When Alice asked which way she should go, the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s timeless tale pointed out that the choices you make “depend a good deal on where you want to get to.” Do you have a clear vision of your destination for the year ahead?
What do you want?
For many people, getting clarity about what they want feels like a journey through a muddy field in a rainstorm, blindfolded. Mostly, this is because we’re not taught how to do it.
From a young age, many of us got into the habit of doing what’s expected of us rather than following our own dreams. Getting an education, getting a marriage partner—even making resolutions—are things that we’re told we should do.
The social pressure is real. No wonder we may occasionally feel like we don’t fit in or that we’re failing miserably at things that everyone else seems to do easily. You may be surprised how much easier your path becomes when it’s one you design yourself.
Getting crystal clear
This is going to take a bit of self-reflection. On a day when you’re feeling reasonably relaxed, find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed—even if that means hiding in the car or the bathroom.
Take some deep breaths to release tension and clear your mind. Ask yourself what you want and simply notice what comes to you. You might get words, or a picture in your mind, or a feeling. Write down (or type) what comes to you with as much detail as possible.
Build a home gym? Fabulous. Move across the country? Write it down. Start a business? Of course. Don’t let the critical voice in your head start debating you and telling you why you can’t do it. There’s plenty of time for that later.
Start with what you don’t want
If you have a mental block about what you want, start by thinking about what you don’t want for the new year. The list of things we want to be rid of (debt, a soul-sucking job …) tend to come to us very easily. Once you have that list together, you likely want the opposite of everything on it.
In their 2020 report describing the journey of close to 1,100 adults through their various New Year’s resolutions, a few main themes revealed themselves to the group of Swedish and American researchers.
Clear vs vague goals
Significantly, having a clear goal was an important piece of the puzzle. Clarity not only provides the starting point for information-gathering about how to achieve what you want, but it also shows you when you’re not doing what’s necessary for success.
Vague goals, like taking better care of your health, provide very hazy guideposts, whereas the commitment to exercising twice a week or eating five servings of vegetables a day are specific and measurable.
Short-term and long-term goals
Researchers also saw that the most successful people had a combination of both short- and long-term goals. If goalposts were too far away, participants were more likely to procrastinate or avoid sticking to the plan, because they knew they had lots of future time to get things done.
If there were too many strict short-term deadlines, however, a resolution-maker could feel like a failure for missing a mini-goal and throw in the towel. Creating stepping-stones toward the big goal makes room for set-backs while still moving forward.4
In circular fashion, having both short- and long-term goals helps to create goal clarity.
Approach- vs avoidance-oriented goals
It also seems that people who create approach-oriented goals were more successful (58.9 percent) than those who had avoidance-oriented goals (47.1 percent).
Approach-oriented goals energize emotions and behaviour toward something you want ( achieving good grades so that you can enjoy feeling competent).
Avoidance-oriented goals, on the other hand, are those in which you move away from something you don’t want or you perceive as a punishment, threat, or risk to health (you make the decision to reduce your sugar intake, so you don’t have a heart attack).
Reliable support systems
Finally, researchers found that people who had support were more successful in achieving their goals than those without support.
It’s not surprising: even those people you think are really goal-focused face a variety of obstacles, temptations, a critical inner voice, and other drains on their psychological resources along the journey. Everyone benefits from having reliable positive reinforcement from others.
And, while it seems like those close to you should support you on your path, sometimes their fears about how your success will impact them might get in the way of full encouragement.
Rather than focusing blame on those who don’t give you what you need (and shifting energy from your goal), find a person or group who can be your cheer squad. Often, these folks can be outside your inner circle.
Did you know?
People who write down their goals are 42 percent more likely to be successful.
This article was originally published in the January 2022 issue of alive with the title Resolution Solutions.