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Small & Smart: The Secret to Accomplishing Your Goals for 2021
I have now lived through two iconic New Years. The first was from 1999 to 2000. I brought in the new millennium with close family friends dancing around the basement to the YMCA and drinking sparkling cider. It was a seven-year-olds dream. The second was a couple of days ago...
I have now lived through two iconic New Years. The first was from 1999 to 2000. I brought in the new millennium with close family friends dancing around the basement to the YMCA and drinking sparkling cider. It was a seven-year-olds dream.
The second was a couple of days ago, again in a basement (bar), but this time with a shot of sake, a bunch of ski bums, and friends in Hakuba, Japan. Even with the language barrier, it was clear everyone was ecstatic that the year from hell was finally over and hopeful that 2021 would bring new beginnings. But, when the clock struck midnight, the masks didn’t come off, COVID-19 did not disappear, and quarantining did not end.
Change doesn’t just come about; we have to set goals and then actively pursue them to evoke it. But sometimes achieving our goals is not so easy. Raise your hand if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution and then woken up three weeks later and realized that you’ve fallen back into old habits. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Which is why I’m letting you in on my top two secrets for successful goal setting.
Keep it small, in fact, make it micro
If you’re a high achiever you might be tempted to skip this tip, but sometimes the more ambitious we are, the more likely we are to fall into a self-defeating cycle. High expectations of ourselves lead us to set whale-sized goals when our plates only have room for shrimpy ones. But just because you don’t go big doesn’t mean you have to go home. I suggest breaking down a monstrous goal into a micro one. Tim Herrea in the NY Times describes it simply:
“For any task you have to complete, break it down into the smallest possible units of progress and attack them one at a time.”
For example, one of my goals is to drink more water. My initial thought was to shoot for a gallon a day. While this might not be unreasonable for some, it is a significant amount for me (I know, I’m so bad). Just thinking about it, the goal started to feel troublesome rather than motivating. I already knew I was on the wrong track.
I remembered Sabina Nawaz wrote in HBR the key to micro-goals is making them “ridiculously small” and attaching them to a daily habit you do without thinking. By doing this, you take away barriers to getting started which is the hardest part of building habits, according to James Clear. James uses Newton’s Laws to hack productivity. Therefore, an appropriate micro-goal would be to drink one bottle of water while driving to pick my husband up from work each evening. Not only does this require minimal effort, but it’s also connected to a mindless task.
Make it SMART-R
This one is a tried and true classic, but I have a spin on it. I was reminded of the SMART technique a couple of weeks ago when it was part of the curriculum I taught for my Healthy Thinking group. It goes like this: S is for specific, M for measurable, A for attainable, R for relevant, and T for time-bound.
While these are must-haves, I have found that the added R for “rewarded” has a huge effect on my success rate. It all comes back to behavioral theory. If you reward a behavior, your brain tells you to do it again. If you punish a behavior, your brain tells you to reevaluate your actions. While some may say there is enough satisfaction in achieving the goal itself, I say the more incentive the merrier. But, watch out for counterproductive rewards. You don’t want to treat yourself to three slices of cheesecake if you have been working towards eating clean. Instead, reward yourself with something in line with your goal such as a new outfit or a Vitamix.
With these tips, you’ll be able to achieve whatever you set your mind to this year. And remember, all gains are gains, no matter how small!
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