Want a happier year? Having goals can fast track you there. Yes, sometimes life can get in the way; old ingrained patterns can infiltrate good intentions. What to do? Here are 10 easy ways to help rebuild those neural pathways, so that the new goals on your happiness journey can stick.
- Have a Big Enough Reason:
The "why" you are even undertaking a goal has to be important. It's not enough to say "I need to drop some weight." Saying "I am in the process of improving my HDL cholesterol to be around for the people I care about" is way more powerful. Think of the benefits of what you want, and say it in present time (I'm in the process of...).
Choose only one thing to focus on at a time, and make it something that's specific and achievable. Also, the result should depend on what you do rather than situations where others are in control (a goal to win a lottery -- you're not in control of that!). Giving your attention to your one doable thing also ensures that it stays in the forefront of your mind.
By breaking one big goal down into doable mini-goals, you learn to trust yourself more and feel more in control. If you want to write that novel you've never had time for, try writing for a set period of time or a page a day, so it just becomes part of your daily routine. Training for a race? Set a realistic training schedule with interim goals. Passion + Taking Steps = Results.
What are some actions and habits that will support your goal? If you want to lose that spare tire, try having cut vegetables at the ready and not eating after eight p.m. Want more fun? Try the action of doing a class you love or getting together with friends every Friday. That said, what are some actions or habits that could get in the way? Chocolate obsession, anyone? Try keeping individually wrapped pieces and plan to always have one after dinner when you're feeling relaxed. (I'm using that one for my chocolate obsession... I welcome your ideas!)
When you achieve those mini-goals, enjoy the feeling. Take time to acknowledge yourself and the little pleasures along the way. There's also power in experiencing your goal in your mind first. Like athletes visualize a successful event in order to increase their results, you can visualize how you would feel having accomplished your goal. If it's playing an instrument, feel how happy you'd be. See people responding to your music; experience your satisfaction. The brain connects with those pleasure messages, which helps change the neural pathways so the new habits stick.
Consider the obstacles that could come up and think in advance of ways to overcome them. If you recognize that things won't always be perfect and have a plan B already in place for the challenging times, then it's easier to get back onto the goal. Don't feel you have to overcompensate! Just ease back to your goal, using some of your pre-planned strategies. Remember, no beating yourself up allowed! Guilt gets you nowhere.
Have a happiness/goal setting buddy. With a friend waiting at the gym or giving each other weekly updates, it's easier to remain accountable. A buddy can also inspire and encourage you to keep on going, even through the tough spots.
It helps to write down the little tasks you accomplish in working on goals, and to also express gratitude for what you are noticing along the way. It could be as simple as completing even part of what you'd intended. Focus on the positive. Writing three things you are grateful for that day will also fuel your staying power. This is an effective way to turn your mind to your successes, so they can build.
Repetition means reprogram. New practices, lead to new habits, which lead to new patterns of behavior. In time (usually eight weeks) the brain adapts to the new patterns. The neurons that fire together wire together. If you practice anything, from music to sports to the way you want to be in the world, you absolutely will get better at it.
Goal Setting is a process of recalibrating with what has become important in your life. That's something to celebrate! Honoring what you want in life is much more than meeting a goal -- it means being attuned to yourself and the whispers of change that come from within. It's a process that takes some time: give yourself breathing space for long-term results. Finally, it's your journey -- do it with joy -- you are taking charge of your life, one small step at a time.