Failure Proof Your Goals!

To secure a happier tomorrow most people have goals and many even start the year by making New Year’s resolutions.

Did you make your 2015 resolutions?

Making resolutions keeps us focused and motivated.  We get a lot of confidence from working on them.  Sometimes though, we may get discouraged.  We don’t follow through and we finally give up or forget about them. Until a new year starts!

What if you could achieve every single one of your goals this year?
What would your life look like if you made all your resolutions come true? It would probably be pretty incredible!

It’s certainly worth figuring out how to make it happen. So,  So let’s see if we can get some help from science. The quick research I did, revealed a lot about what behavioral economists and sociologists have found out about resolutions.

In general scientists seem to agree that New Years’ resolutions have a short life span – most of them last for 30 days. That was pretty depressing to read. They say that a few weeks after we make resolutions our motivation winds down. Most people don’t have time for them any more, or forget, or other priorities come to play and don’t follow through.

Wait! It gets worse!

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, New Years’ resolutions may be doing us more harm than good!  On Business Insider she says: “People are making absolute statements about what they are going to do and that’s setting them up for failure immediately because they are not always going to go the gym three times a week.” Cuddy believes that the problem with New Years’ resolutions is when they are made in absolute statements. (Amy Cuddy is a guest on TED Talks and if you ever wanted to listen to some of her interesting studies on human behavior it would be worth your time.)

Let’s look into another researcher. Professor Norcross of the University of Scranton studies resolutions.  He wrote a book called “Changeology: 5 Steps To Realizing Your Goals And Resolutions.”  (Great Book!)  According to Norcross’ study of 282 adults in 2002 who made New Year’s resolutions had weight loss as their number one. The study showed that more than half the participants gave up before the six month mark.  Only 46% continued. Pretty depressing.

He compared that result with a group of people who wanted to lose weight but didn’t make “a resolution” about it.  What do you think was the success rate in that group?   He found that when people didn’t make a resolution only a 4% followed trough!

Compare that to the 46% and resolutions start to look brighter.

Those who succeeded in their weight loss goals reported that their techniques included: self-liberation, reinforcement management, stimulus control, avoidance strategies and positive thinking.

All those who gave up were more likely to report self-blame and rely not on work but on wishful thinking.

Professor Abigail Saguy of the University of California in her book “What Is Wrong With Fat?” advises us to focus on our “health” instead of the specific of how many pounds to lose.  Now that is not as specific as:  I need to lose 10 pounds in 20 days.” She says that if you don’t focus on weight loss but engage in self-care instead, you will arrive at your desired weight without fail.  (Nice! Her book is worth looking into. Check it out on amazon.)

Self-care according to Saguy, might involve eating better, nourishing your body with foods that are really good for you and stabilize your blood sugar.  If you care for your body you probably enjoy some form of physical activity like walking, hiking, dancing, lifting weights, playing tennis, volleyball, basketball, doing yoga, or anything else that pleases you and makes you connect with your body.

Good advice I thought. And even more encouraging advice comes from Natalie Boero’s book:  “Killer Fat: Media, Medicine and Morals in the American Obesity Epidemic.”  In talking about weight loss she says that if resolutions are made out of self-loathing we may be setting out self, up for failure.  Self-punishing goals or unrealistic goals come from places of shame and stigma and are ultimately more harmful for people.

Psychologists who study “failure” like Guy Winch, say that regardless of what the resolution is, if we fail to follow through it will affect all areas of our life.  One failure can eat away our motivation and can impair performance.  It can make us “feel like a failure.”  So if I make a resolution to lose 10 pounds or to save an extra $100 a month for retirement and I don’t do it at the end of the year I will not only be heavier and more poor than before but even worse my self-esteem will have plummeted too.  (Yuk!)

On Psychology Today Guy Winch says that failure distorts the way we view our self and makes us develop a negative self-image. His failure study has a positive turn in site.  Winch writes that it is important to accept the delicate shift the brain makes when it fails.

He says: “Recognize that failure distorts your perceptions about the task itself and about your capacities. Don’t buy that you are incapable. Adopt a mindset of positive optimism.”  I like that!  My clients have often heard me say that “the mind has a mind of its own.”  Don’t buy anything that your mind thinks before you examine it.  If you fail at your goal your mind will tell you that “you” are the failure.  Don’t buy it because it is not true!

So far from Norcross, Cuddy, Winch, Boero and Saguy we can collect some clues for what to avoid and what to do if we are to design our own fail-proof goals!

Enough with the research.  Let’s make our plan!

Here is what to AVOID:

  1. Don’t rely on wishful thinking and become lazy and passive, it will eat up your self-esteem.
  2. Don’t make specific commitments without tapping onto underlying values.
  3. Don’t use scare tactics to motivate yourself.
  4. Don’t guilt, don’t shame don’t bully yourself when you make mistakes.

Here is what TO DO:

  1. Act! Make resolutions because they dramatically increase your chances of success.
  2. Act with Integrity! Base your goals on your life values because they increase your self-esteem.
  3. Act with Integrity and Sense of Humor! Recognize mental distortions and laugh with yourself!
  4. Act with Integrity, Sense of Humor and stay grounded in Reality!  In reality your life is ahead of you.  Create your future regardless of your fair share of bad luck. But – opportunities are always there if you look for them. So look for them!

Have fun writing down your short or long list of New Years resolutions or goals you want to accomplish!  I certainly put these findings to the test this year.

Lets make life fun!

Aphrodite

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