We’re already two weeks into the New Year and for some of us we can already see our new year resolutions start to fall by the wayside. This happens every year, so why do we keep setting these kinds of goals & do they actually work?
We live in a very goal-oriented culture and we are accustomed to setting goals for the New Year in the belief and hope that they help us move forward in big ways. Goals can be extremely effective, depending on how you set and approach them. They can inspire you and help you keep the bigger picture in mind.
Then why do so many goals or resolutions go unfulfilled? One reason that New Year’s resolutions often fail — especially big, sweeping ones — is that people ultimately decide they aren’t worth the trouble. The reward is so far in the future that we don’t stay motivated to keep moving toward it. When you set smaller, specific goals, your brain can activate behaviors it knows will help you achieve them.
If, for example, you have a vague goal of moving into management this year, your brain will probably have trouble pinpointing the behaviors you need to get there. However, if you instead set a smaller goal beneath the larger one, such as networking with 3 people each week, you will now have a specific behavior associated with achieving that bigger goal.
Another reason we fail to achieve goals is a lack of emotional investment in them, says Anne Dranitsaris, a corporate psychotherapist and owner of Striving Styles, a consulting firm in Toronto. She says we set resolutions believing that our thoughts drive our behavior, even though we are often “motivated to action by our emotions.” So it’s important to know what motivates you, for example, the need for recognition or significance, and set goals with that in mind.
If, for example, you know you’re motivated by recognition from colleagues, setting a goal to be a good team player will be hard to achieve. That’s because “being a team player means being more collaborative; you need to distinguish yourself from others, not be more like them,” she says. An example of a better goal is to be your department’s top sales performer. “You would stand out not only to your peers but to your leader, which will be satisfying for you,” she says.
Fear and anxiety, however, can undermine your efforts. If your goal is to find a new job, and if you are a very social person with many friends at the office, you may be anxious about leaving that behind. As a result, you procrastinate and decide you need someone to help you redo your résumé, when you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself.
Maybe a goal is simply not worth keeping. Becoming too narrowly focused on certain objectives can make you so single-minded that you don’t see other opportunities to learn, innovate or improve.
My advice is, set an overall goal and then smaller milestone goals at short intervals. With goal-setting, what’s usually missing for most of us is usually the action steps. People think about what they want, but they don’t think through what will actually need to happen to get there. Happy goal setting to all of you!