Set and Get Goals in 2021: Actions Over Outcomes
And just like that, an old year draws to a close as a new one opens its doors. With the change of date comes a wave of motivation and the goal-orientated among up snatch up the chance to put some new behaviours into practice.
But how many times have you seen through your new years resolution? How long does it take for the novelty of early starts, trips to the gym or content creation to wear off? For those who start the year with goals, it is reported around 75% of people drop some of their New Years resolutions. The chorus of “I’ll wait until next year” chimes, and old habits take hold.
The problem with many New Years plans is their dependency on motivation when really, what a goal with staying power needs is determination. The determination to keep going when you don’t want to, to push forward when the “why” is forgotten and to fight the excuses your reward-craving brain provides for folding. And if you can stick out those first few months of a new routine, your efforts are likely to be traded for a set of new habits which makes your goal much easier to reach.
So how can you keep going through those first few months of crafting your perfect routine? For me, I find temporarily taking my eye off the prize is the way to achieving a goal. Instead of focusing on the outcomes, shifting your attention to the measurable actions which can be done consistently allow you to take strides towards your desired end-state. To find the actions where you should be directing your efforts, try the following steps!
Step 1: Decide what you want
Write down your biggest desires for the next year and don’t be afraid to be detailed! This exercise allows you to get clarity on your priorities and within this text lies your goals. Pick one or several desires and let these be your focus. The number you pick really depends on how new the activity is to you. If you are wanting to get stronger in the next year and you have already been attending the gym regularly, then you can select this goal amongst a few others. However, if you are a novice to working out, you are having to make a new habit (going to the gym) in order to make your goal happen. In this case, focusing on this one goal for the time being will give you the most chance of success.
Step 2: Get Specific
From your list of desires, make specific goals which you can clearly tell if you have achieved or not at the end of the year. So taking the ‘get strong’ desire, this could be turned into a goal like “be able to squat 80kg”. This is a measure of strength AND it is something you can tangibly work towards.
Step 3: What Will You Need To Do and What Might Get In Your Way
After writing your specific goals, write in detail about the things you need to do to achieve that goal and what challenges might get in your way. Writing in detail about your goals and action plans has been shown to improve goal performance in academic settings, and the process of mentally facing challenges allows you to think of the reality of taking action towards your goals; a process also thought to enhance likelihood of achieving your desired end-point. With any arising challenges, think of ways you would overcome them. For example, if you are wanting to go to the gym early in the morning, a challenge could be “feeling tired”. Countering this by packing your bag the night before, arranging to meet a friend to workout or promising yourself a nice latte afterwards can all help you avoid turning over and going back to sleep.
Step 4: Set Your Action-Based Goals
From your detailed description of how you will make your goals happen, select the actions you need to do on a weekly basis. THESE ARE NOW THE GOALS YOU SHOULD FOCUS ON. Putting in consistent action allows your brain to build habits which will pull you towards your goals. For our strength goal, one goal to focus on could be “Go to the gym 4 times a week”. This is an action you can “tick-off” regularly and helps stops the overwhelm that comes from thinking of how far you are from your “big goal” during the early months of the year.
Step 5: Create Your Goal-Achiever Identity
Preliminary studies have shown tying your identity to your goals can make you more motivated to become your “ideal self”. Identity is believed to be the core of behavioural change – meaning if you believe you are a certain type of person (e.g. “I am a runner”) you are more likely to act in accordance with that identity (e.g. go running regularly). Who do you need to be to make your goals happen? A morning person? Someone who only spends an hour on their phone a day? Start to tell yourself this is who you are and hopefully, this should inspire you to follow through with your actions. This is a lovely feedback loop as if you are performing actions in alignment with your identity, you are strengthening the identity you need to perform these actions!
Step 6: Set Your Assessments and Schedule
Finally, the big thing – set up your schedule and assessment points! Break down your specific goal into 4 milestones and check in throughout the year to see how efficient your current actions are in helping you achieve your big goal. For a strength goal, the milestones could be “Squat (1) 50kg (2) 60kg (3) 70kg (4) 80kg”. If you are hitting these smaller milestones, you are on track to your big goal! Also set up your weekly schedule with your action-based goals penciled in around your other commitments, and alter over the first few weeks to find your perfect rhythm. A schedule is a perfect counter attack to lack of motivation. Follow your calendar and you will reach your goal!
Actions speak louder than words – so put the wheels in motion and get started with your new schedule today!
Julia xoxo (@julia.ravey.science)
For more science by me, see my YouTube!