Let's talk about New Year's resolutions — those impossible goals that inevitably dry up by the end of the month, leaving behind failure, guilt and disappointment.
Ring a bell?
Whether your goals are about repairing relationships, self-improvement, fitness, spiritual growth or career hopes, having a more realistic approach to your goals could help spell success.
Heather Hutton knows the dance of dashed resolutions all too well. A public-school music teacher, recording artist and owner of Unified Voice-Works in Talent, Hutton spent years dreaming of being a performer.
"It's a big part of who I am, and I had the goal of having a well-attended venue to perform at each month," says Hutton. "It never quite panned out, and then I finally realized that the most appropriate and attainable goals don't always look like what you think they should."
Hutton learned to look outward to her community. "The trick is to be more open to existing opportunities," she says. "Ask yourself: What is the need of the community? Where do I fit in? Otherwise, you're trying to fit a square inside of a circle."
This new thinking led Hutton down a different path: Last year, she applied for the position of director of the Rogue Valley Peace Choir and got it.
"I'm still singing, I'm helping people of all ages express themselves and I feel so productive," she says.
To help her refocus her goals, Hutton worked with Denise Byron, owner of Vision Your Life Coaching and Intuitive Services in Ashland and co-founder of The Mistress Mind.
"Most of us have too many goals," says Byron. "In our society and culture, we admire and reward achievement. We are based on 'Protestant ethics,' which often means achieving is a way to get to a better place either here or in the hereafter."
How do we keep our desires for achievement in line with our goals and abilities?
"It's important to realize what value you are seeking to fulfill," says Bryon, who suggests that goal-setters write down their top five values, which might include family, relationships or mastery of a skill. Then set goals that are in keeping with those values.
For example, a busy woman with children might set the significant goal of getting to bed at 10:30 p.m. every night. "If she achieves that, it feeds her values and other goals," Byron says. "Then you will feed your belief in yourself. And if you feed your belief in yourself, you will trust yourself to set the 'right' goals. Success does nurture more success."
If a goal is not being met, there are a few questions to ask:
- Is this goal being fueled or motivated by my top five values? If yes, how can I remind myself of this? If no, why am I setting this goal?
- Can I break this goal down into more manageable steps? This is almost always possible, and succeeding at "baby steps" is a time-tested way to succeed at goal attainment.
- How can I adjust this goal so that I can reach it and then readjust to the level I want?
Remember to be gentle with yourself when working toward a goal — don't fall into the pattern of defeat often called self-sabotage.
"SMART goals are part of the self-sabotage solution," says John Kalb, a chiropractor in Ashland and author of "Steamed Greens for the Spirit" and the upcoming "Winning at Aging."
Kalb popularized the SMART acronym, which is part of the Chi Creating and Healing Integration System created by Rod Newton of Hidden Springs Wellness Center in Ashland.
First, clarify your goal by making it Simple rather than huge. "A common form of self-sabotage is that people usually make goals that are too big," says Kalb.
Make it Measurable. "If you say you're going to commit to walking at least once a week, that's a good start," Kalb says. "That way you can win, and you can always do more if you want."
Make sure your goal is Attainable — that you can definitely do it. If you have a bad knee, the goal of becoming a competitive athlete may not be worth your time commitment.
Realistic goals are the only ones that can be attained. Are you really going to refinish every piece of furniture in your house by the time your family visits in March? Instead, your first goal could be assessing your materials. The next week, get the tools and materials you may need. The next week, create a workspace. Then start to chip away at your projects. "It's a step-by-step thing if you want it to last," says Kalb.
Timeliness is important. "Giving your goal a time frame means you can either hold yourself accountable or have someone help you," counsels Kalb.
To help stay on track with goal-setting and attainment, stay energized, active and result-oriented.
- Visualize having succeeded at your goal and note the feelings this elicits: pride, happiness, excitement. Let these feelings guide you through the actions of manifesting the goal in real life.
- Results help us continue. "We re-evaluate and see how we're doing," Kalb says. "And then we either celebrate our success, no matter how small, or we refocus and refine our goal, making a course correction if necessary."
- Set worthy goals. These tend to be inspiring and draw us into the process of attaining them.
- Use positive language. "Quitting smoking is a good thing to do, but it's negative wording," Kalb points out. "Instead, say your goal is to breathe cleaner air. Rather than losing weight, say that I'm gaining in fitness or my clothes fit better."
- Face your reality. Only then will you be able to change it. "A lot of people do not acknowledge unhappiness at work, in their relationships or with themselves," says Kalb. "When you accept it and then energize your goal — a healthy relationship or right livelihood — you actually create a tension, a polarity between where you're at and where you want to go. Having these two parts is clarifying."
Heather Hutton used most of these pointers when re-evaluating the goals that had caused her so much anguish for years. Adapting her goals and approach to attaining them has been a revelation.
"It makes me feel like my ideas are being shared and put into action," she says. "There's more cooperation with others. Everything seems more accessible. Until you actually find a bridge to where you can put your ideas into action, they're just ideas. But when they start to be shared, you feel more seen and heard and used."