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New Year’s Resolutions & Goal Setting

by Tony de Gouveia

As we approach the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 we become painfully aware of our deficiencies, shortcomings and failures over the year that was. We look in the mirror and it hits us- we are overwhelmed by a wave of enthusiasm - yes - we can lose 5 kgs, give up smoking, drinking or even gambling! We will have usually just come back from vacation, enthused, inspired and then make some initial uncoordinated attempts at changing; a few days later, we give up - despondent and disillusioned. Is this your pattern of year end euphoria and then despair? Have you just become another victim of the failed New Year’s resolution attempt- that widely understated and ignored statistic ?

What causes this widespread failure of such well-meaning good intentions? The answer lies in a lack of understanding as to how people change, particularly the role of habits. That well known guru of personal change, the late Steven Covey gave us a clue to the importance of habitual behaviour when he authored the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” . The use of the word “habits”in the title is no accident. The reason is simple- 90% of our normal behaviour is based on our habits. We are creatures of habits- good, successful ones and bad, unsuccessful ones. So how long does it take to change a bad habit? The common response is 21 days or approximately 3 to 4 weeks; the problem is that most people give up before then.

Ok, you may be saying, so what? How do we get to develop good successful habits? The short answer is goal setting. To achieve we need a well defined set of goals. A goal is the real-time pursuit of a worthy objective until it is achieved. Goals create the necessary direction and purpose and focus our attention and thereby increase our motivation. It(Goal setting) is like a magnet that pulls us towards the target(s). Much has been written about Goal-setting and numerous acronyms abound which are meant to help us maximise the goal setting process. Since South Africa is a sport mad country, let’s use a SPORT Goal setting acronym.

S refers to Specific: our goals cannot be too general or vague; they need to be focussed on a specific area(eg weight, smoking etc). and essentially should be measurable(Kgs, centimetres, etc) with targets specified eg ideal weight. You need to remember that a goal without a number is just a slogan.

P refers to Personal: we need to take personal accountability and responsibility for our goals and they should be personally challenging and meaningful. No-one should be setting your goals and you shouldn’t be setting goals to please others. You need to create your definition of success and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. Your most important goals need to be yours, aligned to your values; there is ideally a synergy and flow between them.

O refers to Overlearning(Practice). Like in the gym, you have to do your “reps”; “no strain, no gain”. It reminds us to keep working and persisting until we are through the 3 – 4 week window before a goal ie success behaviour becomes a habit. Persistence, a core feature of Resilience (discussed in a previous issue), is key.

R refers to Realistic. This usually refers to the time-frame; There are no unrealistic goals- only unrealistic time-frames eg. to lose 5 kgs in 5 days will never work. R also stands for recorded: when we write our goals down on paper they are far more motivational than when we say them silently to our selves.

T refers to the Time-frame. Unless a Time-frame is specified, there is no sense of urgency and the goal invariably doesn’t happen or gets postponed often indefinitely.

To conclude, there is an underlying factor that needs to be high-lighted, namely Confidence. Confidence is the enabler which allows us to carry out any goal, no matter how difficult it may be. This is elegantly illustrated in an extract from a quote* by Nelson Mandela at his inaugural speech:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be?... We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.”
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

Acknowledgements:J Canfield, MV Hansen & L Hewitt: The Power of Focus

Tony de Gouveia is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice at the
Akeso Clinic in Alberton
(011) 907-2811/ 082 4565046

Born to Shine Magazine