By Tim Maninger, Features Writer
It is not quite New Year’s yet, but no doubt some are already considering the resolutions they will make for 2016. Unfortunately whether the goal is to get healthy, break a habit, or try something new, most of the time it is forgotten within the first few weeks of the new year. This loss of motivation may have any of a number of causes, but many times it may simply be the way a goal is expressed and the reasons behind it. Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard business school, and in an interview with Business Insider she explains some of the science behind setting goals. She argues that the way goals are made and thought of can be as important, if not more so, than actual drive to accomplish said goal, and gives four main problems with the way people set goals: dealing in absolutes, framing in negativity, focusing on the outcome, and relying on outside forces.
“People are making absolute statements about what they’re going to do, and that’s setting them up for failure immediately,”. Cuddy argues that by setting a goal too specifically and absolutely such as, ‘go to the gym three times a week’ failure is made inevitable. Circumstances will not always allow going to the gym. Illness, scheduling conflict, or injury could quickly lead to missing a session, and then the goal is already broken, many times bringing motivation down with it. A better goal may be one that is independent of schedule such as, ‘go to the gym regularly’. This resolution is not broken when it is impossible to go to the gym one week, and can be redefined at any time to fit the circumstances.
Cuddy’s second suggestion, not to frame resolutions in negativity, focuses on the implied reasons that a goal is set. She says that people, “tend to focus on things they want to change about themselves and things they dislike about themselves,”. Setting a goal with a pessimistic tone such as, ‘stop being late so often’ will be demoralizing to think about, and motivation will be fleeting. If however, the resolution is worded more optimistically like, ‘work on improving time management’, even if there are setbacks, one’s self image will not hinge directly on the success or failure of the resolution.
Thirdly, Cuddy argues that focusing on the goal, while tempting, can actually do more harm than good. She gives the example of walking 100 miles and focusing on how far away the end is instead of how far you have come, and explains that, “You’re going to feel like a failure for so much of that because the comparison is between where I am now versus where I want to be.”. Focusing instead on what needs to be done in the short term to keep moving toward the end goal will keep up motivation. Instead of thinking at the end of the first day, ‘I have 90 miles left and I am already so tired’, think instead, ‘I covered 10 miles today, that sets a good pace to try for tomorrow’.
Finally Cuddy says that many resolutions fail because they rely on outside forces or circumstances to be favorable, as they rarely ever are. Basing goals on things out of one’s own control, or on the actions of other people, is one of the easiest ways to fail. An example would be setting a resolution to enter a relationship with a specific person. It is impossible to judge the reactions of another person well enough to say whether they specifically would make a good friend at all. A better resolution would be to meet and talk to new people with the goal of making new friends and connections.
These suggestions could be helpful in making your New Year’s resolution into a reality, but there is no reason to limit setting goals for yourself to one say of the year. Setting and succeeding in small goals throughout the year can help improve emotional stability and self-esteem beyond just the benefits of the goal itself. Maybe this year, instead of something you don’t really expect to accomplish, you could resolve to improve yourself by making goals throughout the year, not just at the beginning.