How to set achievable goals in the new year, or any time

It's easy to set a resolution when a new year rolls around — but all too often, those aspirations are quickly thrown aside.

Dianne Birt, a counsellor on P.E.I. with a masters of education in counselling psychology, says whether someone will actually stick to a long-term goal depends on a few factors.

"I think it depends on how realistic the resolution and/or goal is," Birt said.

The first thing anyone thinking of making lifestyle changes should do is take stock of what's important to them, she said.

"If you don't know yourself, it is hard to set an achievable goal."

Not everyone's values are the same, she said, but it's easier to stick to a goal that's aligned with your own values.

Be realistic

A lot of people make goals centred on becoming healthier — but that can look different from person to person, Birt said.

Tiko Aramyan/Shutterstock

"[For] someone who doesn't have a healthy diet, and is not used to exercising, being healthy in 2020 is going to look different than someone who is already running marathons," she said.

Goals can be as simple as using the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther from the grocery store, she said.

But being realistic about the goals you set is important.

"People who like literally hate the gym will say, 'I'm going to go to the gym.' That is not really a good setup," Birt said.

"It doesn't have to be something super intense … It could be joining a dance class, it could be you just have a walking buddy or join a walking club."

When considering goals to tackle, make sure it fits your lifestyle.

If they are feeling stressed or are beating themselves up for not accomplishing the goal, try to let go of that negative self-talk. — Dianne Birt, counsellor

"It has to fit with your schedule, it has to fit with your values, it has to fit with your likes and dislikes."

Birt said "it's not realistic" for someone to expect to stop a bad habit — like smoking — overnight because it's been built into their routine over a long period of time.

Submitted by Dianne Birt

A path forward

Steven Collette is a motivational speaker and the co-founder of 3rd Degree Training, Actual Nutrition and Actual Wellness. 

Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock

When it comes to goal-setting, he said, people make the mistake of focusing on the long-term outcomes when it comes to things like career, nutrition, fitness and mental health.

"We try to project ourselves to where exactly we want to be and that's what we fixate on rather than have those small achievable goals and have a path set to get toward wherever it is you want to be."

Collette said when someone comes into the gym with an ambitious goal like working out two hours a day and losing a large amount of weight, that makes it tough to stay on track.

"Usually we know that's probably not the best course of action and that's why we usually fall off," he said.

Baby steps

Birt agrees, adding that it's a good idea to start small and take gradual steps toward your goals. She suggests putting them in order of easiest to hardest, starting with the easiest steps first.

If you have a setback, there is nothing you can do about it — it's done. — Steven Collette, motivational speaker

"You can have an ultimate goal, a long-term goal or a resolution, whatever word you want to use, but it is all those baby steps … that keeps you in the now, so that ultimate goal doesn't seem to be overwhelming," she said.

"Once I am doing that one and it becomes a new normal, it becomes habitual, that is the time when you can add in the next hardest thing."

Birt said it's important to track the small steps you take, and suggests keeping a journal or a note on your phone.

Creating those baby steps and checking them off will create a sense of accomplishment early on.

"And that creates motivation," she said.

Push past setbacks

Birt stresses that people shouldn't give up if they aren't reaching their goals as quickly as they thought they would.

"If you don't do it one or two days in a row, it doesn't mean you have to throw it out completely," she said. "Sticking to a goal is about constantly coming back and recommitting."

Collette suggests trying not to dwell on setbacks, but instead look for ways to hold yourself accountable in the future.

Submitted by Steven Collette

"If you have a setback, there is nothing you can do about it — it's done. It is how you react," he said.

"Find yourself a group, find yourself a workout buddy, find yourself a place you are comfortable doing classes.…  Try not to go at it on your own unless absolutely necessary."

Change is hard

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Birt said people should have a gentle way of "kicking their own butt" to stay on track, but shouldn't be too hard on themselves.

"If they are feeling stressed or are beating themselves up for not accomplishing the goal, try to let go of that negative self-talk."

Though people have good intentions when setting goals, Birt said they may not take into consideration "how difficult change is."

"Expectations are too high or they have a thinking style that is very all or nothing — like I either have to do it all or I am not doing it at all."

And sometimes, the goal itself may need to be revised.

"Reassess the goal or the resolution," Birt said.

"Was it realistic? Did you set the bar too high? Was there enough baby steps moving in the direction of the ultimate goal?"

David Donnelly/CBC

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