4-tips-for-setting-goals.jpgIt’s time to set some productive and meaningful goals for the new year. It’s a time of optimism as we envision the best life we hope to live; but, it’s also a humbling reminder for most of us as we recall the abandoned goals of New Years’ past. So, how can we up our chances of succeeding in our resolutions starting now? Award-winning Stanford University psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, has some solid scientific research related to self-improvement to offer. In her rave-review, self-help book titled The Willpower Instinct, she explores the most recent research on motivation, temptation, procrastination, ways to transform habits, and the ability to persevere amidst obstacles to reach goals. Here are just four of her techniques to help you start this year on the right foot.

Choose a worthy goal–Not just an easy win

If you are a person who loves the thrill of checking off boxes on a to-do list, then McGonigal’s insights might be what you need to take things to the next level. As rewarding as it is to cross things off a list, to sustain yourself you’re going to need to dig deeper. “Give yourself permission and time to think about what it is you want to experience in your life or what’s getting in the way,” McGonigal urges. When considering your goals, challenge yourself as to why you want something–and then keep probing for that answer three more times. For instance, if you desire to get into better physical shape this year, ask why you want to do that. If your answer is so you can attain better long-term health, then ask why do you want better long-term health? Your answer might be so you can see your kids off to college, or so you can live to spend time with your grandchildren (or other worthy reasons). Then ask yourself one more time why you want to see those things happen. Now you’re getting to what truly inspires you. “You get to something that just feels so obviously important to you,” McGonigal says. This sense of purpose can better motivate you as you maneuver along your journey.

Focus your energy on the process–Not the outcome

Many of us are guilty of thinking that our future selves will magically have more willpower than our present selves. But will your December 31st self really be all that different from your January 1st self? And we tend to visualize that perfect moment in which we achieve the goal, and everything is made right from there on out. Both of these ways of thinking forget to take the process of change into account. “People often get lost thinking they have to change everything at once. But small changes can pave the way for bigger changes,” McGonigal argues. For this reason she says to think of the smallest thing you can do today that will help you attain your objective. If you feel you’re spending too much time on the computer with your Facebook friends and not enough time with family and friends in person, you can start by reducing your screen time by even just five minutes that day. This gets you going in the right direction. Maybe tomorrow you can cut it another five minutes, and make a plan to meet up with a friend that weekend. Approach each day with this acceptance that even small, consistent changes can help you manifest your goals; they may come about differently than you expected, but they are the way to real change.

Think of what you want to foster–Not what you want to avoid

When setting your goals, be clear about what you want to manifest rather than what you seek to avoid. Instead of saying, “I want to stop being so nervous when auditioning,” (which doesn’t give you positive inspiration) it helps to envision what you indeed are striving for. So you might say, “I want to feel relaxed, and trust myself more at auditions.” McGonigal argues, “That’s basically just brain chemistry. Any sort of avoidance is going to trigger inhibition systems, whereas positive goals are going to trigger approach and reward motivation.”

Plan how you will react if/when you stumble

Willpower can be fickle: strong one moment and inexplicably weak the next. How disappointing it is to discover a solid month’s worth of diligence is suddenly broken by a setback, or even a series of perceived failures! “In that moment when you fail, often the first instinct is to push the goal away,” McGonigal says. “It’s so uncomfortable to be in that place of self-doubt or self-criticism and guilt.” Therefore, instead of planning to avoid setbacks, plan on the inevitability of having them, and address how you will handle them. After all, life is full of detours. When you stumble, remind yourself why the goal is so personally important. This will motivate you to get back on track in the proper direction.

In a Library Thing editorial review about McGonigal’s book, it stated, “Each chapter could stand on its own as something helpful, but taken as a whole, this book could be downright life-altering. If you are trying to lose weight, become more successful at work, rid yourself of toxic habits…heck, if you’re HUMAN, you need to read this book.” Here’s to you making positive changes in 2015.

If Kelly McGonigal sounds familiar to you, you might remember her from the Ted Talk about How to Make Stress Your Friend.