Many people are inspired by the sense of a fresh start that comes with a new year, ready to take the first step toward reaching goals that will lock in long-term life improvements. Often, some of those goals require drastic lifestyle changes, making them as daunting physically as they are psychologically.
But if these are approached through a series of interrelated, smaller goals, they can cease to be so overwhelming. This article provides guidance for setting, planning and tracking those smaller goals as a way of reaching overarching goals (i.e., resolutions). But consult your physician, therapist or other specialist(s) when making choices that require their input for your safety.
SETTING SCALABLE GOALS
Begin by considering what magnitude of change is feasible within the first week of starting toward a goal. Keep expectations minimal during this stage, which is when an old habit has to be suspended as a new one is introduced.
If the goal is to go from not exercising at all to exercising five days a week, a reasonable commitment might be to walk five minutes a day Monday through Friday. If the goal is to eat more healthfully, a reasonable commitment might be to have a healthful breakfast each day that week. If the goal is to spend less money, a reasonable commitment might be to establish a data baseline by keeping a detailed inventory of all spending for the week.
During the first week,
the emphasis is not on reaching the goal,
but on preparing for reaching it.
Then, choose the Week 2 version of those same smaller goals. Increase the scale of them. For exercising, the commitment could be increased to walking for 10 to 15 minutes a day Monday through Friday. For healthful eating, the commitment could be to have a healthful breakfast and to not have dinner any later than a certain time. (Healthline recommends eating dinner up to three hours before bedtime, but consult your physician or nutritionist.) For spending, the commitment could be to spend $5 to $10 less than what was spent in Week 1 (assuming it was representative of a typical week).
During the second week,
the emphasis is on taking one step
outside your comfort zone.
Continue to increase the scale of your smaller goals each week. You can change this later if you need to. Right now, you’re just laying the foundation for gradually pushing yourself. Once you’re using the template (explained in the next section) you’ll know whether to adjust the frequency of increasing your commitments.
During the third and subsequent weeks,
the emphasis is on learning what works for you,
pivoting and pacing yourself.
MAKING A STRUCTURED PLAN
Click on the link here to download the Word® file with an editable goal-setting template, shown below in a screenshot. You can print out copies of the template or fill out copies of it on your computer, tablet, phone or any other device with a word-processing program.
Fill out your templates for Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4.
In the Goals box, enter your overarching goals (i.e., new year’s resolutions), such as exercise more, eat more healthfully and spend less money. If you have fewer or more than three goals, that’s fine too. Just enter whatever applies to your journey.
In the schedule tables, enter the small goals selected in steps 1 through 3. If a goal is tied to a certain time, indicate the time in the 00:00 column (in 12- or 24-hour time). If the goal can be accomplished at any time of the day, leave the cell in the 00:00 column blank or insert a dash. If the goal is optional on a certain day, insert an asterisk after the last word.
Below is a screenshot of a notional template populated for a goal-seeker’s first week.
TRACKING YOUR PROGRESS THOROUGHLY AND FREQUENTLY
It’s important to remind yourself of your progress over and over, and to make sure you’re measuring your success as a product of trend analysis. Generally, you want to observe some kind of forward momentum. That way, if you have a particularly rough week or something, meeting your goals only once or twice, you’ll have evidence to prove that – despite how you may feel – you haven’t lost everything.
Fill out your worksheet during or at the end of each day. Don’t wait until the following day or the end of the week, or you might forget something. Plus, the dopamine released by each goal reached is helpful in sustaining your motivation throughout each day. Each time you reach one of your goals, insert an “x” or checkmark in the checkoff column to the right of each day’s goals column.
At the end of every Saturday, add up the number of times you reached each goal by reviewing the checkoff columns. Optionally, add the previous weeks’ values to show yourself how many times you reached each goal so far that month and/or so far that year. These values can be used to calculate your success rate percentages. Also, record any lessons you learned during the week that will be helpful in adjusting expectations and avoiding obstacles to success.
The screenshot below shows a notional template populated at the end of Week 1 for the same goal-seeker.
PIVOTING, PACING AND PATIENCE
As you get closer (relative to Day 1) to reaching your goal, give yourself permission to adjust your expectations so that they’re aligned with what’s realistic for you. It’s OK if you’re not where you thought you would be by Week 4, for instance. Just use what you’ve learned about yourself along the way and do what you’ve discovered is most practical for you as an individual.
Be patient with yourself. Change is hard. It takes time. And that’s OK. Grant yourself grace in progressing at your own pace, knowing that you’re doing your best – and that your best is enough. Sticking to your new year’s resolutions (or any goal) takes a lot of work, but I hope that you’ll invest the time and labor to achieve the life improvements you deserve.
So, hang in there. The best is yet to come!
Kathleen Hearons is a writer, editor, linguist and voice over actor from Los Angeles. She specializes in creative writing and research-intensive analysis and reporting.