8 Ways to Set Goals and Stay Motivated

Every new year, we use our resolutions to admit to the world ways in which we want to better ourselves. For a lot of us, it’s about being healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But, by the time we’ve gotten all of the turkey and wine out of our system, our resolutions have begun to waver and fade. Here are some tips to bolster your determination without burning yourself out:

1. Think of it as a Challenge

A “goal” is an ideal image that floats above our heads, nice and neat like a finished painting. For all its positive connotations, thinking of a resolution as a goal can disconnect it from the actual process of working towards that ideal, making it seem distant and therefore less achievable. We want to get gritty, revel in the process, and take pride in our efforts.

Thinking of your resolution as a challenge places equal value on both your effort and the goal. Accepting a challenge can increase and maintain your emotional investment by evoking a feeling of victory and accomplishment throughout the process. Personally, I find imagining the challenge has been put forth to me by someone I don’t like to be very effective in getting me started. But once I’ve put on my running shoes or opened up my laptop, what keeps me going is seeing my progress and visualizing my victory.

2. Visualize and Fantasize

Some people use inspiration boards to pin up pictures of the changes they want to make in their lives. Others, like myself, imagine the final product already existing: you just have to work to reveal it. Even a checklist of what you’ve already accomplished can give you a boost when you’re faltering. Visualization makes change seem not only possible, but real and present in the moment. As you notice actual progress, like a bit more room between you and your waistband, or money accumulating in your savings account, you’ll gain momentum and you’ll find the challenge becomes more of a game.

3. Make Small, Specific Goals

If you’re taking on a big project, it’s best to break it up into little steps to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer size and effort involved in what you’re taking on. As you begin to check each step off you’ll be more apt to see and be encouraged by how far you’ve come rather than fixated on how far you have left to go. For example, if your goal is to pay off your debts, start by breaking your overall debt into small manageable segments to be paid off by specific dates. As you pay off each amount you’ll experience a feeling of accomplishment rather than dwelling on what is left to pay.

4. Celebrate Every Victory, Publicly

Make sure the world knows what you’re doing and that you’re getting it done. Not only is this an excuse to brag, it’s an opportunity for the people in your life to cheer you on. Social media can have a big impact on motivation. When your favourite cousin in Kentucky congratulates you for losing that first 5 pounds you’ll be more likely to stick to your diet so you can really impress him with 10 pounds, then 15. Feeling as though people are watching you and rooting for you is a great reason to get off the couch and get busy.

5. Make Time

Make no mistake—improving yourself can be hard work and you should treat it like a part-time job, at least in terms of your schedule. Carve out an hour every day or once a week, whatever it takes, to feel like you’re making headway. This time is set in stone—so no, you can’t go out to brunch on Saturday because you have an appointment with that song you’ve always wanted to write.

6. Reward Yourself as You Work

I believe in real-time rewards. When I’m on the treadmill, I get to watch whatever TV show I want (iZombie anyone?). But once the workout is over, either the TV goes off or an educational program goes on. When I’m writing or making my way through a challenging book, I get to make myself a gin and tonic to drink as my mind toils. When your work comes with a treat, you’re not only more likely to do it, but work harder and longer because it has become a doubly rewarding task.

7. Try for 80%

No one is perfect, so don’t aim for perfection. Leave room for mistakes so you don’t give up the moment you sleep in, miss a target, or skip a week of workouts. Setbacks are far less demoralizing when you’re prepared for them. Pick yourself back up and reissue the challenge. Continuing is harder than giving up, but when you look back in 3 months or a year and realize where you could be and where you are, giving up can end up being a lot more painful.

8. Surround Yourself with Positivity

Feel like giving up? Stay far away from the naysayers of the world. Seek out positive and supportive friends, watch an inspiring TEDTalk, or take an hour or a day to reflect on why you wanted to make this change and how much headway you’ve made. Write down what you want to achieve and how you imagine completing this challenge will affect your life. This is also a good opportunity to educate yourself by seeking out advice from people who have succeeded in changing the same area of their lives.

Photography by Chris Florence via Flickr

Laura is a copyeditor and designer for On the Danforth summer edition. She spends most of her time with furry friends but enjoys a foray into the real world to cause trouble from time to time. Connect with her via Twitter.

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