How to pursue your goals
without effort and failure
You want to make changes in your life
You know there is more to life than your current experience. You have the gut-wrenching feeling of losing out, of not achieving, of not being happy, of not being fulfilled. You want to change your life, you want to be like everyone else (and better!), and you want to feel good about yourself. You are fed up with not achieving what you want, fed up with failing to change, and fed up with your life going nowhere.
You put off making changes. You tell yourself that you need a good Christmas after a hard year. The hedonistic time of indulgence and extravagance passes and finally, there are no more excuses not to make changes. 1st January has arrived.
You make New Year’s resolutions
You either take action or procrastinate. The actions you take make you eager to continue or make you want to give up.
Mid-January arrives. Are you still keeping your New Year’s resolutions?
If not, you are not alone. Recent research (1) suggests that most people give up their New Year’s resolutions within the first month. The majority of “quitters” give up pursuing their goals by the second Friday of January thus nicknamed “Quitters’ Day”.
Why is it hard to pursue your goals?
There are various reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail. Let’s consider some of the most common ones.
These include giving up chocolate, sweets, alcohol, gambling, smoking, and so on. You go cold turkey and crave the things you’ve given up every single moment of the day.
Why do these fail? Because you don’t hold a vision that is important to you, will make you happy or will change your life for the better.
You feel under pressure
We put pressure on ourselves or other people put pressure on us to change - e.g. lose weight, work more/work less, be more productive and so on. Whilst pressure can sometimes be helpful, it can also induce negative emotions such as stress, resentment and dejection. To put it simply, living under pressure is not fun.
This is not what you really want
You join a gym as all your friends are fitness fanatics and you stand out like a sore thumb. But you hate getting up early to only spend an hour lifting weights and cycling without getting anywhere. Similarly, you love the idea of becoming a vegan, but you find it difficult to give up bacon butties.
Jumping on a bandwagon because you want to be like everyone else will make it hard to follow the goal. It’s difficult to pursue someone else’s vision after all.
You don’t believe you can succeed
If you tell yourself that you don’t have what it takes to succeed, your brain will immediately find all the reasons why cannot succeed. Your brain is programmed to agree with you and find evidence to support your views. For example, if you are thinking of buying a red car, you will see lots of red cars and this will serve as evidence that red cars are a popular choice. Your lack of conviction will lead to a lack of motivation and thus giving up.
You give up at the first sign of failure
We set up New Year’s resolutions on 1st January as it’s the beginning of the year. We have the whole year ahead of us to achieve what we want. If we stumble and slip, there is a great temptation to give up immediately as we no longer have the whole year ahead of us.
But the beginning of January is an arbitrary starting point. We can start or restart at any point.
Ready to give up?
Don’t! Let me share with you a process to help you stay motivated and committed and succeed in achieving the changes you want to make.
A 3-step process of creating changes without effort and failure
Step 1 What is it that you really want that will make you happy?
Sit down somewhere quiet with a pen and paper. Take a few deep breaths. Notice how you feel, what your thoughts are, and what your surroundings are as an observer, not an active participant. Imagine going back to your childhood when there was no pressure to perform, to achieve, but to be happy and playful.
When you’re fully relaxed, take a pen and write down what makes you happy and what you want to change and create in your life. Write down everything that comes to your mind without correcting and editing, however, small, big, significant or insignificant your ideas are. Do not judge, just write everything down. When you have finished, identify key areas that fill you with excitement and anticipation.
According to a study carried out by the Dominican University in California (2), writing down what you want to achieve significantly increases your chances of success. Keep going back to your vision, particularly every time you feel like giving up.
Step 2 What obvious actions are you going to take?
Take time each morning to consider what action you can take towards achieving your vision. Don’t overthink it and don’t consider possible barriers to taking action (e.g. not enough time, too hard, too small). Small steps are equally good as big steps. It’s all about not stopping and giving up.
Step 3 What have you achieved already?
Every month, sit down and review what you have achieved. Ask yourself: What have I learned? What am I not going to do anymore? What am I going to do more of? What am I most proud of?
Celebrate small victories! Remembering what you have achieved already will help you stay motivated and determined to succeed.
There is no point in beating yourself up about failure to achieve New Year’s resolutions. You have a reset button available to you and you can start anytime to make the changes you want. Follow what you truly desire and consistently take action - little by little what you want will become a reality and not an unattainable dream.
(1) Dickson, J. et al. (2021) “Self-Regulatory Goal Motivational Processes in Sustained New Year Resolution Pursuit and Mental Wellbeing” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 18(6), 3084; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18063084
(2) Matthews, G. (2007) "The Impact of Commitment, Accountability, and Written Goals on Goal Achievement". Psychology | Faculty Presentations. 3. https://scholar.dominican.edu/psychology-faculty-conference-presentations/3