It’s a New Year, and a great time to start fresh. Time to think about what went right and wrong this past year, and make a plan for living out the life of your dreams! You get to start over, with another shot to reach your goals, and the possibilities really are limitless.
But if you’re like me, there may be a small part of you that doubts you can make the changes you want to make. I know I struggle with fear of failure. I sometimes don’t want to set goals, because I have gotten a little gung-ho in the past, failed to complete my goals, didn’t follow through, or just changed my mind about what I wanted. Whatever the reason, not completing your goals can be disappointing.
There is a way to set goals that you can stick with and complete. If we can really examine and change our habits, we can naturally reach our goals by doing the right actions each day to get us there. Intentionally changing your habits to line up with your goals can set you on a steady track, at a pace that you can keep up all year, rather than a sprint that may cause us to fizzle out and give up on our goals.
It all comes down to the difference between traditional goal setting, and creating a system to change your habits. Let me show you what I mean:
First, a look at the traditional goal-setting approach
In this method, we set a goal, then break it down into pieces that become our short-term goals.
For example, if you have a goal of losing 100 pounds, you would then break it down into smaller pieces in order to reach your goal this year. You might say, ‘I need to lose 10 lbs a month for 6 months, then 6 lbs per month for 5 months to reach my goal.’
So you start out doing EVERYTHING you can to make sure you meet your goal in your first month. You work hard, eat right 95% of the time, exercise most days, and you do it! You lose 10 lbs. the first month.
The second month, things get tough. Your kids are sick, and you have to spend a lot more time taking care of them. Some workouts get skipped. You scramble to try to prep healthy meals, and you might have picked up takeout a few times because you just couldn’t get to the store. You still lost weight this month, but only five pounds.
You’re a little disappointed that you didn’t lose the weight, and now you’ve got 15 lbs to lose in month three if you want to catch up. You cut back on calories, even though you’re hungry all the time.
By week three, you have lost some weight, but you also feel tired and sluggish. When your daughter’s birthday party comes along, you cheat just a little by having a piece of cake.
That did it…. there’s no way you’re going to lose 15 lbs. this month anyway. And you just don’t think you can do it. So you have a piece of cake the next night too. The next day, you help yourself to some snacks that were left over from the party, and it becomes a nightly habit … you’ll get on track next week.
By the end of the month, you end up losing four pounds, and you are now 11 POUNDS BEHIND. At this point, it is pretty easy to give up on your goal, since life is just. too. HARD. And you will never make it anyway….
Does this sound familiar at all? I’m sad to say it does for me. But I have turned my focus from goal-setting to habit-setting, and find that changes can last.
The habit-setting approach can help you reach your goals
When we focus on habits, we make small changes that lead us to where we want to be. We do it one step at a time, and give each habit time to become normal before adding more.
You probably already KNOW what you need to do to create new habits this year. If your goal is losing weight, you could focus on the habits of walking more, eating more vegetables, and choosing healthy alternatives to snacks and treats.
Work on each new step long enough for it to become a habit, a normal part of your day to day life. When you pay attention to what you can handle, and work on establishing habits for the long-haul, you will get to your goal. You can’t necessarily predict how much weight you will lose in a month, but you are in it for long term success.
It’s ok to have a big goal in mind. In fact, I would highly recommend it, since that is how you know what habits you need to change. But being completely focused on a number as a goal and holding yourself to strict time limits can be unhealthy and defeating. Focus instead on the habits to get there, and add a new one each time you are ready!
Setting habits that stick
Now, let’s break habit-setting down into a VERY simple three step process, to internalize the new behavior and make it a true habit. We want each habit to become something we do automatically without having to think about, like brushing our teeth.
1. Decide What You Want To Do and Get Motivated!
The first step is to decide what you want that new habit to be. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell yourself you want to exercise more. Instead say something like “I will go for a 30 minute walk every single day”.
Deciding what your new habit will be and committing to when and how you’re going to do it, is half the battle. Consider the time and resources you have, make sure the habit is something you can do consistently (it’s good to push yourself a little, but make sure it’s possible), and get ready to start!
Make sure you also consider why you want to start this habit. Keep the big goal in mind, and dig deep for your real motivation. Do you want to be healthy to enjoy activities with your family? Do you want to be an example to your children? Or maybe you want to stick to your budget to accomplish some of your grand goals and dreams.
Your WHY has to be enough to carry you through when you feel like quitting, so make sure to define it up front.
2. Create a Reminder System to Get It Done
We want to set things up to be smooth sailing. At first, you’ll probably be motivated and excited to get this done, and sticking to your new habit won’t be an issue. But a few days in, you’ll notice that it’s easy to slip back into old habits.
Maybe it’s raining and you don’t really want to go out and walk. Or maybe your day just gets away from you. Make sure you have some kind of reminder system so you can’t ‘forget’ or procrastinate. Set an alert on your phone or add the new habit to your daily to-do list for a while.
If you want, you can add in a small reward to motivate you even more. If your goal is walking, listen to an audiobook or something else you enjoy while you walk. Or if the habit is prepping a healthy lunch, put a dollar or two in a jar each time you do it to save up for something you’ve been wanting to purchase. Ten minutes to read and drink coffee or tea during nap time could be a great reward too. You will start to look forward to your habit each day!
3. Stay Consistent Until it has Become a Habit
This brings us to the last step. It takes some time before a new behavior becomes a true habit. Until then, a routine will work to your best advantage. Even before the new behavior becomes automatic, a routine will help you get it done without having to spend a lot of willpower or relying on daily reminders.
Whatever your habit is, try to do it at the same time every day! For example, go on a walk every day after breakfast.
It might also help to use the mantra, “This is just what I do” when you think about your new habit and why you are doing it. Eventually, the new habit will actually begin to feel like “just what you do.” At that point, you can add in another habit when you feel ready! This could take anywhere from one month to six months, depending on the habit.
Sometimes, you will encounter obstacles that can make it impossible to continue your habit. That is the time to take a step back and figure out how you can come as close as possible to your goal.
If you are going to a conference or on a vacation where you can’t make your morning smoothie, think about another alternative. Could you buy a few healthy protein drinks to take with you and drink each morning? If your goal is walking, and you have to miss a day, could you add a little extra the next day?
Make sure you are on the lookout for upcoming obstacles, set a plan, and get right back to your routine as soon as you can.
Reach Your Goals
Congratulations! If you set intentional habits and practice each one until it is routine, adding a new one when you are ready, you WILL reach your goal.
I’d love to hear your goals for the year, and what habit you are working on first! If you are changing the way you eat, please join us for our FREE Clean Eating Challenge by signing up below!
I wish you all the best in the New Year!
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