Forget New Year's Resolutions, Focus Instead on Realistic Goals!

Happy new year! January is a month for setting resolutions, starting resolutions and pretty soon, giving up on those resolutions. At Behavior Basics we don't like calling them resolutions, because the reality is that resolutions are, more often than not, doomed to fail. Instead we like to call them goals. Successful athletes, organizations, individuals all follow goal setting practices. When you set goals, you create motivation, structure and an end point to work towards. Setting goals is nothing new to most of us, but the key is learning to set good goals!

Here are five goal setting tips to help you achieve success:

1. Set realistic goals: We often set too many goals or set goals that are unattainable. While it's good to aim high, you want to be realistic. Saying "I'm going to lose 50 pounds this year" might be doable for some people, but for most of us a 2-2.5 pound loss per month is more realistic, so setting a goal larger than 30 pounds may be dooming yourself before you've even started. When you start setting your goals, seek input from others, for example if you're looking at losing weight, talk to your doctor, a coach or a nutritionist about what might be realistic for you. 

2. Set specific goals: Setting vague goals is another reason people give up on their resolutions and goals. If you don't know what you're working towards, it's easier to get frustrated and walk away. For example, "I'm going to exercise more." Not a bad place to start, but what is that going to look like? It would be much better to say, "I'm going to run 3 days per week" or "I'm going to do yoga 2 days per week."

Getting specific, means you know exactly what you need to do to meet the goal.

3. Break your goal down into sub-goals: Setting a goal to run 4 days per week is definitely attainable, but you're going to be a lot more successful if break down your long-term goal into sub-goals, like running 1 day per week, then 2, then 3 etc. In Behavior Analysis we call this shaping; you reinforce successive approximations of your long-term goal until you achieve your larger goal. It doesn't just make it easier to meet your goals if you set smaller sub-goals, it also gives you a reason to celebrate the smaller milestones along the way, which will keep you motivated!

4. Create a plan: Once you've set realistic, specific long-term and short-term goals, you want to make sure you create a plan for how you're going to achieve those goals. Write it down. Not only does that help you solidify your goals, it's also a way to hold yourself accountable! 

Without a plan, it will be easier to feel overwhelmed, get off track and just give up.

5. Measure your progress: Lastly, you want a way to measure progress. We're behavior analysts, so everything we do revolves around data. We determine baseline, we collect data, we analyze the data and then we collect some more data. We don't expect you to follow the same rigid data collection patterns, but we do highly recommend finding a way to track progress.


Seeing your success is motivating! So whether it's an app, a notebook, a dry-erase board, find a way to track your progress!

It's also a useful way to identify when things aren't going so well. Having trouble losing 2 pounds per month? The progress you've been tracking can help you identify if it's a question of changing what you're doing or modifying your goals. Having a hard time following your weekly excerise plan? Tracking data can help you figure out what you might need to change to get yourself back on track.  

So remember: Realistic, Specific Long-term and Short-term Goals with a Written Plan of Action and a System for Tracking Progress!

And if you need some help setting goals and creating a plan, we're always here to help! 

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