A new year comes with new hopes, new goals, and new fears. A new year carries so much anticipation. We put off goals until the new year so that we can feel “refreshed” and “rejuvenated” in starting this new goal or ambition. I am personally a culprit of this, with the classic New Year’s resolution of reintegrating healthy habits into my daily routine. Towards the end of 2018, with holiday, family, and school stress, I stopped meditating and working out, both of which I do to keep my body healthy as well as my mindhealthy. But as January comes to an end, I realize I have made very little progress on this goal….
Around this time of the year, as February approaches, many people begin to lose sight of their new years resolutions. We give up, we say we’ll do it next year or we’ll start again next month. And while it is OKAY to decide that right now is not the right time to accomplish whatever goal you had set out for yourself, often times this can bring on many feelings of failure and self-guilt, both emotions which can affect our mental health.
Significant researchhas been done to study how goals effect our psyche, and what kinds of goals are most successful. While a complex topic, and not something that can be resolved with a “one-size-fits-all” solution, researchers have found a strategy that proved successful for a majority of people. This strategy was to set small, attainable goals.
Many people are taught that a goal should be this big, overarching, incredible accomplishment we hope to complete one day in the future. This is not entirely a bad thing, but it is an incredibly narrow view of what goals can be. Goals can be big or small, and should be set in increments, so that when we don’t become CEO of a multi-billion-dollar corporation or save the world from hunger tomorrow, we do not feel like failures (because we are not!!). When we set smaller goals, we set ourselves up for success, which motivates us to complete the next small success, and then the next small success, until we have finally reached the end goal.
For example, if we set the goal to meditate at least 10 minutes every morning, it would be incredibly difficult to keep up if you just began it one day and expected yourself to keep it with no issue. You would probably sleep the extra 10 minutes some mornings, forget about it for others, and even the mornings that were planned out perfectly, 10 minutes is a long time to meditate with no prior practice. Here is how I would break up this goal (and how I plan to reincorporate meditation into my mornings):
Week One and Two: Meditate for 5 minutes for at least 4 mornings per week.
Week Three: Meditate every morning for 5 minutes.
Week Four: Meditate at least 3 times for 7 minutes, all other times may be between 5 minutes and 7 minutes.
Week Five: Meditate every morning for 7 minutes.
Week Six: Meditate at least 3 times for 10 minutes, all other times may be between 7 minutes and 10 minutes.
Week Seven+: Meditate for 10 minutes each morning.
Now, this is a simple framework by which I ease myself into my ultimate goal. It is something I believe is manageable, considering I have had the practice of meditating every morning before, but for someone taking on a completely foreign goal, this might be a much more intricate and moderated process. The thing to keep in mind is that it is OKAY! It is true what they say, slow and steady wins the race. When we commit ourselves to goals that are truly accomplishable, and goals that we know we can succeed at, while still challenging ourselves, we set ourselves up for success. Not only because we are more likely to reach our end goal, but because when we falter, we know what step to begin at again.
Setting attainable goals in which we can find success helps our mental health because success typically leads to pride, a feeling of self-worth and self-security, and it also releases dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and “satisfaction as part of the reward system” in the brain.
So, I encourage you to rethink your goals for the next few days, few weeks, or even few years. Do you have a clear path of how to get there? Have you set up smaller benchmarks to strive for? Are you taking care of yourself, finding things to be prideful of instead of dwelling in the mistakes? These are all important questions to ask when exploring our goals, and I hope these strategies help you accomplish whatever you set out to do.