“I really have to lose some serious weight this year.” “I’m promising myself not to yell at my (kids, spouse, co-workers) anymore.” “I will definitely try harder to… (you fill in the blank).” Sound familiar? During a recent conversation about New Years’ resolutions, I started to think about the motivational problems inherent in typical resolutions such as these.
Whether we’re speaking about New Years’ resolutions or any other goals that we may resolve to pursue, there are three characteristics that, when embodied in our goals, will significantly increase the odds that we will actually persevere in accomplishing them. Let’s consider them one at a time:
- The goal should be clearly defined. “Lose some weight” is not clear; neither are “try harder” goals. The goal needs to be objectively observable so that we can see whether we have achieved it (and can see and appreciate our stepwise progress toward its fulfillment).
- The goal should be realistically achievable. It needs to be something that we can firmly commit to doing. “I need to lose a zillion pounds” will probably not be helpful; “I am committed to losing ten pounds by mid-June, at a rate of two pounds per month” will more likely be useful, particularly if the commitment is sincere and the goal is highly important, which leads us to…
- The goal should be strongly desired. The fact is that the fuel for motivation is desire, so don’t expect yourself to remain faithful to goals you think you “should” pursue but really don’t want to do. The good news is that many “should” goals can be reworked into desired ones. For example, let’s say that taking the time to go to the gym three times a week is not my idea of a good time. But if I have committed to this as a means to feeling better, or healthier, or more attractive, and if these are important to me, then my strong desire for these positive goals will power my determination to persevere in my gym workouts.
I would be most interested in hearing from anyone who finds these “tips” to be helpful (via email to email@example.com May the New Year be one of happiness and of achievement of your most important goals!
Dr. Stone, a clinical psychologist, is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in Clinical Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and Director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Program for Self-Injuring Adolescents at the Westchester Division of New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, New York. He resides in Pawling with his wife, Susan, and their family.