Goals or resolutions set on New Year’s Day typically emerge from great intentions, motivation, and commitment. So, why is it so notoriously difficult to stick to them? By now, research indicates that the percentage of people following through on those good intentions may be in the single digits.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still hope, says coach, speaker, and professional skydiver Melanie Curtis. Even if you’ve abandoned those January goals, the midyear point is a great time to reevaluate and make something happen before the end of the year.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer,” she says. “When I work with leaders, the motivation comes from a deep place.” So when you’re trying to stick to superficial goals, it’s not going to work, she says.
If you’re still thinking about those abandoned goals and want to get back on track, try this seven-step approach.
Drop The All-Or-Nothing Attitude
Yes, you took a detour. So what? “We’re such an all-or-nothing society. It didn’t work before, so forget it,” says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, author of Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. “Drop the perfectionism and focus on what I call being ‘better than perfect’—which means take one step at a time.” Your slate is clean. Start over and don’t look back, she advises. After all, it’s better than just giving up if it’s something you really want to accomplish.
Find Your Reason
Motivational speaker and marketing consultant Simon Sinek is well-known for his emphasis on finding the “why.” Why do you want to accomplish the goal? Why do people do what they do? And that’s important, but a recent study by researchers from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba found that the motivation for achieving your goals tends to shift over time. In the early stages, study participants were motivated by hopes and aspirations—the positive aspects of reaching their desired outcomes.
However, once those people achieve some success toward their goals, motivation shifted to a prevention mind-set. So, early weight-loss candidates managed their food and exercise initially because of how they would look when they reached their goal. However, once they had some success, they wanted to prevent the disappointment that would happen if they didn’t reach their goal. That’s important to understand, because it’s a shift in thinking, and may change what you need to reach your goals.
Define The Obstacles
Take a hard look at what is standing in the way of achieving your goals. Trace back your steps and determine where you went off track, suggests David Naylor, executive vice president of motivation consulting firm 2logical. Was it an external factor or a result of self-limiting beliefs?
“The key to driving human performance is to help individuals let go, if you will, of the limiting beliefs that they’ve inadvertently locked on to through the course of life, and to embrace the beliefs that empower them,” he says. Whether it’s shedding your self-limiting beliefs or mapping out a way to overcome obstacles related to time, money, or conflicting priorities, identifying what’s standing in your way is the first step to overcoming it.
Stretch Yourself—But Not Too Much
Once you’ve dug into why you want to move forward and figured out how to overcome what’s standing in your way, think about what’s realistic by the end of the year. You’ve got less time than you had in January, but still enough to make meaningful change. So, think about the end point you wish to reach, and make it achievable—but not exactly comfortable, Curtis suggests.
“A too-low goal is demoralizing,” she says. “I would encourage people to look for that sweet spot of goal setting, where it motivates them forward because it’s challenging, while also not overwhelming them because it’s too large.”
Start Reverse Engineering
You’ve got the goal, and now you need to break it down. Back out the steps that you’ll need to make it happen so that you have a list, and assign deadlines to them, Curtis says, along with applying other good goal-setting practices.
Lombardo says that accountability is an essential ingredient for helping you stick to your goals. Find someone with whom you can check in, who will keep you “honest” about staying on track. Of course, as a coach, she helps people be accountable. But it doesn’t have to be that formal, she says.
“I know some people who, every Monday morning, they just pick up the phone. They’re in different areas of the country, but they pick up the phone and say, ‘Here’s the three things I said I would do, here’s what I did, here are three things I’m doing this week. How about you? Great, go,'” she says.
Take Stock—And Celebrate
As you move forward with your new sense of purpose and determination, be sure to stop and take stock of where you are, Lombardo says. Make your goals more fun by celebrating your achievements along the way. And be honest with yourself if you’re starting to feel like abandoning them again. It’s important to understand where those emotions are coming from so you can manage them and not let them derail your goals again. And sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting used to your new goals.
“I call it hot tub syndrome. If you put your foot in a hot tub and it’s really hot, you take your foot out, saying, ‘Oh, it’s way too hot.’ But if you keep your foot there for a while, then eventually it starts to feel good, and you keep putting more of your body in. Eventually, your entire body’s in except your head, and you’re loving every minute of it,” she says.