As we pass into the new year, it can be a time to reflect and plan for what’s to come. Many of us try to make big changes – ‘new year, new me’.
Over the years I have tried many different goal setting strategies. Something I have come to learn is that although goals can help guide our lives in the right direction, they are not what make us happy. Imagine the Olympian who achieves the gold medal and thinks ‘what now?’. We need goals to drive us, but what’s far more important is the lifestyle we create to get there.
There is another dark side of setting goals – sometimes they end up too daunting! It is so common to start our New Year with a grand plan to clean up an area of our life and become a better version of ourselves, but when we start trying, we realise that’s actually quite a hard thing to do.
With this in mind, I have three solutions for you.
I am going to use an example that is right up my street as an osteopath, and that’s how to build the habit of stretching. Many of my patients found that 2020 tightened them up due to less walking (no commuting etc) and more sitting at a home desk.
Let’s say you wanted to feel looser and you had a specific goal of being able to touch your toes. As someone who has had the same goal in my life, I can tell you that stretching your hamstrings everyday SUCKS! There are some stretches I do that feel blissful. I fall deep into the stretch, breathe and meditate my woes away. Not so with the hamstrings. When I get into a deep hamstring stretch my only goal is to not vomit on the carpet. I hate it.
So how do you overcome a hurdle like this, when the thing you want to achieve is on the other side of hardship?
Well, you start small. So small it feels too small. You just put a light stretch through the hamstrings, to the point where a voice in your head says, ‘this can’t be doing anything, it’s too easy’. But if you turn up every day, it will do something. After a week or so, you will notice that the level of stretch you started with no longer feels like a stretch, you’ll have to push a bit further. This will feel like a success! And with that feeling of success, it will bring an undercurrent of motivation, a feeling of curiosity. What if you kept going? How far could you get?
This leads us on to the next lesson. Don’t wait for motivation to get started. We have this belief that we need to be motivated in order to start a new habit. Well thankfully, that’s a myth! As you build this perpetual cycle of success leading to motivation, and motivation leading to more success, and on and on, you will create your own motivation.
Once you become a motivated person, we end up at our final lesson … you will feel your identity changing. This is probably the most powerful part of any new habit – the moment you identify with the thing that you’re doing. Rather than someone who has to stretch, you are someone who stretches. The moment you are someone who does ‘the thing’, the easier it becomes to stick to the habit. When you feel in your mind that you are someone who stretches every day, when you get home from work feeling a bit tired in the evening, and all you want to do is slump on the sofa watching Netflix, there will be a little voice in your head saying, ‘get on the floor, you can stretch those hamstrings and watch Netflix’.
To accelerate this process of changing your identity, all you need to do is change your language. When you do this, you may feel a pang of imposter syndrome, like you’re not allowed to use the language you’re using but ignore that! I give you permission to dropkick that voice out your mind.
Rather than think, ‘I need to stretch’, you think, ‘I am someone who stretches every day’. Rather than feel daunted by going for a run 3 times a week, say, ‘I am a runner’. And rather than struggle to come up with meal plans as part of your weight-loss strategy, say to yourself, ‘I am someone who uses food to care for my wellbeing’.
With these three things in place – start small, don’t wait to be motivated and changing your identity – you will be sure to get off to a good start with your goals. And most importantly, they will be sustainable.