How to Not Give Up on Yourself
As a Denver Therapist and Life Coach, I find that many of my clients start the new year with great intentions, big goals, and hopeful hearts for change. However, so often these same clients find that they have made a long list of life changing and bad habit breaking goals only to find that they are one or two months into their year and still haven’t made any changes.
This can be such a discouraging feeling, and if you feel this way you’re not alone. I want to share with you the same benefits of emotionally intelligent goal setting and steps to achieve goals this year that I teach my life coaching clients.
What Does it Mean to be Persistent?
Persistence sounds like an admirable thing, but what does it really mean?
Is it working at something until you cannot any longer? Or maybe setting a goal so high that achieving it takes months, or even years?
Not quite. Persistence, the core skill of not giving up, can manifest in many ways but at the root of this idea is not giving up when things get tricky. It means continuing the thesis that you are stuck on, or working toward the level of emotional intelligence you know you deserve. It means setting a goal not so high that it won’t be completed, but at a reasonable, attainable level that makes you feel confident and excited about your goal.
Are Your Goals Failing You?
Were you inspired to make new goals at the beginning of January? Did you see your social media flood with year-in-reviews proudly stating new goals for this new year? Did you read news articles explaining the newest trends for goal setting and goal keeping? Have you found yourself already letting go of these new habits or ambitions?
How do you set your goals? Do you simply make a list of desired habits you hope to achieve by the end of the year or within a certain time frame? You may be motivated to see these goals through, however, if you are in a rut of not achieving your goals, it seems that motivation is not enough.
The truth is, setting the goal is the easy part (as you know), but did you know that your goal setting activities might be failing you (and not the other way around)?
Here’s the thing, most new year resolutions are either forgotten or given up within the first two weeks of setting them. And less than 10 percent of all new year resolution setters achieve their goals by December 31st of that same year.
This news may be really discouraging to hear! But the greatest danger I see with setting goals and falling into this common trend of giving up on them within a couple of weeks – is that instead of forming habits to succeed, we are forming habits to fail.
Think about it. You are learning a pattern of getting super excited and motivated only to let that motivation slip into inaction just a couple of weeks later.
We have been literally learning to give up on goals. So, instead of setting new goals—since that doesn’t seem to work—why don’t we approach this dilemma with the mindset of setting goals in a new way?
I want to share with you my favorite approaches to setting defined goals and achieving success. I will also be highlighting the pitfalls I see most often among my life coaching clients’ good intentions but often failed attempts at seeing these intentions through.
How To Set Goals Efficiently
Setting goals efficiently requires some goal setting tools. You may be familiar with SMART goals but I want to dive into this style of goal setting and discuss how you can implement this strategy into your daily goals in a realistic and practical way.
SMART goals (for those who may be new to the term) stand for Specific, Measured, Accountable, Realistic, and Timely goals.
It’s likely that you are already doing many of these aspects of goal setting. In my experience with clients who are wanting to make real and lasting change, making specific and measured goals is a great place to begin.
Example: If you want to exercise more, the Specific goal would be the type of exercise, and the Measured goal would be the details around when and how often you desire to accomplish it.
A Measured goal would be saying I want to exercise 3 times a week. You can get as detailed as necessary, maybe including the time of day, and for how long you wish to exercise.
More often though, I see my clients missing the last three pieces of SMART goal setting: Accountable, Realistic, and Timely.
Make Your Goals Accountable
Being accountable and responsible for a goal will help partner with your motivation to accomplish it.
Here are realistic ways to make your goals accountable:
- Share your goal with someone who cares about you (your spouse, a friend, a colleague, your therapist or coach) and is willing to help follow up on your goals.
- Set reminders in your phone, on your agenda, or even ask Siri or Alexa to remind you to check in and keep pursuing necessary steps to achieve your goals.
- Join a common interest group that is pursuing the same or similar goals. You can find these groups in your local community, through Facebook, Instagram, and even instructor-led classes and podcasts that offer accountability.
Following up with someone who cares about you can be a great way to maintain your new goals longer. When we feel supported, it is easier to be successful with our goals.
Make Your Steps For Success Realistic
Making unrealistic goals is one of the most cited reasons among my life coaching clients of why they don’t achieve them. It is exciting to set new goals, but sometimes you need to take smaller steps to the big goals in order to actually achieve them.
Ask Yourself The Right Questions
Ask yourself the following scaling question during goal setting to make more realistic goals:
“When it is December 31st and I look back on this goal, how often do I honestly think I will achieve it on a scale from 0-100% of the time?”
If your honest answer is 90% of the time, that sounds like a good goal that will challenge you! If your honest answer is 60% of the time, that sounds like a good time to revise your goal slightly so you can have a higher estimated success rate!
I want to caution you that this isn’t a time to feel bad about yourself if you think you won’t accomplish it, but rather, a time to be excited that you are making goals in a NEW way that might help you succeed where you haven’t in the past.
Revise that goal and ask the question again until you feel like you can honestly accomplish it.
An example might look like moving your measured goal from 3 times of exercise a week down to 2 times per week.
Eliminate Controllable, Foreseeable Obstacles
Ask yourself, “What obstacles might get in the way of me achieving this goal?”
With exercise, it may be that you need an exercise partner. Another obstacle might be that you don’t enjoy specific types of exercise, so you end up not doing it consistently.
If those are true for you, making realistic goals might include adding addendums like finding a gym partner, or taking the time to decide what kind of exercise you like. Take the time to make sure there are no controllable, foreseeable obstacles in the way of your goals as you try to make them realistic for you!
How to Stay Motivated and Not Give Up
I have a few clients who have told me at this point that they would rather keep their goals higher, even with the chance of not achieving them, so that they also have the chance of making higher goals instead of smaller ones even if they are more realistic.
I call this the “shooting-for-the-stars” obstacle. If that is you, I will explain later how you can still have the chance to shoot for higher goals in this goal-making process, and I want to advise on why it is so important to make realistic goals.
In my experience, making realistic goals helps you to stay motivated, not give up and avoid discouragement, feelings of failure, and feelings of worthlessness. I’m not saying we should avoid acknowledging those feelings if they are there, but avoiding those feelings is possible.
I have seen so many amazing individuals become so discouraged by the idea that they failed a goal, that the guilt and shame of that failure motivates them to simply give up. If we make goals that are smaller to accomplish, then we can leave room for feelings of accomplishment, pride, and satisfaction that will continue to motivate you to accomplish your goal.
So, once you have created a realistic goal, it is time to look at that “Timely” aspect of goal making.
Make Your Goals Timely
Making your goals timely means scheduling a time to evaluate how you are doing on your goal. I recommend making this a weekly or monthly event. For you, this may mean evaluating all of your goals on the first Sunday of the month, as an example.
When you evaluate your goals, see how successful you have been. If for you it was that exercise goal, ask yourself how often you kept your goal of going 2-3 times a week. If the answer is close to 100 percent, way to go!
You can recommit to continuing that goal the same way until your next evaluation, or try and increase it. This is where there is room for those who want to make sure they can achieve those “shooting for the stars” goals, while still being realistic.
If your answer is less than satisfactory, it may be time to modify your goals to reflect a more realistic challenge for your current situation.
Don’t Give Up, Reframe Instead
If you find yourself still getting into cycles of discouragement that make you want to give up, let’s try to reframe your negative thoughts to avoid that guilt and shame that is so detrimental!
If you feel overwhelmed, thinking “I am a failure,” or “I will never accomplish my goals” try thinking instead:
- I can try again tomorrow
- I just need to adjust them slightly
- I just need more support
- I can accomplish my goals in the long run, I might need to make them smaller right now
- I am trying my best
- I need to be patient with myself
- It’s okay if I don’t accomplish them sometimes, that doesn’t mean I am a failure
- I am learning how to succeed
- What obstacles are getting in the way of my goals? How can I modify?
- I tried my best
- I just may need to revise my goals a little bit
- The goal is progression and I can keep moving forward
- I didn’t fail, I tried hard and I am getting there
In review, I’ve talked about focusing on 3 parts of SMART goal setting, these include making goals accountable, realistic, and timely. Make sure the goals are small enough to be realistic, that you have an accountability partner, and that you make time in the future to follow up with yourself or that accountability partner on where you are at with your goals and where you want to be.
In my experience, these steps can bridge the gap to help you persistently succeed longer, and help you move from not accomplishing goals to a PATTERN OF ACCOMPLISHING GOALS.
Most of all, I hope that you take the guilt out of it. Guilt and shame have a way of making unmet goals feel like bigger failures than they really are. So, remember the last goal setting tool I want to encourage you in is to stay positive by reframing! If you think, “I failed” at my goal, try reframing your thoughts to one of those mantras described above.
My hope for you is to give you both motivation to keep trying and pursuing the new things you set your mind to at the start of this whole process, and the tools to try them in a new way.
Good luck! You got this!
Meet Tacy: a couples counselor, individual therapist, and life coach who specializes in helping you improve your relationships, feel more connected, heal and grow through challenging life transitions and create an intentional life, marriage, and family full of meaning and joy.