Small Steps, Big Goals

By Saren LeCompte, LCPC

Eat healthier. Don’t curse. Exercise more. Lose weight. Make new friends. Start a relationship. Do any of these goals sound familiar? So often we tell ourselves we will do things differently in the New Year. As much as many people dislike new year’s resolutions, we continue to make them because of course, the “New Year” means a “new” you! Unfortunately many (or none) of these goals actually come to fruition. You work really hard for about a month or two, which feels great but is often quickly followed by disappointment, frustration, guilt and then acceptance that you are still the same person you were the year before. What would it be like if you actually set attainable and manageable goals for yourself? This year, recognize your desired areas for change and at the same time, acknowledge your personal limitations. It is important to take a realistic approach to areas of needed growth so you aren’t setting yourself up for failure in the New Year.

 
In January 2014, The Journal of Clinical Psychology published an article that states that people claim to understand the importance of goal setting in order to attain a better life, but in fact, approximately 80 percent of people never set goals for themselves. Of the 20 percent of the population that do set goals, roughly 70 percent fail to achieve them. In a society where so many people recognize the need and have the desire to grow and change, why do we struggle so much and how should we be thinking about things differently? The tools outlined below are described using “weight loss” as an immediate goal, but can be applied to any goal you may choose.
 
Create small, measurable and realistic steps to reach your larger goal. You can’t decide that you are going to complete a marathon without ever having run before. You must first start to train your body, eat and hydrate appropriately, increase your endurance, etc. Tailor your goals by being mindful of the specific attributes that you possess which can help with goal attainment, as well as surround yourself with people that you know that will help to further them. Recognize advantages during the planning process and use the resources you have available to you. Be specific! Instead of saying lose weight, state how and for how long (i.e. Stay away from chips, chocolate and eating an hour before bed for 2 months). When creating smaller steps, it’s necessary to anticipate potential barriers. Be conscious of urges and patterns of behaving and thinking that can create roadblocks. A helpful exercise to increase awareness of roadblocks is to tally the number of times in a day you have an unhealthy urge/thought. Develop a plan for how to manage those thoughts beforehand, and put it into action; once those negative thoughts and behaviors occur you will already be prepared with a plan!
 
Enlist social supports. Having a goal buddy or accountability partner can only help to increase your support system. It is not necessary to have the same goal as your buddy, but it is important to continue to push and encourage each other to succeed.
 
Keep track of your progress. This can be in the form of journaling, such as notes on your cell phone or a “vision board” but it should be something tangible that you can reflect on. Chart not only what you have done for the day, but how it felt, what mistakes were made, what you could do to improve the task for next time. In order to be consistent with it, write down the information right after you’ve completed your daily task. Your records can be a helpful motivator when you may not feel enthusiastic about completing the task and can create a sense of accountability to one’s self as well.
 
Celebrate milestones! It is important to reward yourself, and do so often. While it may not seem impressive that you ran a mile, it’s one mile more then you could do before, so recognize that and take pleasure in the smaller steps that you have completed. If you wait until the larger goal is accomplished to celebrate, you will likely be stifled by the slow progress and lose motivation.
 
Resolutions, like many goals, are attainable, but require a concerted effort and element of patience. Expecting quick results is normal, but not beneficial for those larger, often long-term goals that you set for yourself each year. If you don’t get the results that you want immediately, don’t give up, give it time and be happy with the strides that you are making along the way. Now its time to get started! While you may not be able to be a new you in 2016, you can certainly work towards becoming a better you, and one that you can be proud of.