Are You Making These 3 Common Mistakes When Trying to Stick to Your Goals
It’s a new year again, which means another go at New Year’s resolutions. It’s something that comes up A LOT in coversations around this time, but very few people stick to or complete these goals. In fact, research suggests that only 9% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions actually complete them.
I see it all time. People say they’re SO ready to go all-in and eat healthier and start exercising, but before long they’re struggling to meet their goals. So, what happens? How do people actually stick to their goals? These 3 mistakes apply whether it’s a new year, or not!
Here are 3 mistakes you’re probably making if you’re struggling to stick to your goals:
Mistake #1: Going “all-in” and taking on too many goals
If you want to stick with your goals, don’t bite off more than you can chew – I know, you’ve probably heard this phrase ad nauseam, but it’s true! Those who I see failing to stick with their goals are trying to take on too much at once and it becomes unsustainable in the long run.
This is often because many people go “all-in,” which is very common in the new year, especially with the trend of “new year, new me.” We think we need to be a whole new healthy person who eats well and exercises daily. But what happens when all of those new things become overwhelming? Or we begin to feel burnt out? We stop…all of them, and before long, we haven’t stuck with any of our goals. Read more about how all-or-nothing thinking is sabotaging your health goals.
What to do instead: Make your goals achievable
Choose just one or two goals to focus on and make sure they are doable. Ask yourself if you could stick with these goals for weeks, months, even years from now. If you need to, use the “5 year rule”, as in, if you can’t see yourself doing this goal for the next 5 years, it needs to change. This doesn’t work for everything, but it can work for many goals. Take exercise, for example. If you made a goal to exercise an hour each day and asked yourself if you could continue this routine for the next 5 years, what would be your answer? I know mine would be absolutely not.
So, the question becomes what IS a reasonable goal that’s achievable long term? Maybe it’s exercising at least 20 minutes a few times a week. If the goal isn’t sustainable, adjust it. You can also increase it over time.
The other part of this is to choose very few goals at a time. You can always add more as previous goals become habit. For example, the sole goal could be to start exercising a few times a week. If you feel confident about this, maybe you also want to start eating a healthier breakfast. Okay, great, but keep it at that for now!
Research shows that we’re only 5% likely to stick with 3 or more goals. So, definitely do NOT try to start trying to meal plan, exercise daily, begin a meditation practice, drink more water, cold plunge, and mouth tape all at the same time!
Take things one step at a time (cue Jordin Sparks). If you need help developing goals specific to your health and lifestyle, work with me.
Mistake #2: No accountability in place
To be honest, I never really understood the accountability thing because I always thought I was internally motivated. But, I’ve come to realize that I have accountability systems in place that I wasn’t fully aware of, but have been extremely helpful.
When it comes to my health, I pay attention to how I’m feeling and essentially hold myself accountable to certain markers of feeling and ability. For example, if I begin to notice I’m feeling more tired than usual, I assess my sleep, stress levels, exercise, diet, etc. and adjust accordingly: Oh, I’ve been going to bed later and later? Time to getting back to my usual early bedtime. I also realized that I do like to show up for my annual physical with continued good health (healthy blood pressure, lung and heart function, no new symptom complaints, etc.), which wouldn’t be the case if I didn’t keep up with my healthy habits all year long.
When we are just starting out with a new goal, however, it can be helpful to have more consistent accountability systems in place. For example, I may meet with a patient every 2 weeks until they feel more comfortable maintaining their goals, then we may transition to 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or even yearly. It’s less often, but that accountability still exists.
Accountability is helpful because it not only offers an external motivation to maintain your goal, but it may even give you someone to check-in with and ask questions. Sometimes, self-doubt creeps in and we begin to wonder if what we’re doing is still what is best for us. Having some type of accountability in place can often help us feel good when we succeed as well. Whether it’s a person you look forward to telling, or a badge awarded in an app: we, as humans, respond well to positive reinforcement.
What to do instead: Find one or more sources of accountability to help meet your goals
- Person – Meeting or talking with a practitioner, friend, or dedicated accountability partner. Someone to either check-in with, or meet with for the same activity (ex. meeting up with a friend to cook a healthy meal once a week, or meet at the gym together, etc.)
- Group – Meeting or discussing with a group of people with similar goals, or meeting a group for a specific activity (biking, hiking, church, facebook group, etc.)
- App – An app specific to your goal(s) (ex. the 1000 hours outside app, water app, or Strava for exercise)
- Tracker – Use a tracker specific to your goal (ex. a water bottle with time stamps on it)
- Calendar/planner – Schedule it in! Make appointments for yourself and put it on the calendar
- Journal – Write about your goals and how they’re going, make lists to check off
Mistake #3: Your goals don’t become habits
What we think we need to build healthy habits and stick with our goals: Willpower, staying “on track.”
What we actually need: A plan, staying consistent.
Let me explain. When most people decide to make a change, they often expect to have the internal motivation and willpower to continue with it perfectly, but they don’t necessarily take the time to make it habit and stay consistent – even when they “fail”.
For example, say the goal is to eat healthier, and you start by giving up nightly ice cream. Maybe a few days in you’re doing well, but you start to crave ice cream again. You will yourself not to give in and make it a few more days before you can’t take it anymore and binge on a whole pint. You reprimand yourself for not having better willpower and decide this healthy eating thing is too hard, so you give up.
What you didn’t account for was the fact that a) you tend to skip breakfast, so by evening you’re super hungry and your blood sugar is low (causing you to want more high calorie, sweet foods and making it REALLY hard on yourself to use willpower to avoid dessert), b) you love ice cream, so giving it up completely is difficult and makes you feel deprived, and c) having ice cream every night is a habit – it took time to build, so it’s going to take time to break and make a new habit.
What to do instead: Make a plan for your goals and stay consistent
Instead of simply giving up ice cream and relying solely on willpower to do so, let’s take into account some of these other considerations. Maybe, because you’re skipping breakfast, you still need something to eat at night, but instead of ice cream or nothing, you choose to have frozen fruit and yogurt 5 days a week, and ice cream 2 days a week. You still get to enjoy a food you love, just less often. If you love ice cream, it is totally unrealistic to give it up completely forever (unless it’s necessary due to an allergy or medical condition, of course). Lastly, you’re still in the habit of having something in the evening, but you’re aiming for a healthier choice most days. If you do happen to have ice cream more than 2 days a week, know that it’s okay, and simply aim for 2 days again the following week. Consistency is better than perfection. Over time, frozen fruit and yogurt will become your new norm (new habit).
This is just ONE example of hundreds I could use. If you’re struggling to make a specific plan that works for you, work with me, and I will help you do just that.
Whether it’s a new year’s resolution, or a goal you make for yourself mid-summer, the same rules apply! Don’t make these 3 common mistakes when trying to stick to your goals! Hopefully, after reading this you know there’s a better way, and it is possible to achieve your goals.