I’ve studied quite a bit about the psychology of goal-setting over the past several years.
One way to improve your ability to attain your goals is by making them “positive”. And by that, I’m not referring to the end result being some positive, or beneficial, thing (although it probably should be, right?).
If you want to accomplish something, change your behavior, break a bad habit, establish a new habit, etc., defining the proper goal should be one of your first steps.
It’s important to phrase your goal in a very specific way.
To begin with, try making SMART goals that are:
- Specific – well defined and not vague – so you know more specifically how to proceed
- Measurable – so you can tell how you’re progressing and whether you’ve achieved your goal
- Attainable – otherwise, what’s the point? If it’s not realistic, you’ll just be discouraged and won’t work to achieve it, or you’ll be demoralized when you don’t reach it.
- Relevant – it should tie in with your broader life goals and help you become more like the person you want to be.
- Time-bound – a deadline can add a sense of urgency and help motivate you.
Then you should definitely write down your goal on paper (or at least in some file that you look at on occasion). This makes the goal more “real”. Also, if your goal is somewhere where you’ll see it on a regular basis (like written on a post-it on your bathroom mirror), the additional reminders will make you more likely to work harder on it.
One thing people often don’t think about, but should, is exactly how the goal is worded. Specifically, your goal should be written in a positive way – to incite you toward a behavior – that is, “doing” something rather than “not doing” something.
As an example, if you wanted to stop yourself from eating so much junk food, do NOT set a goal like, “I will eat less junk food” or “I will not eat junk food”.
To explain why, try this: for the next 60 seconds, try to not think of elephants.
See? It’s impossible. The phrasing of the goal itself is making you think of the thing you’re trying to avoid. If your goal is to not eat sweets, then while working on your goal your brain will constantly be thinking about sweets and thus sabotaging your efforts.
Instead, think of some other behavior that you can substitute for the behavior you’re trying to replace. Or think of some new behavior that could impact your ability to behave the old way.
If you’re trying to eat better, try a goal like, “I will eat five cups of vegetables per day”. After eating all those vegetables you might not have room left for sweets. Or how about, “I will drink 16 oz of water before each meal.” To be complete, you might want to say it like this, “Every day until April 15th, I will drink 16oz of water before each meal.” Then by April 15th, you may have established a new habit.
Switching from a negative to a positive phrasing can take some work to figure out at first for some goals, but ultimately is a rather simple change that can have a big effect on your ability to get what your after.
We’ve all heard stories about people who were once overweight and unhealthy that turned things around dramatically and became very fit. I think in all these stories the individual had some sort of “aha” moment that triggered in them the necessary motivation to change their lifestyle.
I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been exceedingly unhealthy or overweight, but about a year ago I did have an aha moment of sorts that caused me to dramatically change my lifestyle as it relates to my health. Since then I’m down about 20 pounds to a more ideal weight and feel better than ever.
This aha “moment” took several months (perhaps longer) to come together. It all boiled down to this: based on certain things I’ve been researching and learning about over the past couple years, I’ve come to the expectation that within the next 30 years, people will defeat heart disease, cancer, and the other ailments associated with aging. I could go into why I believe this, but that would take at least another blog post. Hopefully I’ll write that some day.
Anyway, if we assume I’m correct (and I of course believe I am), what does that mean? In thirty to forty years or so, the age-related ailments (including cancer and heart disease) that kill people today will not kill people. So if I’m alive in 40 years, I can expect to live much longer.
The key point here is that I still need to be alive and reasonably healthy when these breakthroughs happen. Some breakthroughs might happen within 20 years. Some might take 50 years.
By making small lifestyle changes that historically might have increased longevity by a year or two (and the healthy portion of my life by around 10 years), I might make it to the point where I can take advantage of these new medical technologies and increase my lifespan dramatically.
After coming to this realization, I just needed to learn more specifics about all the things I could do to be more healthy. Then I put that learning into practice. That’s also a good subject for another blog post or two.
As an example, for years I used to drink a couple cans of Mountain Dew per day. About a year ago (when my aha moment hit me), I just stopped one day. And it wasn’t hard at all – because I had a new, very powerful motivation.