At the outset of each year, we vow to be more intentional about making better choices for ourselves. However, at the close of January, the novelty typically wears off and people tend to place much less emphasis on achieving their goals than they do for the first month of the year.
Why do our goals seem to fade so quickly? Often, people make resolutions to lose a certain number of pounds, fit into a certain size, or earn a specific salary. These goals, while made with the best of intentions, are not the most psychologically savvy means of achieving long-term self-satisfaction.
The most impactful part of goal setting and achievement is the time and process that is implemented in order to reach the goal itself. The process of creating a method by which you will reach a goal, and then actually sticking to that journey, is the most psychologically sound method for making a long-lasting, self-satisfying change. So, while losing 10 pounds may be a relatively realistic goal, simply subtracting those pounds from your total weight will not lead to the meaningful outcome that you desire.
Typically, when people vow to lose weight, what their psyche is actually saying is that that they are unhappy as-is. Ten pounds will not cure unhappiness. Completing a marathon will not change how you fundamentally feel about yourself. It is the process by which these goals are achieved that actually contributes to increased self-esteem and well-being. Thus, the lifestyle change that is made when working to be healthier, and the camaraderie and teamwork that results from training for a race are what actually improve self-esteem and increase happiness.
As we strive to keep our resolutions in place for the entirety of the year, here are some tips for increasing self-esteem by creating meaningful, reachable goals that will render long-term happiness and self-satisfaction.
1. Don’t quantify your goals. Setting a relatively arbitrary number based on what you think is “successful” is going to leave you with short-lived happiness. 1) Losing 10 pounds, 2) closing five business deals, and 3) going to the gym three times per week — the successful completion of these goals is focused simply on the outcome. The more psychologically savvy way of stating these goals would be: 1) to eat more healthily as a means of feeling physically better 2) modifying your business strategy so as to make you a more influential consultant, 3) carving time out in your schedule for exercising in order to increase energy level and improve mood throughout the week. These goals are similar, yet the latter ones focus on the process rather than the outcome.
2. Don’t set goals in absolutes. For example, if your goal is to give up sugar yet you decide to eat cake at a party, then you have, by definition, failed to meet your goal. There are a few habits that are harmful even in small doses but, for the most part, indulging occasionally is not going to be detrimental. In fact, from a psychological perspective, if we allow ourselves to have the cake periodically, we are going to place less value on having it regularly. However, if we formulate a goal of absolutely no dessert eating, then we place more value on the “forbidden” behavior and crave it to a higher degree. Ultimately, the goal is not to give up sugar, the goal is to focus on including more nutritious foods in your diet in order to feel better and improve your health.
3. Make sure that your goals are your goals. So often, we set standards for ourselves based on what society tells us is important. Social media fuels the desire to keep up with others’ expensive vacations, airbrushed waistlines and trendy purchases. When formulating goals, it is imperative to spend time assessing the goal, the process and the outcome. Ask yourself, does this goal align with my values? Will this goal contribute to long-term happiness? Will the time and effort I put into this goal be a meaningful way to spend my life? Asking these questions on a larger scale may help with introspection and creating goals that are a reflection of how you want to spend your time and energy.
Ultimately, goals are tools for improving. They are not tests, nor are they pass/fail. Goals should be positive, encouraging, helpful methods of guiding us along a path that coincides with our values and mission. So, if we are able to use this framework to establish some goals for the upcoming year, at the very least, we will stay on track and be mindful of how we are choosing to spend our time. That, in and of itself, will contribute to being more psychologically healthy and content.
Dr. Anna Settle is a psychologist and relationship expert who has a private practice located on Music Row in Nashville. Visit drannasettle.com and follow her on Twitter @drannasettle and Facebook.com/DrAnnaSettle.