It's easy to feel like you're failing in life when you think you're standing still. Week after week, month after month, we tend to go through the same routines: struggle to wake up feeling energized, get where you need to be on time, feel guilty for not eating breakfast/getting in a walk before work, wondering how you can do it all, knowing you need to find some time for yourself, and doing only what has to be done before bed.
Then, each year when you flip over the calendar, you find yourself thinking, “Gee, what did I do last year? Why do I feel like I'm in the same rut? Why do I feel like I'm no different? How is everyone else getting ahead?”
Your version may be slightly different than that, but hopefully you know what I mean. The start of each new year makes all of us reflect on our lives.
- Is this where I want to be?
- How did I picture my life turning out?
- What did I do to get here?
- Why is it that everyone else seems to have it going on, and I don't?
- Where do I even start?
So you do what everyone does, or at least seems to do: you set goals.
“This year is going to be different! This year I'm going to do it!”
And you mean it. Truly.
But then, something happens.
Time passes, and you look back at where you thought you'd be now. You don't feel anywhere close.
Why is that?
What Keeps You from Reaching Your Goal?
You have a crisis come up.
Your boss makes you work overtime.
Your relationship takes a turn and you can't concentrate on anything else.
You keep hearing the voice of your mother in your head, telling you that you'll never amount to anything.
You don't know how.
Your knee was hurting too badly.
You lost your job.
Actually, none of those things are the answers. No matter who you are, there is always something unplanned that happens that can easily prevent you from reaching your goal.
Notice I said two important things. One, it happens to everyone. Two, they prevent you from reaching your goal easily.
But when you go deeper than that, there are a few other reasons at play. It's not about the external things that can get in your way. It's about the internal things that stop you from reaching your goals.
Make Your Goals Specific
Reflect back on some of the goals you've set for yourself through the years. Were they vague, or were they specific? Here are some examples of typical goals that may be a little too vague for your success:
- I'm going to be happier this year.
- My marriage is going to be better.
- I'm going to be closer with my son.
- I want to be healthier.
- I'm going to save more money.
Do you see any similarities between some of those examples and some of the things you've set off to accomplish? The examples above are kind of vague. Many of my therapy clients come in and they want to be happier. Fabulous! I think that's a wonderful way to live life.
Tell me what will be different in your life when you're happier.
Tell me what happiness means to you.
Um, um. Is that hard to answer?
That could be one reason why it's been hard for you to reach your goals in the past. They weren't clearly defined. Working towards something that's vague is hard to measure. It's hard to know when you've reached it. It's hard for you to see your progress.
Maybe over the 365 days, you have been happier than you were in the past. But if the last few weeks of your year were hectic, trying to get ready for the holidays, or trying to study for final exams, then no wonder you look back on the whole year and feel like you ended up right where you started.
So if your goal was to be happier, break it down a bit.
- What is happiness to you?
- How will you know when you are happy?
- How often do you have to feel happy in order to have met your goal?
- Is happiness the same thing as feeling content? Joyful?
- Is happiness having a lack of anxiety or sadness?
- Is happiness something you create? Or does it come to you (like how others treat you or the universe treats you determines if you're happy)?
Please don't run away because those questions may require a little bit of thinking. Taking just a few minutes to get clear on what your goal actually is can help you be successful.
Break It Down into Steps and Timelines
I'm not going to lie: being happy 24/7 is a pretty tall task. I'm not even sure it is even realistic. But that doesn't cross the whole goal off of the list. I just don't want you to feel like you've failed because you set out to do something that's seemingly impossible.
Get clear on how often you want to feel happy throughout the year, in order to achieve your goal. Do you need to feel happy for 5 minutes every day? Do you want to focus on how quickly you feel happy after a tough day?
Once you have a better idea of what happiness is to you, and what you're working towards, it's much easier to start thinking about how you'll know when you're happy and how often you need to feel happy to meet your goal to feel happier.
Think about how this goal will look each day, week, month, quarter, and at the end of the year. Some goals may require doing the same thing each day or week. Others will vary a bit. Keep this in mind when you're defining the next part.
How Will Your Life be Different Once You Reach This Goal?
One thing that can detour you can reaching your goals is not being clear on the benefits. Yes, it seems like common sense that you'll have a better quality of life if you're happier, or your marriage is better, or if you and your son are closer.
But go deeper.
When you feel at peace for just five minutes every day, you'll start to crave it. You'll look forward to it and you will be determined to do what it takes to savor that five minutes of peace and tranquility and happiness in your life. Then it can grow to 10 minutes.
Then, you'll react more slowly the next time someone cuts you off in traffic because you have something good in your life. you aren't rushed trying to go from place to place.
You'll come home less tense because you're not still fuming over that person who cut you off, and you'll greet your partner with a kiss that lingers for six seconds.
That lingering kiss will lead way to a relaxed evening at home. No arguments when he realizes that he forgot to run by and grab the trash bags on the way home, and now there's no place to put the rotten food. It just doesn't matter. Grab an old grocery bag or a bag from the mall. Toss it in the garbage and buy them tomorrow.
Picturing how your life will be different will help pull you forward on the tough days.
On those days when you're tired, but not too tired to push yourself just a little bit to reach your goal, it can help you to remember what's pushing you forward. It's harder to procrastinate when you recall that you always wake up a little easier on the days you have breakfast already made in the refrigerator.
It's more likely that you'll take a deep breath before you snap back at your daughter when you think about how guilty and embarrassed you feel if just react.
To help you set a goal that leads to success, download this goal sheet to help you stay on track.