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Unlocking Your Best Year Yet: Strategies for Transforming Intentions into Achievements

January 4, 2024





At the conclusion of the former year, I tell myself a variation of the following, “Wait until the new year. You will eat better, exercise more, and wake up and go to sleep at earlier times.” My annual iterations may also include other tasks, too, including cleaning cupboards regularly, ridding my closet of clothes not worn in the last few years, or something of the like. 

Many of us make new year goals or resolutions with the best of intentions. Some possible reasons why we do not meet our goals include not being specific enough about the steps needed to begin and maintain a new practice or not adequately motivating ourselves to keep striving.  Achieving goals involves changing habits, which are hard to do. Ultimately, our ability to meet our goals is less about how badly we want something and more about how hard we are willing to work for it. For example, when my son was getting married and I wanted to fit into my lovely dress more comfortably, I was motivated to lose weight. While I would currently like to take off a few pounds, the impetus to do so now is not as strong. 

 

When I work with clients who are seeking executive functioning services to manage long- and short-term goals, I introduce them to the SMART acronym, which was first introduced by George T. Doran (Management Review, 1981). This mnemonic acronym helps guide the planning process: Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, when a student shares, “My goal is to do better in school,” we explore how to make this goal more specific — How would a student know they were more successful in school? What would that student do differently to achieve success? Improvements need to be measurable, such as improved test, assignment, or project grades. Discussing the relevance of the goal and the student’s “why” for setting this goal is important to follow through. Additionally, monitoring the goal routinely and setting realistic time parameters are essential for the sustainment of a new habit.


When establishing a long- or short-term goal, it is necessary to break the goal into actionable steps.  Sometimes the goal-setter does not know or is anxious about starting a new plan and needs small steps to gain confidence moving forward. For a student who is assigned a 20-page chapter due at the end of the week, he or she may feel overwhelmed by the other assignments also building up. Instead of attempting to read the whole chapter at once, can you read five pages a night for the next four days? For the person who buys a treadmill and hopes to work out 30 minutes nightly, can you start with five minutes and build up to 30 by a reasonable date? If five minutes is too intimidating because you cannot walk to the end of your driveway without feeling winded, can you start with one minute and add another minute each day?  If our goals are not clearly sequenced, too lofty, or not sufficiently motivating, the likelihood is that we will postpone our intentions indefinitely.


Time is a valuable resource, and making time for a new habit or intention can be tricky. Consider whether your goal is achievable within the time parameters you have set aside. How can you plan to work on your goals while balancing other responsibilities and priorities? 

Many of my clients don’t think they have sufficient time in their schedules to focus on their goals or desired activities until they begin charting the time that is spent on non-urgent and non-productive activities like playing cards on their laptop, “dead-scrolling” social media, or going down a YouTube rabbit hole. While downtime is essential and we need to relieve ourselves of focused, time-sensitive, or mentally taxing responsibilities, are we robbing ourselves of valuable time that can be used to form new habits and lead to more confidence or greater personal success?


When we begin to plan our weekly schedule — prioritizing activities of importance, recording deadlines, and attending classes or appointments — we can gain a better understanding of how we spend time.  Using a planner or schedule is extremely beneficial for both students and adults, and the organizational and structuring benefits should be considered by busy individuals. There are many types of planning tools available, both virtual and paper-pencil.


For those who would like to become more productive during their scheduled “must-do” work periods, consider trying the Pomodoro Technique. This strategy helps increase productivity while providing routine (short) breaks at pre-set time intervals to enhance sustained focus and active task engagement (https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique).


Regularly reviewing and updating your goals is important, especially when we run into unforeseen obstacles.  We need to be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes, experience setbacks, or feel defeated. Ask yourself, what do you need to return to the plan or revise the plan to make it more accessible? Are there smaller milestones or accomplishments you need to celebrate along the way to the bigger goal? A 2009 study led by Dr. Phillipa Lally at the University College London found that, on average, it took 66 days for participants to develop a new habit, but the time of habit formation ranged from three weeks to several months.


By incorporating executive functioning principles into your goal-setting process, you're laying the foundation for a successful and fulfilling year ahead. Embrace the journey, celebrate small victories, and remember that building strong executive functioning skills is an ongoing process that enhances not only your ability to achieve goals but also your overall well-being. Here's to a year of growth, resilience, and fulfillment. If you need help with long- or short-term goal setting, Cogmotion Learning is available to help you get started!

 

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