With the new year approaching, I hear a lot of people talking about their goals for 2017. I hear people making very specific and rigid goals like losing a specific number of pounds, saving a specific dollar amount, finding the perfect job/partner/home. I think goals are fantastic because they keep us focused and motivated. The down side is that if the goal is too rigid, you may be setting yourself up for negative self-talk and failure.
In my experience, when someone sets a goal that is so specific and so rigid, they begin to beat themselves up emotionally and mentally every time something happens that is not aligned with that goal. For example, let’s pretend a person sets a goal to lose 50 pounds. What may happen is that this person may go through major changes and reach their goal without any problems or hiccups. If that is how you do goals and change, that is amazing and I am jealous of you.
What typically happens is that this person will start off very motivated for the first 1-2 weeks. Then weeks 3 and 4 get more difficult to stay 100% focused an motivated. When slips happen, the person starts to criticize themselves and say negative things like “I’m so stupid”, “I can never do this”, “I’ve already messed up so what’s the point”, etc. It may be hard for the person to identify a slip as a small mistake and instead, magnify the negative mistake and give themselves no wiggle room for flexibility.
Please think about your life and if you have had these critical thoughts when you have not been perfect. If you relate to this person that is critical about imperfection, it may be more ideal to have more general ideas about 2017. I would challenge you to focus on your intentions rather than set goals.
The word, intention, can be defined as an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result. Some may believe that goal and intention are the same thing. I look at intentions as more generalized. You can have intentions without a specific goal in mind but you cannot have a goal without intentions. If you can identify a generalized intention for yourself, you are more likely to maintain motivation and create a new lifestyle. You are also more likely to be forgiving of yourself when you make a mistake.
I like to think of intentions as a compass for your life. You can use this intention, or compass, to help keep you heading in the right direction for you. When decision points arise, you can make decisions based on this compass. If you make a mistake, or a wrong turn, you know how to get back to being intentional. You also have freedom to expand or adapt your intentions but still head in the same direction.
Here are some examples of intentions that may be helpful to adapt or steal for yourself:
- Being healthy
- Making good financial decisions
- Being a better parent, friend, partner, etc.
- Trying new things
- Being more positive
My intention for 2017 is to be healthy; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here is what this means to me:
Physically healthy – My intention is to maintain a regular routine for physical activity and make good decisions to fuel my body and mind. This also means that I can listen to my body and rest from workouts. Or I can eat a donut every once in awhile without getting completely off course. By being intentional to stay physically healthy, I can practice daily decision making to avoid behaviors and nutrition that make me feel worse.
Mentally healthy – My intention is to practice self-compassion and to work on quieting the inner critic in my head that likes to shout negative statements about me. I can acknowledge the negative inner critic and spend a minute exploring the negative feedback to make sure it is wrong. I can also speak with others about the difficulties with the negative inner critic and be open to validation and support.
Emotionally healthy – My intention is to practice self-care and focus on my priorities. This allows me to pull from a variety of self-care options depending on my needs. This also helps me not feel as guilty when it takes time away from my family. I’ve learned to reach out to friends and family members when I need to vent or need supportive and validating feedback. I have also learned to avoid certain stressful situations. By having this intention, I can also be supportive of my friends and family engaging in self-care and prioritizing.
With this intention, to be healthy, I have flexibility to not be perfect every day. I also don’t have rigid boundaries around what I can and cannot do. These intentions can help me guide my daily decisions and larger life decisions. I would encourage you to make your own intention(s) for the new year and to re-evaluate the intentions throughout the year. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a race. Remember, your direction, or intentions, can always change based on preferences and situations. If you need help identifying your intentions, please reach out to those you feel comfortable with or reach out to your therapist.