This time of year, people are setting annual goals or intentions. Some are choosing words of the year. And some people have bucked the trend by stating they are NOT setting any yearly goals. But no matter your process or lack thereof, we all want to grow. We all want to be better in 2021 than we were in years past.
Improving ourselves like this is HARD work.
Even with the best intentions, many of us fall short of our personal aspirations. If that’s you, maybe you’ve already taken advantage of the innumerable books, articles, and posts written specifically to help people overcome barriers to goal attainment. Some common suggestions include:
- writing your goals down and keeping them visible,
- tying your goals to your “why,”
- breaking them down into smaller chunks or micro-goals.
Each of these tactics comes from a nugget of truth, but they also largely rely on self-discipline and willpower. We know that, as humans, we have a finite amount of willpower. Which is why 80% of us never meet goals that we’ve set for ourselves in January.
What are we to do, then? Give up? Of course not. Let’s turn to neuroscience for the answer. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Andrew Huberman; what I’ve learned from him and others is that celebrating your forward momentum helps you stay in motion. Here’s the caveat, though: You must stop and recognize that you’ve just done something helpful towards your long-term goal. When you intentionally pause and celebrate, even tiny little steps towards your goals can give you the dopamine and epinephrine boosts that drive you in the right direction.
If you don’t totally follow the science of these brain chemicals and what it takes to activate them inside your body, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that if you feel really good about something, you’ll be willing to do it more.
So, this year, give yourself time and space to intentionally appreciate every single success, no matter how small. Celebrate your forward progress every step of the way.
When you do, you will no longer have to rely on sheer willpower to move yourself along. You’ll actually want to do the things you need to do to reach your goals.
Since creating effective exercise habits is a popular goal that happens to be well-documented in literature, let’s use it as an example. Most of us set a goal to be more physically fit so we feel and look better. We say, “I want to work out three times a week.” To support this goal, some folks suggest sleeping in your workout clothes or putting your shoes and the dog’s leash by the front door. But if willpower is your challenge, these approaches, which help by removing obstacles, likely won’t be enough.
If working out regularly is your goal, don’t just put your shoes by the door. Stop and take two seconds to congratulate yourself for wearing your workout clothes as pajamas and getting everything ready the night before. It may sound silly, but it actually works.
So, what’s important for you to accomplish in 2021? How can you celebrate your way there?