Perhaps by now you have incorporated your new year’s resolution into your daily life. Or maybe you are like most people and have already let the idea slide out of reach. That’s ok. We are here to help you bring your vision back into focus by setting healthy goals.
Six Steps for Setting Healthy Goals
The origin of the word “resolution” includes two forces that seem incongruent at first look: resolvere, from re, expressing intensive force, and solvere, to ‘loosen.’ This notion of loosening, a release, coupled with a forceful action is actually a great way to look at our goals.
We need to let go of expectations that are focused on the end-result while at the same time we need to attach a sense of force, a set of purposeful actions that will bind us positively to a course in which the solution is a natural outcome.
The value of a goal is not just in how we embrace the idea but it is also in how we formulate that idea and then how we make it a part of who we are. Healthy goals in this regard are not mere tasks to be completed, but rather ideas about what we want to become and our resolve to become that person.
Here are six ways to help you make your goals into a better you:
1. Think Small: Bigger Is Not Always Better
It is boring, but true: real, lasting change starts small. When setting your goals, take your ideas and break them down into their smaller components, the behaviors and choices, situations and contexts that define them. Then pick one of those things that catches your attention or you feel that is the most fundamental part of that goal. This should root-out what warrants your focus.
Goals like the perennial “lose weight” are perennial precisely because they involve a myriad of choices, behaviors, and environments that influence outcomes in different ways. Your actual weight is one outcome, but it involves too many differing conditions. It is a good idea to lose weight but it is not a very good goal on its own. It’s too big. You need to consider the smaller choices, behaviors, and contexts that influence your weight and start there.
By now, most of us understand enough about weight management that we can break down a weight problem into its various components, e.g. diet, exercise, sleep, stress, habits, etc. A better way to formulate healthy goals is to focus on one or two of those components. Hildegard of Bingen would have considered the same modest approach to her subconscious virtues.
This leads us to…
2. Be Specific
Avoid vague ideas. Consider what your idea really means in the physical world of your actions. Healthy goals are tied directly to your behaviors, which are a function of your choices. It is important to make this connection, to empower yourself to own your choices.
Instead of something esoteric or something rooted in your feelings, identify a set of behaviors that are not so easily rationalized or negotiated. As we habituate these behaviors every day, the goal becomes a part of who we are. Healthy goals are not an end but a means. Which leads us to…
3. Focus on Behaviors not Outcomes
Healthy goals are the ones that don’t always have a specific end but rather reveal a specific set of behaviors to be altered. To alter these behaviors you have to change the underlying motivation, you have to re-wire the way you think. Behaviors are changed incrementally, over time, through repeating the same choice over and over again until the choice is no longer observable.
Focusing on the outcome fails to anchor your mental point of origin in the behavioral sphere; you end up fixating on the problem or how you measure the problem instead of concentrating your mental energy into altering the behaviors that support the problem – or are preventing you from overcoming it.
This doesn’t mean healthy goals can’t be measured or can’t be things that are completed, but the idea should be to create lasting change; things to be assimilated, not just eliminated. Hunter S. Thompsen wrote a great letter that expresses this point, and leads us to…
4. Invite Change, Don’t Avoid Challenge
This is the part about being open. The loosening that makes room for our intensive force. We need to frame our healthy goals from the perspective of opening up to something new, not closing off to those things that trouble us.
Inviting change is how we create. Creativity is acts of forceful will, something we make through our choices, however brute or subtle. Avoidance, however, is a reactive and often passive way that actually takes energy away from our creativity.
So define your healthy goals as new or different behaviors (choices) that you are inviting into your life not as things to be avoided. The process of inviting in those new things will supplant those things that we desire to avoid or eliminate through action.
We will confront the negative things through our process sure enough, but it is through this imperfect process of attrition that we create our better selves. This means we will occasionally fail, which leads us to…
5. Accept That You Will Fail, But Plan Accordingly
Momentary failure is inevitable. Accept this going in. Allow for failure as part of the process, but do not allow failure to go unabated. Failure might be an occasional houseguest, but do not allow failure to move in with you.
When setting and defining your healthy goals, consider the threats, weaknesses, and challenges. You know best what is likely to cause you to slip, to distract or undermine. Now, assume that you will slip. What can you do to minimize the impact, to bounce back, to prevent the failure from becoming anything but a momentary lapse in your process?
Come up with if/then contingencies. These will help you define what is most likely to throw you off course as well as what is most likely to put you back on course. This goes hand-in-hand with….
6. Write it down
Accountability is key. While personal affirmations can be helpful, just whispering to the wind is not the most effective approach. As a part of owning your goal, write it down. Discuss it with a loved one. Put it into your calendar or other reminders.
This simple task is a surprisingly powerful part of taking ownership. We tend to attach a higher value to something we own. In the case of effective goals this means that once we own the goal as our own, as a part of who we are, we will work harder to keep and protect it.