The start of the new year has come and gone. Do you know where your goals are?
A study from the University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology found that Forty-five percent of Americans made New Year’s Resolutions in 2013 but only 8 percent achieved them.
With all the buzz about brain science, it’s interesting to explore the reasons why.
There’s plenty of research and advice, but before we go into those insights, here’s a confession: I love goals.
I love goals so much, I have goals that have goals. I’m that person.
My laptop is littered with planning documents, vision statements, daily logs, weekly reviews, resolutions and, of course, goals.
I’ve achieved some, exceeded a few and then there are the ones that must not be named.
They sit in a folder marked pending begging to be moved to the trash – but I leave them where they are. I’ll share why after we check in with the experts.
Here are 7 scientific tips for planning, tracking and achieving your goals.
Tip 1: Think About Your Goals and Ideals. According to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, the average person has 70,000 thoughts per day. In 1902 writer James Allen published the literary essay “As a Man Thinketh” and likened the mind of man to a garden, “if no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind,” he wrote. We are energy beings, emitting vibrations in line with our thoughts. Fill your mind with thoughts about goals or other thoughts will fill the vacuum; namely, worries, fears and trivialities.
Tip 2: Plan and Track Your Goals. Dr. John Norcross wrote “Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions.” Norcross has studied change for 3 decades and his findings are clear: planning and tracking your goals is more important than starting at a certain time, like, say January. Norcross advocates choosing few goals and planning them thoroughly. He’s given goal-lovers planning tools backed by science.
Tip 3: Monitor your Mindset. Carol Dweck is the Stanford researcher who shattered the myth of the brilliant, lone genius suddenly producing amazing things. In her groundbreaking book “Mindset,” Dweck explains that when it comes to achievement, thinking patterns matter more than inborn talent. The fixed mindset is focused on judging and has a ceiling; the growth mindset keeps learning. Commit to lifelong learning to achieve your most meaningful goals.
Tip 4: Be Realistic. Optimism can be learned. Depression can be managed. Dieting DOES NOT work. This is what Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, says in “What You Can Change and What You Can’t: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement.” Seligman sifts through the research on popular self-help topics and separates myth from fact for all of us. Have you been attempting the same goal for years without success? Make sure you’re setting realistic goals or you could become discouraged.
Tip 5: Get Some Grit. Research psychologist Angela Duckworth studies grit and self-control. It turns out courage, character and resolve are greater predictors of success than talent and IQ. Duckworth’s ideas have spread like wildfire in the world of education. Her message is simple: work hard and adapt when faced with temptation, distraction or defeat.
When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps
Tip 6: Fall in Love with Practice. Thomas K. Sterner is a musician and chief concert piano technician who is obsessed with the notion of practice. Sterner says he was a creative child with an active imagination who never stayed with one interest for long. His saving grace was self-awareness. After realizing his bouncy nature, Sterner studied sports psychology and set out to master the mechanics of practice. If you’re prone to distraction, his book “The Practicing Mind” could become your bible.
“Transformation is sustained change. It is achieved through practice.”
Tip 7: Love Yourself Through the Process. Few people on earth speak more eloquently about human nature and our common foibles than poet, writer and philosopher Mark Nepo. In “The Endless Practice” Nepo writes, “More than being led or taught, we need to be held and incubated by love until we mature into all of who we are, an ordinary destiny that no one can steer or rush.”
And that brings us back to my pending file and my unmet goals…
Some dreams fade with time while others seem to go dormant for a while only to return and fill our minds again and again.
These persistent longings challenge us to stay engaged in a process that’s working for our evolution, whether we’re paying attention to it or not.
My unmet goals remind me to participate in the process and to trust that some goals may require a lifetime of practice and dedication.
Here’s to your process and mine in 2015.
For help with your goals, get a free introduction to 8 transformational programs at the New York Open Center’s Winter Open House on January 30th.
And now, it’s your turn. Share one of your goals with us in the comments.