Setting a Goal? Here’s How to Make it Work
As a new year – with all its possibilities – begins, lots of people take the opportunity to embrace what they see as a clean slate, and attempt to make some serious lifestyle changes. Under the ‘new year, new me’ motto, gym memberships soar, fridges are stocked with healthy foods, and vices are abruptly halted. And while some people succeed in their new year’s resolutions, others understandably run out of steam within the first few weeks or months. Keelin O’Dwyer is a Life Coach and Behavioural Psychologist at Zevo, a health and wellness programme provider. She says when it comes to setting goals, we should focus on what we’re going to achieve, rather than dwell on the things we’re giving up.
“Beliefs and thoughts create our feelings”, Keelin begins. “They in turn lead to actions and results. What I say to anybody who wants change is to visualise it, because motivation is just the thought of a goal, coupled with that feeling of empowerment.” As Keelin explains, she’s speaking from personal experience, having recently giving up dairy. “Two weeks before new year, I got into this mind frame of imagining myself having achieved that goal. I don’t keep thinking ‘no dairy’, I think of all the other things I’m going to eat in its place. So even for ten minutes a day, visualise your goal, feel yourself achieving it, and imagine the benefits.”
Training the Brain
Once you get into the habit of visualisation, says Keelin, your brain will start to change the way it behaves. “A lot of people come to me wanting to deal with something like anger”, she explains. “But instead of focusing on the thought, ‘I don’t want to be angry’, you actually need to learn a new skill: ‘I want to be more compassionate’. I’d advise people to try to practice compassion and gratitude, and incorporate these behaviours into your daily thoughts and actions”. The next step, says Keelin, is doing. “Say your friend does something that you really hate. The old you would have started an argument, but now that you have an understanding of what it means to be compassionate, you can start acting that way instead.” After that, it’s all about repetition. “Being compassionate once isn’t going to stick”, says Keelin, “it has to be repeated over and over. If you do it enough though, the body starts acting without needing a signal from the mind. It becomes second nature – like riding a bike.”
Feeling empowered about that goal, hobby or class you’ve been considering? Keelin has some additional tips to help start you on the right track:
“People often make two or three, but your chances are going to be a lot greater if you put all your energy into just one. Take time to choose it, and really think about what you want to achieve.”
“It’s important to get this right, as your brain responds to cues. Remind yourself of your goal daily – use a diary, mood board, or positive affirmations. Tell your friends, colleagues, and family too. You’re more likely to get support if you’ve a network built up around you.”
“Meditators have increased grey matter in the hippocampus; an area in the brain that’s associated with memory, emotion and learning. Plus, it’s free!”
“After a day of not having sugar for example, your body’s going to send signals to the brain that will come through as things like ‘I’ll start tomorrow’. It’s really important is to get comfortable in the unknown; break through that space and keep your vision of the goal you want alive.”
“Rewards release dopamine in the brain, helping to keep you motivated.” Treats can be simple, like booking a massage or even enjoying a lie-in the day after a workout. Watching your favourite movie or taking a relaxing bath also work as rewarding incentives.
Some great books on motivation, the brain and behaviour are: Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One by Dr. Joe Dispenza, Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins, and The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.
Now that you’re armed with Keelin’s useful advice, you’re ready to set – and stick to – your goal, whatever it may be. Remember not to be too hard on yourself; if you do ‘fall off the wagon’, it doesn’t mean all your hard work is undone. Continue visualising success, remembering that you deserve to reach that goal. Good luck!
Find out more about Zevo’s offering here.