Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Achieve Your Goals in 2013

Ah, New Year's.  A time of review and goal-setting.  A time of gearing up for a "this-time-for-real" flurry of self-improvement activities.  Gym memberships.  Trips to the Container Store.  And all those resolutions to fix, trim, expand, fill, empty, connect, quit, start, give up, etc.
Ah, February.  A time of business-as-usual.  A time of sliding back.  Of guilt and self-admonishment with each drive past the gym, each night watching "Big Bang Theory" instead of getting out, each minute spent on Facebook rather than on that self-help book.

What is it that stops us from accomplishing our goals?  How can we be so resolute at the beginning of the year and so disinterested a month, a week, even a day later?

Many obstacles get in the way of our goals. We have many names for this all-too-human pattern of resolution and regression: force of habit, fear of change, lack of willpower, lack of money, lack of time, laziness, etc.

Here are three thoughts to ponder this year as you contemplate resolutions for 2013:

1. Forgive yourself in advance.  

You will fail at reaching your goal -- I guarantee it.  You are human.  Your fabulous power of imagination will always fall short of your dream's actualization.  

This doesn't mean you're destined for tragic mediocrity. It merely means that the luscious forest you conjure up in your mind's eye and excitedly draw may end up looking like a collection of skinny, flowering bushes.  

The question is -- can you appreciate those bushes for what they are?  For their sweetness and specific beauty?  Or will Perfectionism convince you that you've failed?

Perhaps you've resolved to get out of the house three times a week in 2013.  And perhaps this turns into one social outing a week where you fight with the desire to become part of the wallpaper.  Can you appreciate yourself for your bravery? Remind yourself that once a week still helps?  And can you forgive yourself for needing to go a bit slower than your hopeful imagination can grasp?  

Forgive yourself in advance for your human limitations and let go of the need to fulfill your intention with exactitude.  In letting go of Perfectionism, you'll give yourself a better chance of continuing that once a week outing rather than staying at home on the premise that "I'm a failure and I shouldn't even try."

2.  Get support.

It's so easy to try to do it alone.  We're taught to keep our problems under wraps. Smile. Get 'er done.  

But we're animals.  We evolved from a time and place when social isolation meant death.  And though we're no longer on the savannah, we're still wired to need others.  Our happiness, health, and motivation skyrocket when we feel loved and supported.

Use this to your advantage.  Have a friend call you every morning to make sure you did your deep breathing for the day.  Find an activity buddy.  Tell your therapist you'd like to go over your goal action plan regularly.  Reporting to another person will give you accountability and emotional support as you reach for your goals.

The key here is to be specific and intentional about getting support -- schedule a time, make it regular, and ask for very specific things from your support figure.  Like goals, make your support system SMART -- specific, meaningful, attainable, relevant, and timely.

3. Attend to anxiety.

Remember that list of explanations for not reaching our goals?  Force of habit, fear of change, lack of willpower, etc.?  

I have a theory.

What if all those excuses are actually covering up the real culprit -- Anxiety?  And what if we chose to see Anxiety as the problem rather than beating ourselves up when we fall short of our goals?

This could be revolutionary.  After all, Anxiety is treatable.  

Here are a few ways you can beat Anxiety:

  1. Get familiar with anxiety reduction tools.  Here's a great article from Psychology Today.  Read up and practice what you can on your own.
  2. Face your fears in a supportive community.  I recommend joining a therapy group or special-interest group such as Toastmaters.  I run a number of Meetup.com groups focused on self-improvement, including Theater for Self-Improvement, Social Anxiety Improvement, Personal Growth for Couples, and Dating Skills for Single Men.
  3. Take a look at this post I wrote a while back about motivating teenagers.  Even if you aren't a parent, it can help you understand how to support your inner teenager.
  4. Work with an individual therapist to uncover and resolve the roots of your anxiety.

Remember: if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.  Get support, forgive failure in advance, and attend to anxiety.  You can achieve your goals.  And even if you fall short, remember to there's beauty in skinny, flowering bushes.

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