We went through quite a ride in 2020, and naturally most of us were glad to see the backside of it on December 31st. In the past week, we have seen that – while there is hope for change this year – the roller coaster ride continues. Looking forward with hope and possibility can support our well-being.
This time of year, we often reflect on what we would like to do differently to improve how we are feeling, both physically and psychologically. Many of us have tried lots of tips and tricks that are promised to help us feel better, only to find that we too easily fall back into the same patterns. While setting goals can be a great way to plan for the year ahead, it is how we the set those goal that matters. The good news is, even in these unsettled times, there are things that we can do to ease some of the struggle that we may be having. Here are a few guidelines that will make it more likely that you will feel good about your efforts.
As mentioned by my colleague, Dawson Wambolt in his blog post “Zoom Your Way Back on Track”, there is an approach called a SMART goal. It was developed by George Doran in 1981 as a business management tool, however its benefits can also apply to us on an individual level. It’s a way of setting goals for ourselves that are well-defined, and more in line with the reality of our lives. When we set goals that are too high, too big or too vague we can quickly lose traction, get discouraged, and maybe even feel shame about failing.
The SMART acronym standards for:
What exactly is your goal? To set a goal to take better care of yourself is too broad. To reduce your stress by going for a walk for 15 or 30 minutes three times a week is more specific. The plan is now taking shape.
Is it measurable? Can you say that you did it? Is there a way to tell that you worked on this goal? Can you note it or track it in some way? In the case of the walk the answer is yes: you know when you have done it and you can log it in a journal.
In the business world, A stood for “Assignable”, meaning: “who will do it?” In terms of personal goals, that “who” is you. So, we then talk about whether or not it can actually be done. This part of goal setting is really important and can help us identify roadblocks that we can problem solve. Some questions that you can ask yourself are:
Am I physically able to do this or do I need to build up? Do I have what I need to get started? Where will this happen? Does my chosen physical environment support this activity? Do I have time to do this? Can I let something go that will open up time?
Perhaps you work and take care of family and can’t free up all of the time you need, maybe you have signed up for a course, or volunteer, or act as personal chauffeur to friends or family and the goals that you have created would then eat into those commitments. It’s important that we don’t put more on our plate than we can feasibly manage, as this will most likely lead to barriers and frustration.
Once you determine if your goal is attainable, next you can ask yourself if the steps that you are taking to achieve your goal are relevant to the overall goal. You may decide that you want to reduce your stress by moving your body more or learning how to meditate. You may then choose to train for a marathon or start meditating for 45 minutes each day. In many cases, these are technically attainable but are they relevant to your goal of improved wellbeing? They may or may not be realistic given your current life circumstances, and may cause you more stress in the long run. When setting any goal, the activity that you engage in needs to move you toward your goal in a meaningful way.
When would you like to work on this goal? For how long? When will you assess your progress toward the goal? Does the goal have a natural ending, as might happen if training for an athletic event or taking a course? If there isn’t a natural ending, you could create your own timeline and check in with yourself on a daily or weekly basis.
If you feel like you have been stuck and would like to get “unstuck” give this method a try. Choose one small thing, define what it is, how you want to do it, and when you want to do it. Along the way, check in with yourself with a kind heart, noting if you have been on track and what it feels like to be on track. Also, perhaps note if you fell off track, what that feels like, what got in the way, how can you avoid the same roadblocks, and give yourself the permission to begin again without shame or guilt.