by Julie Killion, MA, LPC, LCAS, NCC

woman with eyes closedThe beginning of the year is a natural time of reflection and goal setting.  This can be a happy and motivating time for some, and a disappointing reminder of failure for others. Goal setting is not as easy at it seems to be, and people go year after year setting goals and not reaching them. This would make anyone feel bad about themselves. Luckily, there are many ways to set yourself up for success. Chances are, the problem is not that you are a failure; rather, it is likely that your goals need some tweaking!

First, as outlined in a previous blog post, the best goals are SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time Limited. Some examples would be: “I am going to cook dinner at home 3 times per week in January,” or “From now until spring break, I am going to go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work and do 30 minutes of cardio.” SMART goals set you up for success, while vague goals like “I want to be healthier” set you up for failure.

But even with well-articulated goals, you might still be having trouble meeting them. Are you the person that year after year sets up expectations for yourself and can never quite meet them? Let’s address reasons this may be happening.

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Your goals could be too big. Oftentimes we set ourselves up for failure by making goals that aren’t currently realistic. Being motivated and excited is wonderful, but sometimes it can get in the way of logic. Imagine making a goal to go to the gym every day when you haven’t been in years. That is such a huge life change that, chances are, you would not be able to maintain it for very long. Setting yourself up for success requires setting goals that you can actually achieve.

I once worked with an individual who was morbidly obese. This person’s doctor had told them that they needed to make changes, or else they were going to start experiencing serious medical issues. Of course, this individual had already “tried everything” to lose weight without success. With me, we first explored what it meant to “be healthy,” as this means different things to different people. One of the first topics discussed was drinking water, which was not present at all in this individual’s life. Instead of jumping to a goal of drinking 8 (or more) glasses of water per day, we set a small, SMART goal that this person was sure they could accomplish. The goal was this: “I will place a large cup of water on my work desk before I start work each morning, from now until next session (one week).” This may seem small — silly even — but keep in mind, this person had “tried everything” up until this point. Setting a goal that we knew for sure they could achieve was crucial. Guess what happened? Not only did this person meet their goal, they actually surpassed the goal by taking some sips of the water throughout the week. This individual was feeling great, confident, motivated, and eagerly wanted to increase the goal for the next week. This is the mindset we need to be in, if we want to change our habits for the better.

groups of friends hugging outside

Another barrier that people experience to reaching their goals is the “buy in.” I have noticed that many people have goals to lose weight, stop smoking, work out, get a job, etc., but don’t actually want to do these things. Not really. They feel pressures from society, parents, doctors, etc., and go through the motions of making changes, but that doesn’t mean they actually want that for themselves. As you can imagine, this presents a huge barrier to progress. It is important to do some self-reflection in order to uncover your motivations for setting goals; if it is externally motivated (i.e. just because others want you to), it is going to be much more difficult to be successful. All too often, we allow the opinions or perceptions of others to make decisions for us. When this happens, it is easy to get stuck in a cycle of feeling like a failure in their eyes, which decreases self-esteem and motivation. Make sure that your goals are your own, and that you know why you are working toward those specific goals. No one else has to live your life – just you!

In conclusion, there are many people who have been using SMART goals, and still have difficulty achieving them. Your goals may be too big to start with, and some self-reflection may be required to make sure that deep down, this is your goal, and not someone else’s goal for you.

More barriers to achieving goals in a future post, coming soon!

By: Julie Killion, MA, LPC, LCAS, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor – Wake Forest




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