Updated: Jul 12, 2021
If we want to reach a new goal in our life, New Years is as good a starting point as any. But why do New Years Resolutions - and goals in general - often not work out?
And what can we do to stick to them? Obviously there are as many different reasons for this, as there are resolutions. But I would like to give you some ideas on how to make it easier to stay on the path that leads to your goal. Firstly, goals and resolutions should have a solid foundation which is supported by a good strategy. In this case, the strategy is the path you choose to reach your goal. For a strategy to work, it has to be completely fitted to you and your goal. This means that it might not be useful - or even counterproductive - to somebody else. The basic strategy can be very simple or very complex, depending on many factors. At a later time, we will delve deeper into complex strategies, but today I would like to explain the general idea of getting a good, basic strategy for you to stick to your goals, and thus resolutions. I would also like to explain how important strategies are in overcoming obstacles without letting them also throw us off-course. Often, our goal is within reach, but we run into some obstacle(s) that seem to come out of nowhere. This can make all of our efforts put in towards the goal seem useless. At this point we start to feel helpless, discouraged, and can easily lose sight of our goal. Let’s look at an example to better understand what having a strategy really means and how to better prepare against these obstacles.
I often use a very simple, but practical, example to demonstrate how to avoid, or better yet, how to foresee those surprises. At a later stage, we can transfer our knowledge to more complex goals. But please remember that every person is different and has to find approaches and solutions tailored to their own personal needs.
So let’s say your resolution or goal is to call your parents more often and you want to take this decision very seriously. You might start by deciding what good number of calls per day/week/ month might be... Then you find times that best suit you and your parents and set a reminder for those times in your calendar.
This is a good basic strategy for supporting your goal! It is very simple and we usually do this rather „automatically“ without giving it much thought. But nevertheless it is one of many good basic strategies that may help you reach this particular goal. Let’s assume this particular basic strategy works well for you. Now some different things could happen...
A. At some point the set reminder appears, we have time, we know that our parents have time. What happens next? Do we make the call? Let’s say we do. Our parents are happy, we are happy, and successfully achieved our goal, especially if it continues to working out like this. This would be the ideal situation and was what we had in mind when deciding our basic strategy. Perfect! What we often forget, though, is that things don’t always go so smoothly and unhindered. This does not necessary mean that we have to change our basic strategy, but rather that we have to add other strategies or make this one more complex. Therefore let’s look at a couple of possible obstacles that can hinder us and make it very hard for us to continue pursuing this goal. Let‘s look as one of these possible scenarios...
B. Again, the reminder appears. We have time, we know that our parents have time ... but we just don‘t feel like talking. (Or we can’t for any numbers of reasons).
Now there is are a lot of different things that might happen, depending on the person and situation.
Let’s look at some of them:
1) You still call, because your wish to talk to them is bigger than your tiredness/frustration ... This wish or energy can come form an infinite number of sources. (E.g. you just saw a pic of you and your parents that inspired you, you are student and need money, you don’t want to upset them ...). So nearly the same as situation A
2) You don’t call, but feel good with it because that’s how you and your family interact and it is completely fine. In this situation, you already have a “strategy“ in place, that allows you to feel relaxed about the „obstacles“ that keep you from calling as planed.
3) You don‘t call, and later on have some kind of remorse. But find a way to make yourself feel good again (e.g. call next day, or you talk to them longer next time etc.) In this case, you also have some strategy in place to meet the obstacles that keep you from reaching your goal, without getting frustrated or upset, and without given up altogether. Sometime remorse or a bad conscience over not following through with our intentions can frustrate us so much that we give up altogether. This is another topic which we can discuss next time if you like!
4) You don’t call, have some kind of remorse and don’t feel good about yourself because you broke a promise to yourself. You do not follow up and just avoid the topic altogether.
As you can tell, the example situation 4 is the worst. The person has no strategy or plan B to fall back to, and has a lot of negative feelings for themselves because of it.
So how can we avoid to get into situation 4? The answer is to create strategies around our strategies - a back up plan if you will. Not only do we need basic strategies and plans on how to reach our goals, but we also need strategies for times when the willpower and strength to follow through are temporarily low or get blocked by unforeseen “disturbances”. Therefore it is not only important to find a strategy or plan on how to reach our goal, but also to foresee as many potential obstacles as viably possible - whether physical or emotional - that could come between us and our goals. For our example, that would mean the moment we seriously decide to reach a particular goal, we also have to think of the possible obstacles and surprises that could keep us from reaching it or following through. And then we need to find reaction plans, or strategies for our strategies, which will allow us to continue on the road towards our goal.
Here are some examples just so that you can have an idea of what these strategies might look like.
One possible strategy is shown in Situation 3. We find something to make up for a lost call which is the next best thing to the call itself and makes us not have remorse.
Another possibility would be that we set the timer from to a higher number of calls - e.g. 4 calls instead of 3, and give ourselves the possibility to miss one alarm per week.
We can remind ourselves with pictures, notes, thoughts etc. about how important this call is for us or our parents, which might help us find so the willpower for these intended calls.
Or we can remember and think about how happy it makes us when we have called them and you know that you made them happy with your call - not to mention the happiness of accomplishing our goals.
As I said, the strategies are infinite, but the most important thing is that you think of the obstacles that you might encounter and actually put some ideas into place BEFORE you start actively trying to reach your goal. If we get surprised by those obstacles when we are tired and demotivated, it is so much more difficult to overcome them.
Please let me know if you liked the text and what topics about resolutions and goals you would like to discuss in other texts. Also, if you have any questions let me know.
Here are some examples for future topics.
A couple of times the word “motivation” came up in my text. So obviously that is a strong point for reaching a goal. If you want we can look at it. Or we can discuss all of the obstacles that can be derived from our surroundings. Or what is the energy behind the remorse for not reaching a goal.
Greetings from the psychologist.