Do you plan to set goals for the coming year?
If so, you’re in good company. According to research recently published in The Journal of Clinical Psychology, nearly half of all Americans usually set New Year’s resolutions and another 17% sometimes set them.
Every year we have high hopes for achieving our goals, making our lives better, and improving ourselves in some way. According to the same research, here are the top 10 goals set for the year in order of rank:
spend less, save more
enjoy life to the fullest
stay fit and healthy
learn something exciting
help others in their dreams
fall in love
spend more time with family
All of these are worthy goals which can be life-changing if they are accomplished. You’ve probably set some of these same goals yourself in the past or for the coming year.
And you likely have high hopes and great intentions for achieving your goals this year. But according to The Journal of Clinical Psychology report, only 8% of us will actually be successful at following through and accomplishing what we resolve to do at the start of the New Year.
These statistics are similar year after year. We begin the year with a goal-setting bang and end it with a lack-of-success whimper. And yet each year we try, try again, hoping that something will be different. Somehow we’ll have more resolve, more discipline, more energy to follow through and stick to our goals.
But unless you understand the psychology and skills of goal-setting, you are bound to remain in this cycle of goal failure forever.
Setting goals isn’t a matter of will power, character, or intelligence. It’s a matter of understanding how your brain is wired to integrate new behaviors and learning a particular set of skills necessary for both setting and following through on your goals.
Your brain and goals
If you examine your life, you’ll see you HAVE achieved many small goals or habits — and most of this achievement happened unconsciously. You have habits right now you successfully complete every day because over time they’ve become ingrained in your brain circuitry. Habits like brushing your teeth, walking your dog, making your bed in the morning, reading before you go to bed, etc. are second nature to you.
Some of these habits developed because there was a negative consequence if you didn’t follow through. Your parents reinforced some lifelong habits that began before you can even remember. If you didn’t brush your teeth, put your clothes away, or write a thank you note to Grandma, you had someone making sure you followed through — or else!
As an adult, you’ve established the habit of getting to work on time every day, turning out the lights in the house at night, or paying your bills on time, because you know the negative consequences if you don’t follow through.
Other habits were established because you enjoyed the activity and kept repeating it until it became automatic. These are habits like checking your email in the morning, making your cup of coffee when you first get up, or watching TV before bed. And sometimes these enjoyable activities are negative habits like smoking, eating a fattening snack before bed, or drinking too much to relax.
No matter the origin or motivation, your brain is now wired with thousands of small habits. And the process of adding or dropping a behavior as a goal for the year requires rewiring your brain. Our brains are filled with neural pathways, formed by your oldest habits and memories. These pathways are strengthened every time you repeat a familiar action.
With every goal or habit you add, your brain has to alter existing patterns in order to accommodate this new behavior. For every bad habit you drop, you have to “undo” the existing grooves in your brain and replace them. This is no easy task as your brain is literally fighting against your best goal-setting intentions. It’s no wonder that most people fail at their New Year’s resolutions. There’s an internal battle going on between your higher self and your grey matter!
However, there is good news on the goal-setting, brain wiring front. Your brain can adapt to new things really well, as long as you throw repetition into the mix. The brain science of neuroplasticity means that you have the ability to create NEW grooves and pathways with small, manageable, repetitive steps.
With any goal you set, you need to give your brain the chance to rewire itself by not biting off more than it can chew! You can support your goal-setting, brain altering plans by . . .
- breaking your goal down into very small, manageable actions
- tackling those actions one at a time
- repeating them daily for a small amount of time (5 minutes) until it feels automatic
- practicing your action just after a ‘trigger” or existing habit like brushing your teeth
- building up your time slowly over several weeks
- having a system of accountability and rewards
As you accomplish one part of your goal (most goals involve many small habit changes), then move on to the next part. For example, if your goal is to take up running, then you should begin by simply putting on your running shoes, walking outside, and running for 3 minutes. All of this will take about 5 minutes in the beginning. Then slowly build up your time. But you first want to allow your brain to accept this new behavior in a very gentle way.
The skills of achieving goals
In addition to understanding how your brain works in accomplishing goals, you need to understand the specific skills involved in setting and working on your goals throughout the year. Goals expert, speaker, and bestselling author Gary Ryan Blair has taught millions of people how to successfully accomplish their goals. He believes so strongly in the power of goal-setting, he thinks it should be part of every child’s education and that success in life hinges on setting and achieving goals.
Says Gary, “Success in any endeavor does not happen by accident. Rather, it’s the result of deliberate decisions, conscious effort, and immense persistence…all directed at specific goals.”
Gary has researched, studied, and taught goal setting techniques most of his adult life and has worked with Fortune 500 companies, executives, star athletes, and with every day individuals who want the tools for successful living. He’s shared his “10 Commandments of Goal Setting” which outlines his basic tenets.
Here they are:
Commandment #1: Thou Shall Be Decisive!
The difference between what one person and another achieves depends more on goal choices than on abilities. The profound differences between successful people and others are the goals they choose to pursue. Individuals with similar talents, intelligence, and abilities will achieve different results because they select and pursue different goals.
Commandment #2: Thou Shall Stay Focused!
Focus creates a powerful force: goal power. The moment you focus on a goal, your goal becomes a magnet, pulling you and your resources toward it. The more focused your energies, the more power you generate. There is a seismic shift in performance that takes place when you move from decisiveness to focus.
Commandment #3: Thou Shall Write Down Thy Goals!
Writing challenges thought. When you write a goal, you actually see what you’re thinking. You have a target to aim for… something that takes shape and grows legs. By writing your goals, you take a step toward achieving them. Goals not written down fall victim to the “out of sight… out of mind” phenomenon!
Commandment #4: Thou Shall Plan Thoroughly!
You can virtually guarantee your success in any endeavor if you know who you are, what you want, where you are going, how you will get there, and what you will do once you arrive. Planning before you act helps you to do things better, faster, and cheaper!
Commandment #5: Thou Shall Involve Others!
It is your prime responsibility to acquire useful knowledge from others and to apply it appropriately. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It behooves you to do your homework, to read, and to converse with others who have first-hand knowledge based on actual experience. Shortening your learning curve saves buckets of blood, sweat, tears, time, and money.
Commandment #6: Thou Shall Welcome Failure!
People are naive about the benefits of failure. Wrongly founded assumptions about failure replace potentially accurate assessments of what is necessary to achieve success. Failure, which spends much of its life in the gulag of public perception, is, by all measures, essential to success.
Commandment #7: Thou Shall Take Purposeful Action!
In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In goal-setting its action, action, action! You can’t just stick out your thumb and hitchhike your way to success. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and do the work that needs to be done. The acid test of goal setting is purposeful action.
Commandment #8: Thou Shall Inspect What Thou Expect!
The purpose of measuring performance and inspecting expectations is to improve performance. You must know how you are performing the “must do” actions necessary to achieve your goals. Inspecting expectations allows you to know what you are looking for before youactually see it!
Commandment #9: Thou Shall Reward Thyself!
A goal, once achieved, symbolizes commitment, concentration, and courage, and it deserves to be rewarded. A reward provides an effective but uncomplicated means of reinforcing the actions most important to success. Rewards are reminders of our potential for achievement. We should reward ourselves daily for small accomplishments; this simple act becomes fuel for future achievement.
Commandment #10: Thou Shall Maintain Personal Integrity!
Personal integrity is the countdown clock of your goal. It starts ticking the second you begin and stops when you achieve the goal or quit. The “Promised Land” is for those who exercise personal integrity. Personal integrity means maintaining a commitment to your commitment. It’s about setting goals and keeping your promise to achieve it…end of story!
What are your goals for the New Year? Follow these 10 goal-setting commandments and you’ll increase the odds of succeeding with them exponentially.
photo credit: MTSOfan