9 Strategies Therapists Use to Help People Stick to Their Goals (They Work for New Year’s Resolutions, Too)
People enter my therapy office with a wide range of goals. Some individuals say, “I want to be happier,” others say, “I want to be a better parent.”
Whether their goals are personal or professional or they’re financial or health-related, the strategies for success are much the same. Here’s how you can stick to your goals, even when you don’t feel like it.
1. Make your goal tangible.
Establishing vague goals, like, “I want to be healthier,” or “I want to spend more time with my family,” won’t do you any good. You need to create concrete goals that describe the behavior you want to change.
So rather than saying, “I want to be a better person,” ask yourself, “What would I be doing if I were a better person?” Perhaps you’d be volunteering once a week or maybe you’d be donating $10 a week to charity. Identify a behavioral goal you want to meet.
2. Identify small action steps you can take.
Creating a huge goal, like saving a million dollars, will feel overwhelming and you’ll have trouble staying on track. Establish smaller objectives and clear action steps you can take every day.
Saving $10 a week or establishing a monthly budget might be small steps you will actually take. Once you reach one small objective, create a new one.
3. Write a list of all the reasons you should stick to your goal.
There’s a reason most New Year’s resolutions only last a couple of weeks–people give up once they stop feeling motivated. And decreased motivation is a fairly predictable part of the process. The key to success is acknowledging there will be days when you don’t feel like sticking to your goal.
Boost your motivation by keeping a list of all the reasons why you should stick to your goal handy. So when you’re tempted to drive home after work, reading over the top 10 reasons why you should go to the gym, could give you the motivation you need to follow through.
4. Track your progress.
Tracking your progress can help you review how you’re doing and whether you’re staying on track. A simple way to chart your progress is to use a calendar.
Check off the days you made it to the gym or mark down the times when you stuck to your diet. Just seeing that calendar hanging on the wall can remind you of your hard work and the steps you’re taking to improve yourself.
5. Plan ahead for tough times.
There will be times that you’re going to have more trouble sticking to your goals. Maybe it’s harder to hit the gym when you’re traveling. Or it’s harder to stick to your diet when you’re on vacation.
Plan ahead for those tough times. Create a strategy to help you stay on track–or at least create a plan that will help you avoid losing your momentum. Make sure that those tough times don’t cause you to give up altogether.
6. Set yourself up for success.
Think about what you could do to set yourself up for success. Leaving your sneakers next to the bed at night might help you go for a run before work. Or maybe, putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room so you can’t hit the snooze button would get you out of bed on time.
A little pre-planning can go a long way toward keeping you on target. When you recognize trouble spots, spend some time problem-solving your options. Experiment with different strategies, such as exercising after work versus going in the morning, etc.
7. Celebrate small milestones along the way.
You don’t have to wait until you’re debt-free or 100 pounds lighter to celebrate. Instead, celebrate when you hit small milestones.
Just make sure your rewards don’t turn into excuses to sabotage yourself. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t convince yourself you now deserve to eat a whole pizza and a pan of brownies. Or, if you’ve stuck to your budget all month, don’t go out and buy designer shoes because you’ve earned it.
8. Get support.
Sometimes, the people who are closest to you will have trouble supporting your goals. A spouse may be frustrated that you’re spending more time at the gym. Or your broke friend may be upset that you won’t go shopping on Saturday afternoons anymore.
When you make a change in your life, it often changes things in your relationships. Make sure you have at least a few people who are truly rooting for you–and the steps it is going to take to reach your goal. Consider talking to a therapist if you don’t have anyone in your life who is really cheering you on.
9. Create a strategy for recovering from mistakes.
Progress usually doesn’t come in a straight line. You’ll likely make some mistakes along the way. Just don’t allow yourself to conclude your mistake is proof you can’t be successful.
If you blow your diet one day, commit to doing better the next. Or, if you smoke a cigarette two weeks after quitting, create a plan for dealing with your next craving.
Every time you bounce back from failure, you’ll reinforce to yourself that your goals are a marathon, not a sprint. You can still be successful in the end even when you encounter obstacles and problems throughout your journey.
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