10 Strategies to Follow Through With Your Goals in 2023
Have you resolved to make some changes in 2023? New Year creates a new opportunity to make a fresh start. Most of us who want to pursue a goal that matters start with enthusiasm and determination. However, despite our best efforts, we soon lose motivation when we face setbacks. We live in a busy world, where many things compete for our attention. We get distracted and lose track of what we wanted to do.
It takes determination and effort to stretch beyond our comfort zone. We also need to get used to dealing with uncertainty, as we wonder how things will turn out. It is common to experience self-doubt, feeling unsure about our ability to pursue activities and goals that we value. Why is this so?
Our human brain is designed to save energy, and therefore, we have an inbuilt preference to do things that are easy and familiar. It keeps us safe and protects us from having to deal with uncomfortable feelings. So, to pursue our goals, we need to overcome the pull to maintain the status quo, and learn to tolerate the discomfort we experience as we engage in tasks to achieve our goals.
Being aware that it is normal to feel ambivalent about starting a task enables us to deal with this internal tension and to put our attention on the tasks that matter. The first step is to acknowledge that any project, whether it is setting up a start up, studying for a degree or changing habits requires hard work.
And to do hard work, we need energy to maintain our motivation to persevere with our efforts. To make changes and create things, we need to have faith in our capacity to learn and the commitment to achieving our goals.
10 Strategies to make sustainable progress:
Prioritise health: It is essential for our health that we look after ourselves and maintain our energy level to manage the demands of work, study, and other commitments. Engaging in some exercise, such as going out for a walk, being in nature, eating well, and connecting with others, are essential to our wellbeing.
Focus on what matters: Keeping in mind what we value, what we find meaningful and worth it, helps us to decide where to spend our time and effort. Focusing on what is important will boost motivation and help to manage challenging times when we have multiple demands.
Create a flexible routine: We need some structure to organise our tasks and to manage our time. Having flexibility allows for unexpected events or change of plans, helping to reduce tension. Structure allows us to keep in mind our priorities, reminding us of the things we want to do in our day.
A flexible attitude is also beneficial. It helps us to manage our emotions and adapt to change (David, 2016)
Set realistic goals: Perhaps we have big goals, like starting a business, complete a degree, or develop a skill such as learning a language or play a musical instrument. To get started and keep going, a good strategy is to consider what we may need to achieve our goals.
To increase the likelihood that we will take action, it is best to identify the specific actions we need to take to make progress and prevent procrastination. Noticing our progress, even completing a small task, will boost our motivation to continue with the next one.
Manage procrastination: We all procrastinate sometimes, and this does not mean that we are lazy. Research shows that some of the reasons we procrastinate are because we care and want to do well, have a fear of failure, and find it difficult to tolerate uncomfortable feelings such as frustration, self-doubt, or not wanting to make mistakes (Steel, 2011).
Acknowledging these thoughts and feelings, and learning to focus on what will help us make progress can make a difference to our determination to follow through with our goals.
Develop a structure: Create a flexible routine, so it allows for unexpected events or change of plans. Structure reminds us of the things we want to do in our day, keeping our priorities in mind, saving time and energy.
Take action: When thinking about our goals, we may say, “I have to write a report/work on dissertation/presentation/go to the gym.” It feels like an external demand. Instead, ask yourself a yes or no question. For example, “Will I write a paragraph/practise (skill) for five minutes/go to the gym today?”
If we respond by saying “No”, it feels uncomfortable because it creates dissonance. It feels strange to us when we observe we are not doing what we said we would. Whereas, when we say “Yes”, we make a choice and own it, taking charge of what we want to do. It boosts motivation and our sense of self-efficacy as we face the challenge and make progress (Bandura, 1997).
View mistakes as part of the learning process: Often, we delay starting our work because we do not want to get things wrong, or worry we cannot achieve our goal.
However, whenever we face new challenges, mistakes and setbacks are part of the learning process. So, to do well in whatever we set out to do requires a lot of patience to make repeated efforts.
Manage stress: When stressed, our body goes into protection mode. It is difficult to focus on alternative perspectives to problem-solve and find solutions. It is helpful to take time to reflect and reconnect with the present moment. It will help to restore balance.
Mindful breathing is our body’s natural resource to restore balance. Viewing the stress response as our body’s response to protect us and allow us to deal with challenge.
Notice what is working: When dealing with ongoing challenges, we tend to focus on what is wrong and anticipate negative outcomes. Practising the skill of noticing what is working, even the smallest thing, enables us to nurture our curiosity.
For example, hearing the birds sing, or notice when someone smiles and we smile back. It can give us a moment of relief and as we pace ourselves, we can gain perspective.
Practise self-compassion: Often, the inner critic appears when we face challenging tasks. When noticing the critical thoughts, we can then ask, “Is this thought helpful? and then say, No, it isn’t.”
Acknowledging our humanity allows us to be understanding of ourselves as we would be of our best friends, can reduce stress. As Kristin Neff says, “Self-compassion gives you a stable source of self-competence.”
There are no guarantees we will get the results we want, even as we work hard towards something of value and meaningful. Uncertainty is ever present, and acknowledging it as part of living can help us tolerate it better.
When feeling frustrated, pressured, or unsure, we can pause and give ourselves time to identify what we need to start or continue with the task.
“What’s more important than the intensity of the challenge you face in life is how you relate to yourself in the midst of it.” (Kristin Neff)
Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company..
David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.