With the new year comes a desire to do something different. It might be a fitness goal, a habit to break, or hobby to pursue. There’s an excitement to tackle this challenge and motivation is high.
And then…it’s February and we realize we’ve already fallen short of our goal. How did that happen? Many of us, myself included, often start with a big thing we want and don’t map out how to get there. Here are five tips to help you get there.
The first step is to assess your life and what will make it easy or difficult to achieve your goal. Let’s say, for example, your goal is to increase the amount of time you practice mindfulness. Ask yourself some exploration questions. What motivates you to practice? What obstacles might prevent you from practicing more? A busy morning getting kids to school? Feeling really tired after work? What attitude will you take if you don’t achieve your goal for a day or two? Anticipating possible roadblocks helps us plan ahead and then be creative with how to meet the challenges.
Take Small Steps First
Many of us forget to practice what we ask our students to practice: set positive and realistic goals. Goals like, “I’ll never eat sweets again!” or “I’ll exercise an hour every day,” sound great at first, but they are too big if we are starting from scratch. We can’t run a marathon if we can’t yet jog a mile.
We need to build up to larger goals by finding success in a series of smaller, easier steps. For example, perhaps your goal is to practice mindfulness for 30 minutes a day. That would be great, wouldn’t it? But maybe your assessment revealed that mornings with the family are very busy and it’s unlikely you will have a block of time to yourself. Or perhaps you are too drained after work to practice. Can you commit to practicing in your car for just a few minutes before or after work? What about setting aside just 10 minutes during lunch to do mindful walking? (That could help you meet your fitness goals, too.) Focus on accomplishing these smaller goals and feel good about completing them.
Once you are able to gain consistency with smaller steps, then you can use the momentum to expand the goal.
An accountability system helps us keep goals. Are there other people who have a similar goal you can check in with? Can you ask someone to follow up with you about your progress? Some people try announcing their goals to family and friends to create motivation to live up to what they said. You can also try setting reminders on your phone. Take some time now to sprinkle the reminders throughout all the months of 2016 so they’ll be there to support you consistently.
Think about creative ways to support and motivate yourself when you don’t feel like doing your goal. With your mindfulness practice, for example, how could you bring to mind your reason for practicing? Could you hold an object representing your motive or look at a photo of people you love and want to help with your practice? These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many ways you can make mindfulness, and your other goals, fun and creative. Adding fun and other positive emotions makes goals less daunting, thus allowing us to stay motivated.
As the weeks go by, you’ll notice triumphs and setbacks. If you fall short of your goal, it can feel very discouraging. But if we use the same attitude we have during a mindfulness practice, and treat a setback like we do a distraction, we are open to moving forward. If you notice your mind has wandered, or in this case you haven’t meet your goal recently, congratulate yourself for noticing. Then gently bring your intention back to meeting the goal at the next opportunity. If we view a setback as a fresh chance to start again, then it’s not really a setback but a growth opportunity. With this kind of mindset we can maintain the motivation we have in January throughout the year.
Take a few moments to think about your goals for this year and how you can work with them. See how you can break them up into smaller steps and get creative about how to accomplish them. Work on those steps and congratulate yourself as you succeed. Find an accountability system that works for you. Be gentle on yourself if you have an off day. These tips will help you keep momentum going and then keeping your goals becomes more and more automatic.