By Margie Mirell
Originally published on Advocate.com January 02 2012 12:05 AM ET
As a psychotherapist, I often find myself dealing with clients’ frustrations over failed New Year’s resolutions. But what I often find to be at the core of these “failures” is simply a lack of realistic goal-setting. For example, clients wishing to lose weight sometimes pick an overly constrictive diet. Some decide to quit smoking without any support systems or replacements for the habit. Others vow to get out of debt without looking at a realistic budget.
It might be helpful at this early part of the year to reassess your goals and be constructive in bringing them into action. If not, you might find yourself let down. And when failure looms, anxiety and depression can easily invade.
The good news is we can stay on target and not give in to our frustrations.
Often times we set goals that are unattainable. They are a part of our fantasy projections of who we would like to be, or what we think people want us to be. As a result, we set ourselves up to fail, unknowingly sabotaging ourselves. At some point, a month or two along the way, we realize we are not moving toward the direction of our goal and negative self-talk begins to seep into our self-esteem.
Negative self-talk is the neuro-linguistics of defeat. Literally translated, “neuro” refers to our nerves/brain, while “linguistics” is language. In other words, the language we send to our brains that controls our behavior is literally talking us into failing.
Unknowingly willing ourselves to fail is a difficult habit to break. But in order to successfully navigate healthy, realistic goals, we have to exchange this negative behavior for a positive one. To do this, we must change the thoughts and language that we feed to ourselves and our brains. Your intentions can be healthy and great, but if you’re communicating to yourself that you’re not “good enough” because you haven’t even come close to your goal, you are, in essence, sabotaging yourself.
What can you do to stop this? Whenever you find yourself disappointed, frustrated, or using negative self-talk, take a step back and ask yourself these three questions:
What did I do right?
First, congratulate yourself for being self-reflective. This in itself is an important element of success. Next, write down as many affirmative statements as you can about what you have done. Whether it was three days of not smoking, five days of not shopping for non-essentials, or a day without cookies; it is essential to find the positive.
Now take your list and use it to reward yourself with statements like, “Wow, I did that really well — better than I thought I could.” Let yourself feel the positive statements by breathing in affirmative, self-regarding feelings. Feel the good self-esteem flow through your body and mind.
This is an extremely important question, and one that needs to be addressed. This step provides the emotional self-esteem energy that you will need to move toward your goal and stay on target. There are surely some things that you partially achieved. If so, pat yourself on the back. Whenever you achieve partial success, tell yourself, “It’s not perfect, but it’s enough to keep me moving forward.” This neuro-linguistic/mindful language gives your brain a chemical boost — i.e., good energy — which prevents you from losing willpower, giving up, and sabotaging.
What goals did I not achieve?
Ask yourself the following: Did I overestimate the amount of time, energy, or experience it would take to achieve my goal? Was my goal realistic? Was the time frame realistic? Did I give myself enough support? If not, try breaking it down into smaller, easily achievable steps. A lack of success does not necessarily mean there’s something wrong with you. It could simply be that your goals were unachievable in the present moment. If so, let them go or readjust them. Tell yourself, “I will come back to them when I have more time, energy, support, or experience for this achievement.” Right now it’s critical to focus on a more realistic outcome. This will support your ability to achieve your goals now and help you build up the self-esteem needed to tackle those more difficult goals in the future.
Here is the real bit of wisdom: Don’t get bogged down by New Year’s resolutions. And if you do, reconsider the value you place on them. Goals are important, but so are the small but important changes you make on the way to achieving them. When we keep on the “good enough” path of attainment, success is just around the corner.
Here is some neuro-linguistic, mindful homework to help support yourself while you work toward your newer, more attainable goals.
Fill in the blanks for these two sentences:
“I will [insert attainable action] once a day for the next two weeks. This will help me to achieve my long term goal of [insert goal].
“Rather than cookies, I will eat an apple every day for the next four weeks. This will help me achieve my long term goal of losing ten pounds in the next two months.”
Saying this mindful language before you go to sleep and once again when you awake in the morning will retrain your brain to think in a more positive way. Which will start you on the right path from “good enough” to “goal reached!”