Why You Should Stop Setting Large Goals

If you’re looking to make a lasting change, start small.

PM Images/Getty Images
PM Images/Getty Images

New Year’s resolutions are coming, but only 9.2 percent of people who make resolutions will stick to them past January. Making the decision to improve yourself is great, but wrapping it up as a resolution sets you up for failure. Resolutions are temporary goals and don’t allow for setbacks, so when people fail once, they’re likely to give up and return to old behaviors.

But not all is lost! The difference between people who give up on their resolutions and those who stick with them is surprisingly small. A lot of it comes down to the way you view your goals. I’ve come up with a few ways you can improve your New Year’s resolutions and set smarter goals, so you’ll be much more likely to succeed and create lasting change in your life.

  • Allow yourself to fail. New Year’s resolutions are black and white, which is why they usually aren’t long-lasting. They do not allow for temporary setbacks; as soon as you fail once, the resolution has been broken, and you are more likely to return to your past behaviors. By avoiding the desire to be perfect, you can get the changes you seek. You’ll also be more likely to keep working towards your resolution since one setback isn’t the end of all your hard work.
  • Measure the outcome. Keep your goals measurable so you know whether you’re actually doing the behavior you want to encourage. If your goal is to get healthier, write down what you eat, what exercise you do, and how much sleep you get.
  • Make your goals behavior-based. You want your New Year’s resolution to be behavior-based, not goal-based. Focusing your resolution on changing a behavior rather than just accomplishing a goal will help you build habits that are sustainable and cause genuine behavior change.
  • Wording is everything: The worst goals are phrased negatively. “Stop procrastinating” focuses your brain on procrastination. A far better resolution phrased as a behavior is to keep a to-do list and to cross at least one thing off the list every day. You might still procrastinate, but at least you’ll do it less. And if you miss a day, you haven’t failed yet, because the behavior is a daily practice, not a one-time gig.
  • You can only control you. If you’d like to improve a relationship, you have to remember that this is the hardest behavior to change because you are only half the variable. So the only effective goal is to look at your behavior, not the relationship itself. A goal of “have a better relationship with my mother” can easily become “every week, do something nice for my mother.” Which of those goals is going to lead to a better relationship?

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