How to Rethink & Reclaim Goal Setting this Year
In this episode of The Feel Good Effect, we’re rethinking and reclaiming the way we approach goal setting. We’ll dive into new year’s resolutions (and why they often don’t work), January Syndrome, “new year, new you”, and some simple feel good practices you can use instead.
If you’re ready to take on some new habits & goals this year, this episode is for you! Listen in to the episode or keep reading for all my research-based practices and made-for-real-life tips.
how to rethink & reclaim goal setting this year
Imagine that it’s January 1st, 2020 again. You sit down to do a little self-reflection. Maybe set some big goals. Write down a few heartfelt intentions. Perhaps a handful of resolutions. You go about your day, your week, your month, and then… we all know what happens next, right?
This annual cycle is a story so many of us fall into this time of year.
If anything, 2020 has shown us why this traditional approach to goal setting doesn’t work particularly well for us. And why it doesn’t work at all when the unpredictable strikes.
rethinking the way we approach the new year
As unpredictable as this year has been, it’s not that unusual for things to not go exactly the way we think they’re going to. We simply don’t have control over all the possibilities. And (spoiler alert) – it turns out even before all this that we never really did.
So how do you set future-looking goals if you (1) can’t know what’s going to happen in the future and therefore… (2) don’t have control over it?
How do you get results without getting stuck or make progress when things don’t go as planned? How do you get grounded, clear, and focused on what really matters?
I know sustainable results and powerful change is possible if you set goals the right way. The way that actually works for you in the long-run. And I am going to give you some very specific, tactical practices to show you how possible it is.
These simple practices might seem like such small shifts that they don’t make a difference, but they’re cumulative, which means that they add up over time and create a snowball effect.
“there’s nothing about a new year that creates a new you”
why new year’s resolutions don’t work in real life
Here’s the thing you need to know about me: I have never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I have also not been a fan of ‘new year, new you’, not because I’m anti-goal or anti-results, but because I actually want you to have sustainable results. And because there’s nothing about a new year that creates a “new you”.
One of the things I’m most concerned about this year is the marketing machine around self-help that is going to be targeting people that feel discouraged about the last year and who feel so thrown off of their habits. The industry will be promising that if you do extreme things, you’ll get results. But here’s the thing – the evidence does not support that.
The research is really clear about all or nothing and extremes – suggesting that this approach does not work in the long-term (and that it actually sucks the joy out of your day-to-day). Seeing as your “day-to-day” is your life, I want you to be able to experience it in a way that is as joyful and as sustainable as possible.
As eager as we are to ditch 2020, not much changes just because it’s January 1st. We’re still in the same set of structures and organizational issues that we were on December 31st. And as much as we’d like to maybe change that altogether, we need to work within the context of what’s really going on.
“when we focus on perfect, there’s no wiggle room – or space – to handle the inevitable ups & downs of life”
what’s “january syndrome”
Let’s jump in with January Syndrome. When January rolls around, you know the drill. ‘New year, new you’, start strong, go all-in, change everything. Then after a couple weeks, the reality of life sets in and most of us find ourselves off track. Any of that sound familiar?
I don’t know about you but I’m ready to flip the script this year and stop with the whole January Syndrome routine. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of using this time of year to take time to reflect, to step back, to examine your habits and routines. But I also think that you could do that any time of year at the end of any month, week, or day; you don’t need to wait just for January to start to make change happen.
Setting big goals alone is never enough to sustain change. This is research-based and to show you it in practice, I want to share a peek behind the curtain from my own website analytics.
It took me a long time to figure out how important January is in the wellness and self-help industry. But running this website for 7-8 years has given me a glimpse into the number of people who visit my site each month. After years and years of doing that, I can tell you one trend is very clear: January is Queen. It makes perfect sense to me that people are interested in habits, mindset, and personal development. But the interesting thing is what happens right around January 13th. Around two weeks after the first of the year, I see this giant crash. There’s a huge spike January 3-4, and then there is a slow and steady decline in traffic. Then, by mid-February, it’s like January never happened.
the myth of “new year, new you”
Research supports the January Syndrome drop-off – especially when it comes to dieting. Studies have shown that more than 90% of people who commit to a diet, no matter what kind of diet, end up regaining any weight they lost within a year or two at most. The problem with January Syndrome is that it places all the emphasis on the glamorous start followed by progress without mistakes, which leaves us ‘mind blind’ to the realities of life. When we focus on perfect, there’s no wiggle room or space to handle the inevitable ups and downs of life.
The promise behind the ‘new year, new you’ is that we will suddenly be different and that our circumstances will magically change with the flip of a calendar page. Yet, nothing miraculous happens on January 1st and that’s why that third week drop-off happens. When you feel like you’re not living up to your own unrealistic standards and when those inevitable mistakes are made (which is perfectly normal by the way) – we see that as a failure. It provides us with just enough justification to just give up.
We don’t need to give up on results, we just need to give up on January Syndrome.
“we don’t need to give up on results, we just need to give up on January Syndrome”
a simple practice to use instead of new year’s resolutions
Note: If you have the Feel Good Effect book, the antidote to January Syndrome and practices for you are in section 3 of the book.
This practice will help you end up with a pretty good guide for this next year with goals built to withstand whatever life throws your way. It gives us a way to remember what matters & how we want to feel. So we can re-evaluate daily habits, actions, and mindset in alignment with how you want to feel within the context of your life right now.
Allowing us to be resilient through unpredictable life events and giving us a path to return back to what matters, to how we really want to feel, to our values, and what we do on a daily basis.
Step one of this simple practice is to start with a feel-good mindset. Then, ask yourself these three questions:
1 | How do I want to feel?
Instead of asking how you want to change everything, be different, or have something different – start with how you want to feel. Which will require asking how you currently feel. I highly recommend writing it out free-write style to help get your thoughts out.
Note: There’s an exercise in the book that will guide you through this practice, step-by-step. See pages 86-87.
When you’re clear on how you want to feel ask yourself why you want to feel that way? When we ask why, it connects how we want to feel to our values. The way that you want to feel is directly connected to the most important things in your life – that’s the piece that’s often missing.
How do I feel right now? What’s the distance between how I feel right now and how I want to feel? This is an internal practice, which means you don’t have to feel good all the time nor is it an all-or-nothing situation. On any day or week, we are going to have ups and downs. And that’s okay.
Let how you want to feel be your guide & Northstar. Keep it in mind and orient everything off of it when you’re making decisions about your goals and habits.
2 | What do I want to focus on?
The next step is focus. You have your feel, now what do you want to focus on? Before you just start creating a long list of new habits that you want to form, you want to know why you’re doing that and how it contributes to how you want to feel.
Behaviorally, you’re going to be more successful adding a new habit rather than trying to eliminate an old habit. Think about an alternative habit that you could form to replace the unwanted behavior. Your unwanted behavior or habit was serving a function for you and if we forget about that, our new habits won’t stick.
So, think about adding rather than taking away. Think about small rather than extreme. What do you want to be focused on (on a daily basis)?
3 | What do I want to free?
There could be specific mindsets that you want to let go of in this new year, some habits and routines that aren’t serving you, relationships, all kinds of things. Whatever comes up for you – write it down and examine it.
“you only have one life, it’s only so long, and I hope you spend it feeling as good as you can”
You only have one life, it’s only so long, and I hope you spend it feeling as good as you can. The book is a guide book, something you can come back to over and over. I wrote it to be very accessible and very easy to read. If you’re looking for a guide, I highly recommend grabbing the book and working through these practices.
As you work through the practice I shared in this episode and the many supportive ones I detail in my book, I offering you this loving reminder. Don’t let perfection, all-or-nothing thinking, and comparison get in your way. You don’t have to have a perfect planner, a perfect journal, a new page, or perfect handwriting. Just write it out and see what happens.
Note: If you’re a coach, instructor, therapist, teacher, etc. and you’re using my work with your clients, please remember that it’s copyrighted and I’m happy to work with you on how to use it.
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