As a young bodybuilder with a thick Austrian accent Arnold Schwarzenegger declared to a sports journalist that he was going to be Hollywood’s biggest star.
When he’d accomplished that, his next goal was to enter politics. In 2003, he became the Governor of California and proceeded to implement measures to radically reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Arnie is a great example of the power of goal setting. Arnie knows how to flex his goal setting muscle. He knows what it takes to get results.
Back in 2015 at the Paris climate talks, Arnie shared one of the secrets to his success: removing the word ‘impossible’ from his vocabulary.
He said this (to hear Arnie say it in his awesome accent, go to 1.48 in this video.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have heard the word impossible my entire life. I never ever listen to the naysayers. I eliminated the word impossible from my vocabulary. So when people said “It can’t be done”, I did it.”
With the start of the New Year, perhaps it’s time for us to embrace a bit of Arnie’s philosophy. If you removed the word impossible from your vocabulary and you could do anything, what would you do?
Perhaps you’ve already tried to become more organized/productive/healthier, etc but things didn’t work out.
As author and coach M.J. Ryan states when we don’t achieve results overnight “we resign ourselves to staying the same, convinced that we are hopeless, weak and unmotivated- which makes us even more stuck”.
But what many of us don’t realise is that change can be hard. It’s usually a really messy process. You’re going to slip up (many times). That’s just how it goes.
It’s the thought that things should be smooth sailing and easy that leads people to give up too soon.
The good news is there are simple things you can do to boost your chances of sticking to your goals. In her book This Year I Will … M.J. Ryan explores a range of different strategies that can help you to do what’s most important to you and do the things you’ve always wanted to do.
Below are 10 ways you can avoid the pitfalls most people make when it comes to setting new years resolutions/goals.
1. Accept that making change can be awkward
Making change can feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially at the beginning. You shouldn’t interpret this discomfort as a sign that you can’t or shouldn’t stick to your goals.
Remember, you’re trying to change a deeply ingrained habit, which you’ve probably done for many years. Expect that it’s going to feel awkward for a time.
Instead of thinking something is wrong, embrace the discomfort.
For example, as I write this I’m working at my treadmill desk. I’m walking and writing, which feels completely different to sitting and writing. The experience feels a bit like riding a bike for the first time (just not quite as wobbly). It has taken a few sessions to work out the right walking speed to be able to write. But it’s getting easier. After every session, I feel a bit more comfortable walking/working at my treadmill desk.
2. Have a backup plan (and backup plans to your backup plans)
You may have good intentions to take action on your goals every day, but life is unpredictable and does not always go to plan. Don’t use this as an excuse not to take action. You need to have a backup plan.
For example, you could have a goal to exercise every day by walking or going to the gym. If it starts to rain on a walking day, don’t use that as an excuse not to exercise. Your back up plan could be to grab an umbrella and start walking. Pull out a yoga mat and do some stretches in your lounge. Or be flexible with your routine and head to the gym.
Imagining where and how things can go wrong and devising backup plans increases our chances of following through with our intentions.
You may even want to consider devising backup plans to your backup plans!
3. Focus your mind on one thing at a time
The human brain can be easily overwhelmed by taking on too much. Focusing the brain on making one big change at a time can help you to stay focused and take positive action steps forward.
M.J. Ryan suggests giving your year a theme around your goal. For example, this year could be the year of learning to say no or the year of fun/play. Using a frame for your goal can be a powerful reminder and can help to propel you into action.
4. Stop setting unrealistic, over-the-top, crazy goals
I was in the library the other day, browsing through some of the magazines. I couldn’t help but notice some of the bold and ridiculous claims on the covers. Claims such as “Lose 25 kilograms in 30 days”.
According to M.J. Ryan such claims are completely irresponsible. They create unrealistic expectations that lead people to give up on their goals.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to aim high. But we need to look at what is going to be realistic and humanly possible given our life circumstances.
You can certainly lose 25 kilograms (if that’s what you want to do). But rather than it taking 25 days, give yourself at least 25 weeks.
5. Discover your success formula
Books can be a wealth of knowledge and provide lots of practical advice and strategies. But they can also leave us feeling mentally overwhelmed.
There is no shortage of books and websites on certain topics. Instead of taking action to achieve your goals, we can get lost in reading rather than the actual doing.
It’s time to stop looking for answers in books and websites.
M.J. Ryan challenges us to explore our own success formula. Here’s how you do it:
Think about some of the things you’ve accomplished in your life (e.g. finishing school, being a good friend and/or learning a particular skill). How did you do these things? What strategies and strengths did you need?
See if you can see any patterns emerging. Bring those key strategies and traits to your next challenge.
6. Go for growth
Stanford researcher Carol Dweck says there are two different mindsets you can have when it comes to learning: a growth or fixed mindset.
A growth mindset will support you to stick at pursuing your goals, whereas a fixed mindset is likely to lead to giving up early on when confronted with the smallest of obstacles.
What does a growth mindset look like?
It’s characterized by a love of learning. A sense of curiosity (What can I learn from this slip up?). Persisting in the face of challenges.
If you have a growth mindset, you think “If I keep at it, I’ll see results. I’ll get better at this”. Effort equals results.
People with a growth mindset also tend to plan out how they’ll achieve their goals by considering what, where, how and when they’ll take action. In contrast, people with a fixed mindset don’t plan and simply say “I’m just going to do it!”. But do what? These vague statements result in people often not accomplishing their goals.
7. Start before you feel ready
The conditions may not be ideal. You may not even feel ready or 100% sure about whether you want to do this. But force yourself to start.
Motivation works in an interesting way. If we waited for motivation to strike before we did anything, chances are nothing would ever get done.
Motivation actually comes from taking action and seeing results. You can read more about this here.
8. Stop asking Why? Start asking What?
“Why do I procrastinate?”, “Why am I so disorganized?” and “Why am I so lazy?”
M.J Ryan says too much navel gazing and asking “why” doesn’t help us to change our behaviour.
It’s far more effective to focus your energy and attention on what you can do to become the person you want to be.
Instead of asking “Why am I so disorganised?”, ask “What do I need to do to be more organised?”
9. Remind yourself of your goal
Sometimes we forget what our goals are. The surrounding environment can be so tempting that what we say we are committed to goes out the window.
For example, one of my goals is to eat healthy foods that nourish my body and mind. But last night when I was at a party I found myself standing near a bowl of potato chips, munching away on them. It wasn’t until I felt a slight pain in my stomach that I was reminded of my goal to eat healthy foods! I stepped away from the bowl of chips and got myself a glass of water.
What could I have done to avoid eating all those chips?
I could have asked my friend to remind me of my healthy eating goal. I could have envisaged the junk food before going to the party and planned to bring my own healthy food. There’s lots of things I could have done, but keeping my goal clear in my mind would have helped me to stay on track.
10. Engineer your environment for change
Set up your home environment so it nudges you towards the behaviours you want to engage in. For instance, if you want to add more movement to your day, why not place a treadmill or exercise bike in front of the television? Or some hand weights and a stretch band next to your desk?
Sure, there’s no guarantee that you will use them, but having them visable can help to remind you of your goal to move more. Having them easily accessible (and not packed away in boxes in a spare room) means you’ve removed some the barriers to using them.
M.J. Ryan suggests ‘temptation proofing’ your environment. Don’t have things in your house that will tempt you to eat badly, waste your time, etc.
Last year I set a goal to decrease my digital distractions. I made my home wifi free during the day. This may sound a little extreme but it meant I was able to focus on writing my doctoral thesis and push through the discomfort. If I had access to the Internet, it would have been too easy to distract myself with funny videos and facebook when things got tough.
What if, armed with these psychological strategies for change, you managed to stick to your goals and see positive (even life changing) results this year? What if you tried removing the word impossible from your vocabulary? Even for just one day?
See what happens. You’ve got nothing to lose.