At the start of a new year, many of us feel keen to set New Year’s resolutions to revamp our habits. At the end of a year that has compromised the health and self-care routines of more than a few of us, you might be particularly eager for a fresh start - or, you may be feeling discouraged and unmotivated to make lifestyle changes as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on. No matter which of these camps you belong to, setting goals for yourself at any time of the year can be a helpful way to improve your sense of control over your life and your overall well-being, if it feels right for you.
How can goal-setting help?
Goal-setting is something many of us do on a regular basis, whether consciously or not. We continually work through short-term goals - like doing the grocery shopping, finishing assignments at school or work, or calling a friend we’ve been meaning to get in touch with. We do the same with longer-term goals, like achieving a grade or promotion that we’re proud of, building strong relationships with loved ones or colleagues, or saving up for a big purchase. We do a lot of this without even thinking about it!
Although “formal” goal-setting may feel intimidating, it can also be a very useful tool for maintaining our wellness. Deciding to set a goal for ourselves can provide us with direction and motivation to work towards achieving something. Through goal-setting, we can begin to identify which areas of our lives we are comfortable with, and which areas we’d like to keep working on. Achieving the goals we set can help us to build confidence, feel accomplished and gain a sense of control over our lives - which is more important than ever when the world around us may feel unpredictable and uncertain.
How can goal-setting hinder?
There are a lot of common snags we can run into while goal-setting that may lead to disappointment. New Year’s resolutions are particularly prone to failure - a survey conducted by Ipsos reported that around only 22% of Canadians manage to follow through on their New Year’s goals, while 80% give up on their resolutions before the year is over. Over time, setting goals without achieving them can make us feel like we’re not capable of change - when in reality, failing to achieve our goals is usually a failure of process, not of person! Here’s the good news - sometimes, all we need is a little guidance and some tweaks to how we set and work towards our goals to help turn things around.
Setting smarter goals
The best goals are smart - that is, SMART:
S - Specific. What exactly will you do?
For example, instead of setting a goal of “I’m going to practice more self-care”, narrow it down to the specific activity you will focus on such as “I’ll practice meditation in the morning when I wake up”. The more details, the better - consider not only the activity, but also the time and the place. Be sure to consider your own lifestyle and preferences, too. The morning could be a good time for a morning person, but a night owl might prefer evenings before bed, or a lunch hour meditation if that fits best into your day!
M - Measurable. How much will you do it? How will you know that you’ve achieved your goal?
If you’ve decided to practice meditation, decide on the regularity, and don’t forget to be specific here too (pick a number!). It’s important to make sure the number you choose is achievable - read on!
A - Achievable. Is your goal doable for you right now? Will it fit reasonably into your life?
If you’re new to meditation, you won’t be a pro right away. It might not be realistic to decide that you’re going to meditate all on your own, 7 days of the week. However, a great starting goal might be to do a guided meditation, once or twice a week.
R - Relevant. Is this goal something you care about? Are you motivated to make it a priority?
Think: Is meditation something you’re interested in? If not, maybe another form of self-care is a better fit for you, like journaling or learning an instrument. Reflect on why you’re opting for this particular goal - you don’t want to choose something you’ll always dread doing!
T - Time-bound. What’s your deadline for achieving your specific goal? When will you check your progress?
A strong goal should have a start and an end - if it’s endless, we may never feel like we’re making progress. Decide for how long you’re going to practice guided meditation - for two weeks as an example. At the end of the two weeks, you can check in with yourself, celebrate your successes, reflect on your challenges, and adjust your next goal if needed!
By using the SMART technique, we have taken a very general goal -I’m going to practice more self-care and turned it into a far smarter, more actionable goal: I’m going to practice guided meditation twice a week before bed for 2 weeks. You can apply this strategy to any goal that suits you!
Bonus tips to set yourself up for success
Even when we choose goals that are SMART, achieving them won’t always be a piece of cake. Here are some pro tips to help you knock it out of the park:
Start small, go slow and ask for help if you need it - but remember, when you’re setting goals for yourself, you make the rules, and you can change them! Here’s to expanding your wellness toolbox in 2022.