Are you one of the 45% of Americans who made a New Year's resolution this year? How's your progress so far?
If your initial reaction to those questions is along the lines of: "I'd rather not discuss it, thanks." Or, "Resolution? Oh yeah, I forgot about that..." you're certainly in good company. In fact, according to a recent University of Scranton study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, only 8% of us succeed in achieving our resolutions. Why do so few of us report success? Are we choosing the wrong goals? Do we simply lack ambition?
After contemplating this issue for myself, I came up with a few practical solutions (below). With a healthy dose of determination and a reassessment of our plans, there's still plenty of time to sculpt the year we hoped for!
We fail to meet our goals because our power of determination is weak. Like a muscle that we've never exercised, we get tired out easily and the enthusiasm we started out with quickly fizzles. And what's more, failing to attain a goal can be discouraging, making it more difficult to attempt something challenging in the future. But determination is not something you're born with, nor is it simply a choice you can make in an instant. Rather, this is a power that must be nurtured and developed over a period of time. Interestingly enough, the process of intelligent goal-setting is itself an excellent means of cultivating determination.
After an inspiring lecture, discussion, or yoga workshop, I often hear people say things like, “I want to start meditating every day!” When inspiration like this strikes, that is the best time to begin a practice. However, it is critical that the goal that is set is one that will continue to nurture your inspiration, so that as you progress you build a stronger and stronger desire to move forward.
Let’s take a closer look at that example goal of meditating every day. While this goal is filled with passion and excitement, it lacks focus. For a goal to be effective and realistic, the goal-setter must be able to know if she has actually achieved what she set out to do. The person who set the goal to meditate every day will not be able to know if she achieved that goal until the last day of her life, and therefore, she is ultimately setting herself up for failure. It's best to set goals that are easily measured and time-limited. If we rework our example goal to fit these parameters, it might sound something like this: “I am going to meditate at least 5 minutes a day for the next 40 days.” With a more focused goal, the goal-setter can easily measure whether or not she has fulfilled her goal on any given day, and will be able to see if she achieved the entire goal at the end of 40 days. To determine whether or not your goal is a measurable goal, see if you can answer these questions:
Is my goal quantifiable or incredibly simple to gauge? On any given day is it easy for me to know if I have fulfilled it?
Does my goal have a time limit? Will I know for certain when my goal has been achieved?
Let’s use these questions to examine another goal: “I want to be more peaceful.” Again, this is a beautiful aspiration, but the goal-setter will have a hard time ever knowing if their goal is being achieved. Is the goal easily measurable or quantifiable? No—on any given day it is difficult to know whether or not you were more peaceful than the day before. Since “peace” is difficult to measure, pick something related that is easy to measure, such as the use of profanity. A more focused goal might be “For the next week, I will limit my use of profanity to no more than one word a day.”
The successful completion of a measurable goal is exciting and helps to inspire setting a new goal. However, failure to complete a goal can be very discouraging and might make it difficult to try again, ultimately resulting in the abandonment of one's ambition. For this reason, never set a goal that you aren’t sure you can achieve! In other words, always set attainable goals. Make your goal so simple that you are 100% confident that you will be able to do it.
Powerful determination is not about vaguely “believing in yourself”—it is about knowing what you are capable of doing. By systematically setting goals and attaining these goals, you begin to know your capacity. There is no doubt in your mind when you set your new goal. You recognize that were able to achieve something similar the last time, and while the new goal might be slightly more challenging, you know that it is within your reach.
People tend to set goals that are very difficult to achieve. It is great to challenge yourself, but it is far better to actually accomplish something. Instead of setting an intention to lose 50 pounds, first start by losing 5. Achieving small goals like this develops confidence. Instead of being discouraged by falling short of your lofty ideals, you feel encouraged and inspired by what you have achieved.
When setting your measurable goal, make sure that it is something that is easily within reach. If it is a goal that involves a new discipline such as jogging every day, then at first set a goal with a short time frame so that you are sure to complete the objective: “I will jog 10 minutes every day for the next week.” Who doesn’t have 10 minutes? By starting with very small increments of time, we begin to get a sense that it is possible to free up time for goals that we care about.
As small goals are achieved, and larger and larger challenges are gradually undertaken, something amazing begins to happen: we begin to have a strong feeling of self-trust and self-love. This self-love develops out of our growing knowledge of our own capabilities, and, in turn, nurtures and supports our goals. We trust our ability to achieve what we have set out to do. Self-love brings with it a peace and happiness that comes from knowing that even during difficult times we have an inner strength that cannot be conquered.