Why pre-setting your New Year goals is the way forward

[Photo: Getty]

Words by Lydia Smith.

We start the year with good intentions, swearing blind to go to the gym five times a week, spend less, eat healthier, read more and spend less time slumped in front of the TV.

With January comes the opportunity to start afresh and change our lives for the better, but more often than not, these goals have been long-forgotten by February.

Most don’t even last that long, in fact. January 12 was the day when most people were likely to give up their New Year’s resolutions in 2018, according to the sporting social network Strava, making it “Quitters’ Day”.

So how can you ensure you stick to your goals this coming year? Life coach Tracey Liv says planning ahead and pre-setting your New Year resolutions is an “act of power”.

“It allows people to be clear on what they want and decide how and when they are going to make the action happen,” she says. “If you are thinking about pre-setting your NYE goals, ask yourself what you really want to experience in 2019? What does success look like to you?”

“Not pre-setting NYE goals leads to a repeat of the previous year, giving out money, time and energy to things we don’t like,” Lid adds.

Many of us make a snap decision on 1st January when it comes to making goals for the year ahead. The fizz may have been flowing on New Year’s Eve, so we vow to cut back on alcohol, stick to a paleo diet and train for a marathon. But it might be more beneficial to plan our goals before the New Year’s Day hangovers kick in.

“We must plant the seeds before we can water them. January is a time of acting on NYE goals, not setting them. December is for setting goals,” says Liv. “Setting goals in December gives people space to reflect if they’re the right fit, before acting on the goals in January.”

“While individuals also have time to create a plan that incorporates the month of January and research- which gym to join, classes to book,” she adds. “Most people are full of newfound energy and excitement in January – you can harness this energy if you’ve already set goals and a direction for the month, quarter or year.”

It might also be worth asking yourself why you want to wait until January to make a change in your life.

“I often hear clients speaking of starting something new in January, giving up this or taking up that,” says Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist, counsellor and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook.

“Sometimes they’ll start talking about their New Year’s intentions and resolutions already in October! When they bring the topic up, I often challenge them as to why, if they really want to do this thing and value the impact it’ll have on their lives, they wish to wait a month or several months even to begin it.”

“Sometimes, they see that the reasons they’re not starting now are rather flimsy and realising this will bring back the ‘start date’ for the new intention to be put into action.”

Some people will stick to 1st January because they are linking their plans to those around them, Burke adds. “They might say ‘oh all my friends are stopping smoking in January, it’ll be easier’.”

“When we pin our resolutions on to those of others, we’re setting ourselves up to fail,”she explains. “We need to be honest with ourselves about who we are looking to make a change in behaviour for and why. The only goals we’ll ultimately honour are ones that are self motivated.”

So if you’re going to plan ahead, the next question is what goal do you want to achieve? A YouGov survey of 1,170 people last year found the ten most common New Year’s resolutions in the UK were as follows: eat better, exercise more, spend less money, work on self care/get more sleep, read more books, learn a new skill, get a new job, make new friends, get a new hobby and focus more on appearance.

These might be the usual suspects, but the trick to sticking to resolutions is to work towards smaller, more manageable goals. The trick? Aim low. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that achieving small goals was more rewarding than a huge payoff – so aiming for these small goals makes it more likely that you’ll stick to a resolution.

And if you’re struggling to stick to yours, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“If it is an important enough resolution, get support,” Liv says. “If going to the gym isn’t a habit – hire a trainer. If launching your business brings more fear and worry – hire a coach. If saving for a vacation is difficult – set up automatic transfers into savings.”

“When setting goals, ask yourself, is this a priority? Is this a right-now thing? How urgent is this? Goals that are marked as a priority or a non-negotiable are often the goals we stick with.”

You’re also unlikely to stick to a goal if you don’t actually enjoy it. If you want to get fit but you hate going to the gym, you’ll probably end up staying on the sofa rather than forcing yourself onto a treadmill. A fun gym class might be a better way to get moving.

“Goals should bring enthusiasm and enjoyment,” Liv says. “If they don’t, scrap them! Give yourself space to plan ahead. I suggest people give themselves a day or half-day to imagine their New Year goals and resolutions.”

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