Why It Matters to be Specific with Our Goals

Tis the season!  Of setting resolutions for the new year, that is!

We all joke about how the gym is packed during the month of January, but is empty by comparison once April rolls around.

There are all sorts of reasons why we don’t stick to goals for the new year.  Sometimes we bite off more than we can realistically chew.  It’s always OK to modify your plans as circumstances change, and it usually helps to keep it simple (for example – if you want to improve your life in three major areas, maybe just start with one and see how it goes.  Baby steps!).

However, one of the most common (but also most overlooked) pitfalls in sticking to self-improvement goals is that they are not specific.  

Why does specificity matter when it comes to setting goals?  Well, for one thing, when a goal is measurable, there’s less guesswork involved in what to do to achieve those goals.  Plus, when we have a clearly-defined goal, it’s easier to track our progress, which has the added benefit of motivating us.

For example, if we set the vague goal of “live a healthier lifestyle,” then we (kind of) know what to do – probably eat healthier foods, exercise more, and get enough sleep.  But how much time do we allocate to each of these activities?  How much of what type of exercise should we do, and for how long?  What types of changes do we make to our diet?  What if I absolutely cannot get more than 6 hours of sleep a night?  If we have to wrestle with these questions on a day-to-day basis, then creating a plan for achieving the goal may be as energy-draining as actually taking the actions to live more healthfully.  Without clear parameters, it can be much easier to throw our hands in the air and say “Forget this!”

Just for fun, let’s say we identified a more specific, clear goal from the outset – instead of “live a healthier lifestyle,” perhaps your resolution is “exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for the month of January.”  OK, now we have something measurable to work with!  From there, you can pre-schedule your pockets of time to exercise during the week, and you can even experiment with different types of physical activity to see which one you enjoy most.  Yes, it will take time in the beginning to get your plan together, but once you get it together, then you have clear parameters to follow. That way, you don’t have to think as hard on a day-to-day basis about how you’ll stick to the plan.

Sometimes we’re afraid to set specific goals because we don’t want to set ourselves up for “failure” (in quotation marks because there truly is no such thing if we’re making an earnest attempt to achieve any goal, no matter how we perceive the final outcome – every step gets us further along).  But here is where it’s important to remember that all major goals will require flexibility in how we get there – sometimes there will be bumps in the road that necessitate a detour in our plans.  But the mere act of having a solid plan in place is a terrific start and will make it much more likely that you won’t give up after a few hours 🙂  Regardless, try not to be too hard on yourself and remember that all of us are constantly revising our approaches to becoming the best version of ourselves.

Here’s to a healthy, happy 2017 for all of you!