areas of weakness to turn your goal into reality. Starting with this method is more meaningful than telling your friends and family your New Year’s goal (before actually considering the specifics) because it gives you time to reflect on the details of your goal. Not only will you believe in yourself more, but your goal will seem clearer.
Here’s how to use the S.M.A.R.T goals method:
S: Specific – what is your goal specifically? Break it down into details. Not just, “I want to lose weight,” but “I want to lose 15 lbs. and have more energy by June!”
M: Measurable – is your goal measurable? What will you use to track your progress?
A: Attainable – your goal should be challenging, but not easy enough to be done overnight.
R: Realistic – are you being realistic with yourself when you think about this goal? Do you have the resources and time frame needed to accomplish it?
T: Timely – Self-help author Napoleon Hill said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” This emphasizes the importance of a deadline being the difference between reality and the idea of accomplishing something.
This doesn’t mean that you have to stop once the deadline is met! You can set another deadline once the first one is met. Also, you can extend your timeline as much as needed, depending on the circumstances of your goal.
My challenge to you
Grab a piece of paper (yes, I want you to take the time to write this down!) and break your goal down using the S.M.A.R.T goals method above. Once you’ve spent time validating your goal, hang it somewhere where you will see every day.
Now that your goal is meaningful, START WORKING TOWARDS IT TODAY. Don’t fall for the same idea that 80% of people regret, which is starting on New Year’s Day.
Here are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t wait for the New Year to start working towards your goal:
Making improvements in your life shouldn’t be based on the turning of a calendar.
You will have more time to accomplish your goal (and see measurable changes sooner).
It will give you more time to develop a routine or a schedule.
The longer you wait, the longer it will take to achieve.
You can use the New Year’s Day for celebrating with loved ones instead of feeling obligated to start your goal.
Good luck to you as you embark on your meaningful goal, and remember that the best way to stay committed to your goal is by finding an enjoyable, satisfying way to accomplish it!