As the New Year approaches, many of us will be taking an inventory of our lives in an effort to see where improvements can be made—the New Year represents a fresh start where hope and possibilities come into focus.
Keeping these possibilities alive throughout the new year and beyond is the real challenge. Often our resolutions are about gaining control over the areas of our lives that have slipped away from us or the desire to reach for some unrealized dream. The New Year mantra of breaking unhealthy habits and starting healthy habits is a familiar one. And hopefully with enough momentum (and dedication) fueled by the excitement of the year, our new and improved lifestyle will seem less daunting and become habitual.
The suggestions below can be used for any desired goal, including the goal to improve your marriage/relationship.
10 Ways to Reach Your Goals in the New Year
1. Take an Inventory of Your Strengths and Play to Them
To often, we’re glaringly aware of our shortcomings without having a clear picture of our psychological and emotional strengths. Some people are efficient at multi-tasking, others do best focusing on one task at a time; Some people learn best by reading about something, while others excel by listening; Some people are more energetic and productive in the mornings, while others get the most done in the late afternoon or evening. It’s important to know where your strengths lie, and then take advantage of them to help you reach your goals.
2. Size Does Count, and Small is the Winner
Replace grand gestures of behavioral change (which are often unsustainable) with smaller, more reasonable goals. While it’s inspiring to think big, too often “big” can equate to feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of the task. Follow-through is the most important thing here, and we’re more likely to be consistent and show sustained improvement when the change is small and manageable in the first place.
3. Break Down Large Goals into Reachable Sub-Goals
Remember, every person who ever lost 10 or 50 or 500 pounds started by losing 1, then 2, then 3 pounds… Every book written started with just one completed chapter, and before that, a completed paragraph, and before that, a completed sentence, and before that… You get the idea. Instead of only focusing on the hoped-for final result of all your hard work (and potentially making yourself feel bad because you feel miles away from it), keep the majority of your attention on the important, achievable, daily stepping stones on the path to your major goal—they’ll all add up.
4. Celebrate the Small Accomplishments
Repeat after me: “There is no such thing as too small.” Too often we overlook the small steps or micro-achievements that are occurring as we strive toward change—and if we do see some small achievements we’re too quick to minimize them as meaningless. Any and all movement toward your goal (whether minute, small, moderate or grand) is meaningful and should be celebrated, since true change is a process, not a product.
5. Visualize the Desired Outcome
Reaching our goals (i.e., relationship goals, as well as health, creative, spiritual or financial goals) is all about hard work. Discomfort, frustration and exasperation are frequent travel companions on the journey toward goal-attainment. And it is during these difficult times that we are most likely to lose sight of why we are fighting so hard. So when when you’re struggling and/or your motivation is running low, picture the desired outcome—spend time visualizing and feeling what it will be to have accomplished your goal(s).
6. Expect and Understand Setbacks
And just when you think you’re in the clear and your motivation is at an all-time high, expect a few more setbacks. We often mistakenly experience setbacks as failures and these failures are often accompanied by a dash of self-loathing. The setback-failure mindset is a surefire way to take the wind out of your motivational sails. Rather than the failure perspective, try thinking of setbacks as opportunities for learning: Learning about yourself (“What can I learn from this particular setback?” “What is my emotional Achilles’ heel that I should watch for?”) and learning about any adjustments that may be needed (e.g., exercising before work rather than after work).
7. Be Aware of Your Resistance to Change
It’s pretty straightforward: Your goal is something you want and desire, and your life will somehow be better once you’ve reached/obtained it. But all too often, we want something because we think we should want it (or because someone else thinks we should have it). If you find that you’re fighting yourself every step of the way, it may be important to reflect on your motivation—do you really want this particular goal? Are there any anticipated negatives to having this particular goal?
8. Adjust Your Goals to Reflect the Reality of Your Life
Sometimes life does get in the way of certain things. If your life circumstances are such that they prevent you from working toward a particular goal, you may need to shelve the goal and come back to it at a different time in your life (rather than spinning your wheels in perpetual frustration). And once your life circumstances change (e.g., your children enter preschool; you’re able to clear up time by reducing your work schedule to part-time), don’t forget to dust off the goal and get to work.
9. Resist the “I’m Too Busy” Excuse
Sometimes our life circumstances do prevent us from working toward certain goals (as mentioned above), but it’s also too easy (and too common) to use busyness as an excuse to put your life-goals on hold. Too many people have allowed stagnation and complacency to become their norm. You will always be too busy—the question is, will you allow your busyness to rule your life? Even people who have retired from work and enjoy uninterrupted expanses of free time to pursue their life dreams complain about being too busy and about needing more time.
10. If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Reach Their Goals
Working towards a goal is just that—Work! If you refuse to accept the fact that the work will, at times, involve discomfort, struggle and inconvenience, then you’re in for a pretty unpleasant shock. For years, John Grisham (one of the most successful authors in history) would awake at 4:00am each day and write for several hours before plunging into his hectic, full-time workday as an attorney. (Imagine dragging yourself out of bed hours earlier than you had to, day after day, to achieve a personal goal, one that mattered to no one but yourself.) The hard work, dedication and focus it took to reach his goal certainly paid off: His books have sold over 250 million copies and many have been made into films.
Remember, your goal-journey may involve some twists and turns, a few potholes, and one or two steep hills along the way. And don’t forget: the most meaningful and rewarding experiences often take time, planning and effort—so try to hang in there and keep your head above water even when you’re feeling weighed down in discouragement.
Free Marriage/Relationship Resources
For more marriage/relationship help tips on how to use the energy of the New Year to improve your relationship, click Relationship Help: Growing Your Relationship Beyond the New Year.
And don’t forget to sign up for my Relationship Help Newsletter (you’ll receive 2-bonus reports on how to strengthen your marriage/relationship when you subscribe).
Wishing you a fulfilling New Year!
Dr. Rich Nicastro