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The Science Behind Goal Setting: Getting There In 2015

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”― Oprah Winfrey

The year is winding down, and we are in that melancholy period of the holiday indexseason between Christmas and New Year’s. The media will soon be bombarding us with lists of celebrities that passed away, mistakes made by government leaders, the best of the year lists, and there’s sure to be some incessant playing of Auld Lang Syne. There may be a party or two left in 2014 but, come January 2, it’s business as usual. Many people will use this time of year to reflect on where they’re at and what they are doing with their lives. They will do an assessment of things, make a vow that the next year will be better, and then move forward into 2015, and nothing will change. Others will swear up and down to themselves that “this is the year” and actually take some actions toward accomplishing some concrete goals. They will actually do a little better, at least for a while, but usually by the end of February they are back where they started. We’ve all seen this, and maybe even experienced it firsthand. Why does this happen year after year to so many of us?

The answer to this is quite simple. Human behavior, although often unpredictable, does have some common themes. After all, it is considered Behavioral Science in that university catalog. While an individual’s behavior can vary greatly, there are trends, similarities, and commonalities in the way that most of us pursue goals and eventually give up on them. Attainment is most likely to occur if an individual is aware of the science behind goal setting, and the predictable potholes that will inevitably arise on the road to getting where you want to be.

I often talk to clients about homeostasis. Don’t be alarmed. If you read this blog regularly, then you know that I pride myself on keeping things simple. Homeostasis is the natural tendency of all things in nature to seek to maintain balance and equilibrium within its environment, even when facing external changes. In plain English, things naturally want to return to their prior condition, in a sort of “it is what it is” fashion. It is more natural and logical for us to fail when pursuing new challenges and new goals than it is for us to succeed. There’s a natural tendency for things to go back to their prior condition. Many people argue that they don’t like their current condition, but they keep finding themselves back there anyway. Why? Homeostasis.

So how can this return to mediocrity be avoided? There are a number of things to be aware of when setting goals. When goal setting, it is important to realize that you are essentially giving yourself a pep talk. Initially, the goal is a thought that must be made concrete, vivid, and real. You have to literally convince yourself that it’s possible for you to attain it. The first step is, like with a lot of things that are agreements, is Get it in writing! By this I mean be very clear and specific about what you are trying to accomplish. Review the article that I have written here on “Smarter” goal setting from this link: http://mindbodycoach.org/work-smarter-harder/ for the details of how to create a roadmap towards accomplishing your goal.

Be aware of the science of human change. There are clear tendencies that virtually all of us have when we pursue goals. It has been studied ad nauseum by experts in human psychology. Again, don’t worry, I’ve distilled it down for you in this article. http://mindbodycoach.org/id-love-change-world/ Just be aware that you will have some anticipatory concerns that may, or may not, be real. Your job is to tease out the facts from fiction.

Be aware of Why this goal is important to you. Write down on paper your reasons as specifically and vividly as possible. Attach Strong Emotional Connection to being successful. Spend some time each day vividly Visualizing and Imagining how you will feel When the goal is accomplished. The purpose of these actions is twofold. You must create a compelling reason to attain this goal and you must believe that it is possible for you to attain it. For most goals that are reasonably realistic, the only thing stopping you is you and your attitude.

While pursuing goals, the number one reason that people fail by far is that they do not Anticipate and Expect that it Will Get Difficult! When writing out your actionhub-50-best-hikes-new-england-new-hampshires-welch-dickey-loop-2014-10-02_17-08-54-800x533goals and creating the action plan to get you there, be fully aware that there will be doubts that set in. The road to success is not a straight uphill climb. If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, then you are probably aware of what a switchback trail is. It is a trail taken that actually goes downhill for a period of time that makes it easier to get to the summit. When striving to attain a goal, there will be switchback trails that you must navigate on your way to the top of that mountain. Be willing to make adjustments as you go. If you analyze other times you’ve tried to set goals and failed, you may even notice that there is a pattern to what derails you. It could be negative self talk, worries about what other people may think, belief systems that you have about money, your ability, your past, etc. If you have a history of trying, with all the best of intentions, and failing anyway, then these are probably the details that are hiding your devils. Spend some time trying to figure out what has historically caused this for you in the past. Putting this on paper gets these negative beliefs out of your head, allowing you to see them for what they really are, just thoughts.

The best way to avoid tripping up when the switchback effect occurs is to Create Habits and Rituals that Lead To Your Goal. Habits are far more important than motivation when trying to make something happen. Motivation tends to be temporary, and it will definitely go away during the Switchback Effect. Habits and rituals, over time, become automatic, and are therefore more likely to continue, allowing you to break through during times of Switchback. If your positive behaviors are habitual, you are more likely to do them when the going gets tough.

Work on your goal the same time each day as much as possible. Stack Your Goal Setting on Your Existing Schedule. If your plan to climb that mountain fits in with what you are already doing, you are more likely to be consistent and persistent during that climb. Most people tend to do the same rituals each morning and each evening. That may be a good time to squeeze in a block of time to work on your goal. Maybe you do the same thing each day at lunch, or take an hour of time each day for yourself. Some work on your goal might make sense at these times. Stacking your efforts onto things that you are already doing make your efforts more consistent and, in attaining goals, it’s consistency that makes all the difference. (See also  http://mindbodycoach.org/kaizen-habit-change/)

You must be fully aware that there will also be outside factors that will make it difficult. They may be money, time, or unforeseen events that are out of your control. They Will Happen. Be aware of the Switchback Effect. Anticipate it, expect it, and learn to befriend it. When it happens tell yourself that this is only going to make the entire process better. It is part of the process, not something that is either good or bad, just something that is part of getting there.

Be Flexible and willing to adjust. There are two things that you must consider here. First, Be Willing to Change Your Methods. Don’t be quick to give up. Modifying the goal may be necessary, but should not be done until you have exhausted various options to attain it. Adjust how you are trying to get to the top of that mountain first. If all else fails, and you’ve exhausted your possibilities, then be willing to Modify Your Goal. Don’t give up entirely, modify the goal and get as close to it as you possibly can. Your goal may not be an all or nothing proposition. For example, if your goal was to lose 50 pounds and you lost only 25, aren’t you way ahead of the game anyway? If you wanted to add $25,000 to your IRA in 2015, is it a catastrophe that you only ended up with an additional $17,000? I think you get the idea here. Not too many things in life are black and white.

In order to make 2015 all that you hope it will be, stop hoping and start planning. Get clear on what you are trying to attain, in writing, using the SMARTER goal setting format. Be willing to modify the plan, adjusting to realities as they occur. Don’t hope that the Switchback Effect doesn’t set in, anticipate and expect it, because it is the number one reason that people give up. Stack your efforts and create rituals that you can add to the rituals and habits that you already have. Be persistent and consistent imagesand you can reach your goals.

“When the going gets tough…. the tough get going! Who’s with me? Let’s go!”- Bluto Blutarsky


P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

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