From losing weight to eating healthier, with the new year here, most of us have listed down our short-term and long-term goals, often not achieving them. Yet Dr. Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist (DHA licensed) reveals the right way to achieve our resolutions and keep them for life.
Why we set goals for the new year
There are several reasons for setting goals and resolutions at the beginning of the new year, tells Dr. Afridi. “One is we are culturally expected tomake new year resolutions and also, it’s natural that with any new beginning you have the intention to want to do and be different,” she says. “However, we do not realize that some of the habits that we are trying to change are deeply rooted anxiety management behaviors/ systems and if we make goals (for example, to lose five kilos) without consideration of the underlying systems and without addressing the underlying causes of those behaviors, we will end up right where we started.” But good intentions and great goals are not enough to change behavior—we have to first understand what purpose the current behaviors are serving before we can make lasting change.
She advises to write short term/quick win goals, medium term goals, and long term goals for each area. “Do not ask others about what your goals should be,” she tells, and first, spend time with yourself and reflect on what gives you fulfillment and try to build that into your goals. Then, you can work with a coach or a therapist to discuss the life goals. “Some of these include work, physical health, personal growth, friends and family, intimate relationship, finances, and fun/entertainment.”
The correct way to set goals
People set goals without considering the science of goal setting and habit change, points out Dr. Afridi. “They believe that wanting something, mustering enough willpower, and believing that they are committed is enough to get them to achieve their goal, she says, and this is not the case. The more established the habit, the more difficult it will be to wire your brain’s neural pathways into a new and healthy habit. Habit change is basically like trying to break an addiction— it takes intention, effort, willpower, understanding of the underlying issues, triggers, and bounce back plans. She reminds us that there is no such thing as a ‘fail safe’ way of setting resolutions. “Habit change and goal achievement are very difficult and one has to go into their new years’ resolution with a lot of thought and consideration to the factors stated above,” she suggests, highlighting some of the roadblocks that set people back from achieving their resolutions which includes: denial about how difficult habits actually are to alter. Also, not managing stress as stress decreases your ability to commit to making new neural pathways in the brain and when they are stressed they go back to the ‘default’ habits. And finally, not understanding the issue under the bad habit, as Dr. Afridi cites the example of being overweight. “Being overweight is not just about changing your diet; it is about understanding and changing your relationships with food.”
Ways to come towards habit change
- Set an intention and be clear about your motivation. The ‘why’ is more important to consider than the ‘how’ sometimes.
- Have a schedule and a plan. Speak in ‘if-then statements’. If I go to the grocery store, then I will avoid the junk food aisle. Time management becomes very important during habit change. If I want to start the habit of exercising or decluttering once a week or calling friends or family more often, it will need to be scheduled in and planned for.
- Troubleshoot and build in room for ‘bad days’. When was the last time you tried to stop or change this habit, what got in the way? Plan for the obstacles before you start. Also, have a bounce-back plan—what will happen if you get off track? What will you do to get right back on track rather than giving up (which is what most people do).
- Make micro-habits. Break the habit into the smallest steps. Instead of saying ‘I will work out 30 minutes a day’, start with 5k steps or 7 minutes at the gym. The goal is not baby steps… it’s tiny, micromovements until enough momentum and esteem are developed and then you can move faster towards your goal.
- Change your environment. If you are trying to lose weight, don’t bring sugar home. Also, in order to stay conscious and on course, we have to manage our stress and our time. H