Quick Goal Setting Tip

Here’s a really quick activity.  First, I want you to clear your head.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, now, DON’T think of an elephant.  What came to your mind instead of an elephant?  Anything?  Or did a huge elephant fill up your vision?  Here’s another one.  On your device, computer, or smartphone, fire up Google Maps.  Type in “not New York.”  Or try “not Honolulu.”  What suggestions are you given by google?  Anything that’s not in New York or Honolulu?

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What do these exercises have to do with goal setting?  Well, all too often the way we state our goals is an automatic set up for failure.  How many times have you tried to quit smoking, lose weight or stop eating junk food.  Your goal was likely stated in this fashion “I will not smoke any cigarettes all day” or “I will not eat any junk food.”  The problem is our brain isn’t so smart.  When we say to ourselves “I’m not going to eat that donut,” all your brain hears is “donut, donut, donut.”  Until finally, you grab the donut and shovel it into your pie-hole, feeling guilty and wondering why you don’t have the willpower to not eat the donut.

It’s because it’s not about willpower.  It’s just the way we think.  The quick solution to this (it is a little more complicated, but this goes a long way to helping you with your goals) is to think about what you are going to do instead of eat that donut.  Take the time to think it out and fill your brain with the idea. “I’m going to make sure that (enter coworker’s name here) eats that donut and I will have that banana that I packed for myself.”  And not only say this to yourself, but fill your brain with how delicious your banana is going to be and how happy your coworker will be that he/she gets to have the last donut.  Not only are you going to have a delicious, healthy snack, but you are going to make someone else’s day, too!

Can you see how thinking about what you are going to do instead is more effective than “not donut.”  There may still be times that you just freaking want to eat the donut and that is okay.  But if you are really motivated to change a behavior, change your negative thought to a positive replacement.

Preparing for New Year’s Goals

December is my second favorite month of the year.  July wins out because that is my birthday month, so it is full of celebration.  But December is close on its heels.  I love December for many reasons: there’s the holiday celebrations, the holiday food, the holiday music, and the gracious attitude that people seem to adopt as they count the days to Christmas.  But my favorite part of the month is its representation of the end of the year.  Over the last few years it has become a time for me to reflect on the past year and think about the next.  It gives me a chance to look at all of the challenges that I went through and to congratulate myself for the successes.  And it is a time for me to prepare for my New Year’s Goals.

How many New Year’s Goals have you successfully made and kept throughout the year?  For the majority of the population most goals are dropped by February and completely forgotten about by March.  Health clubs go through a ginormous spike in memberships during December and January.  And more than half of those people stop showing up a few months later.  Why is this?  People are usually VERY motivated at first.  They get the membership.  They buy the outfits.  They research the diets.  They get the nicotine patch.  They bite the bullet and look at their finances.  They stop buying things they don’t need.  They buy the Spanish Rosetta Stone.  They spend more time with family and friends.  But soon enough the motivation goes out the door.

I believe that we do not spend the time we should on figuring out WHY we want to reach the goals we choose.  We pick lofty goals that sound great, but when our desired outcome is superficial, or we’re trying to please someone else, we tend to lose motivation.  Want to lose weight?  Why?  Want to get out of debt? Why?  Want to stop smoking? Why?


If you can’t answer the question, you are likely to be one of the millions of people who drop their New Year’s Goals.  And if you answered that you just want to stop smoking because other people tell you it’s a good idea, your chances of following through are pretty slim.  But if you desire to stop smoking because you have a new baby in the house and you want to feel energetic enough to play with her, or you want to protect him by keeping second hand smoke away, now those are more likely to push you through the year.

So what if you can’t answer the why or you’ve just figured out you have no motivation past pleasing your spouse?  Journaling is my first recommendation for most problems.  The process of writing helps you get clear on what you perceive the problem to be, and helps slow down your thinking when it comes to solutions.  You can also go back and look at your writing if you lose motivation or need to remember something you’ve forgotten.  For those who don’t like writing, drawing a picture, cutting out pictures, or recording voice memos can be helpful as well.  Here’s some journal exercises that I have done over the years to get really focused on my goals and helped me follow through.

  •  Write down what you think your goals should be.  Then ask yourself the question, “Why?”  and write the answer.  Continue to ask yourself a few times until you feel like you’ve really gotten to the answer.  An example-  “I want to stop drinking.”  Why?  “Because I have gained weight and been less motivated to do work.”  Why? “Because I feel unhealthy.”  Why? “My wife is unhappy with me.” Why? “Because I feel unhealthy and I’m not taking care of myself.” Why?  “I want to feel healthy and take care of myself.”  Why? “Because I want to be healthy enough to take care of myself and take care of my wife.”-  Now there’s motivation to stop drinking.
  • Write down previous goals that you have made in the past.  Free write about any challenges or successes you had while meeting those goals.
  • Write out your fantasy life.  Write how everything would be different if you met your goal. All of the things you would be able to do, places you’d be able to go, or things you’d be able to have.  Get precise and specific.

Now that you’ve gone a little deeper with your goals, it’s time to evaluate if they need to be rewritten.  Continuing with the example above, wanting to stop smoking because of the new baby in the house, maybe you realize that it’s not just about cigarettes.  You want to feel energetic enough to play with your baby and keep both of you healthy.  Quitting smoking might only be a part of this goal.  Writing your goal in a more positive frame will help keep you on the right track, even when things get hard.  Your new goal might be “By February I will be able to have the energy to spend at least 8 hours with the baby.”  Framing your goal in this way might help you make decisions not just about smoking, but about exercise and healthy eating as well.  And if you give in and have a cigarette, you have not “failed your goal.”  You don’t have to give up.  You have the motivation of spending time with your baby to keep trying.

What goals do you have for the New Year?  What is the motivation behind it?  How will you keep the motivation to make it all the way through to December 2014?  Comment below!