A Fresh Take on Goal Setting

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I don't know about you, but I desperately need a better way to go about goals.  I had a frustrating moment in a Red Lobster recently, which ultimately reinvigorated my desire to keep trying.  However I can't shake this voice inside telling me 'you've tried this all before, you've never been able to do it, maybe you just can't do it, so why bother'.

Which, yes, this is true.  None of my goals are anything new.  I've wanted to lose weight my entire life, I've wanted to be a CPA since 2010 or so, I've wanted to build a supportive blog community and business since even before then.  It is like, the things I think I should try, don't yield the results.  So do I not know the steps?  Do I not want to do the hard work?  Probably, both.

The other X factor is that I have such trouble staying focused.  I get excited about something and then overwhelm myself until I get burnt out and don't want to do it anymore.  That, or I just get lost in getting the day to day things of my life managed that I just forget that I am supposed to be working towards something.  I am in a constant battle against my instinct to keep the status quo.

Improving Self-Efficacy

Lack of self-efficacy is a major inhibitor of goal achievement.  If you truly believe you aren't going to be able to accomplish something, then you behave accordingly.  The profession of sports psychology was built upon this issue.

Such examples in my own life - I believe that I am not able to pass the CPA exam.  In turn, I exchange buying review programs and study hacks with the actual doing of the work.  I procrastinate and make excuses.  Who actually knows if I could have passed, but I am not going to pass behaving in such a way.  I believe I will never be able to totally do what it takes to be a healthy weight.  So I go ahead and have that donut, or choose fried chicken instead of grilled.  Thus I reinforce my belief.

So if you are a person with goals and are beat down by the fact that you never get them achieved, work on your self-efficacy.

After a quick google, some good ideas are to recall past times when you were successful, have a mentor, surround yourself with groups of people (virtual or in person) with your goal or who have reached your goal, and keep a positive mindset.

Re-word your Goal Language

I need to quit watching so much TV and study.  I need to get off the couch and exercise.  I need to stop ordering takeout and cook healthy foods at home.  I need to control my spending and save more money.  I need to stop looking at facebook all day and get some blog posts written.

The pattern here is the way I typically approach a goal.  I think - well, I am not exercising because I am tired and just want to veg out on the sofa.  I don't get blog posts done because I am using my time to be on social media all day.

The way we talk to ourselves is something to be noted.  I don't call myself a lazy slob, or an ugly cow, like I have bad self esteem.  I actually think my self-esteem is pretty decent, all things considered.  I do nag myself though.  (Mom, is that you inside my head? lol) When has nagging ever been effective?  With me, clearly, when nagged, I only want to dig my heels in further to show that I am the boss and you aren't going to tell me what to do.

So my idea is that I need to just reword what I want in a more positive way (because being positive= better self efficacy).  Even a step further, I want to acknowledge the true reasons I want something.  Losing weight is a specific goal, but vague in what it would mean for me.  I don't care about how I look in a bikini, I just want to be off diabetes medications and be able to have a child or five.  I want to get my CPA because I want the lifestyle that career boost can bring, I want to be respected in my job and seen as a smart person.  I don't need a CPA to have those things necessarily, but all the ducks are in a row and ready to go for CPA certification.

My re-worded goals:

1. I want to get off diabetes meds
2. I want to have a baby
3. I want a better job
4. I want to be out of debt
5. I want to have an active blog

No nagging statements, just declarations of what I am after.  It feels much lighter than before.

Encourage the good, ignore the bad

There is a book I read back when I was first married called What Shamu taught me about Life, Love and Marriage.  The premise is that this woman used the principals used to train Orca whales to modify behaviors in her husband.  I tried it a little with Aaron, and it does in fact work.  The idea is that when Shamu does good, he gets a fish.  When he does bad, he gets ignored.  We all have animal instincts within us and we all have that feeling of needing to be a part of the group.  At a time, it was dangerous to our survival if we weren't in the group.

In training a husband, if he takes his plate to the sink after dinner without being prompted, he gets thanks and praise.  If he cleans the bathroom, he gets a foot rub.  He will eventually associate positive things with the good deeds and want to keep that feeling going. A virtuous cycle, if you will.

If we can apply these sorts of tactics to ourselves, that would be a feat!  It might be tricky to 'train' yourself, but maybe you can encourage your partner or a close friend to be the Shamu trainer.  I can probably get Aaron to agree to give me a foot rub every time I make a healthy dinner.  Maybe tell me how foxy I am looking when I finish a workout?  I haven't quite nailed this down, but I think it is a clever strategy worth keeping in my wheelhouse.

Stay Positive

This is one of my bugaboos.  My default is sort of snarky and skeptical.  The basis of my whole sense of humor rides on my snarkiness.  I think overly positive people come off cheesy and insincere.  I equate my negativity with some sort of idea that 'I get it' and I'm 'keeping it real'.  Not to mention it infuriates me that as a lady in polite society, I am not allowed to be angry.  It makes people uncomfortable.  Ugh.  Society, man.  So see, me and positivity are not super well acquainted.  I feel my outlook and support towards others is always very positive, so I know I have the ability in there somewhere.

100 years ago, I worked at a daycare center as an assistant teacher.  This center was one of the more deluxe types catering to well-to-do suburban Dallas families.  We had fancy accreditations which had peculiar but likely positive effects on the children based on studies and such.  Some made sense, like labeling the classroom things in English and Spanish to encourage language skills.  Others were a little bonkers.

We couldn't tell the kids No, or any variation of the term. (Don't, Stop, Can't, etc.)

If a child hit another child, we had to say "we use our nice hands in the classroom"
If a child is shrieking like a banshee, we say "please use your inside voice"
If a child is running into traffic, we say "use your walking feet"

The point of the whole deal is that kids (and really, all people) hear the message, not the 'no' or 'don't' that comes along with the message.

Don't eat the cookie = you are thinking about the cookie
Have a nice salad = you think about the salad

Therefore I will attempt to talk to myself like one of those two year olds (who are teenagers by now, wow.) and stop using 'no'.  It might help to hang out with more positive people in hopes they rub off on me.

Staying Focused

Do you ever think you have a touch of the A.D.D.?  I am pretty sure I definitely do, based on family history and my own behaviors.  I don't think it is bad enough that I need medical interventions of any sort, but I do need to figure a way over the hurdle of staying focused.

The fun thing about having a weight loss goal is that many of the things we do in order to lose - such as exercise more frequently and eating less processed food will naturally help your focus.  It is another one of those virtuous cycles.  (We could put so much on autopilot if we would just get out of our own way, right?)

Here is what I have found helpful so far:

1. To-do lists.  I live and die by them if I need to get stuff done.  I refer to my goals, and then make a list for the day/week of what I want to accomplish and little by little stuff gets done and progress is made.

2. Reminders everywhere.  While I think about losing weight a lot of the time in a philosophical sense, when I go to eat food, I am not thinking about calories going in my body.  I will think about being a CPA as I am 4 episodes deep in an American Dad marathon.  So I need reminders.  When I see my phone, I have the My Fitness Pal app alerts.  When I get on facebook, I see the updates from all the weigh loss groups I am in.  When I go to the fridge, I see a photo of thinner me, when I thought I was fat but really had no idea.  When I am reminded of the goal, I will remember to exercise during The Bachelor instead of tweeting all the sassy things.

3. Accountability buddy.  Get one, or get a few.  I have teetered on the issue because sometimes people holding me accountable is annoying.  Especially when I have quit and just haven't told anyone yet.  Maybe instead of accountability, they can be cheerleader buddies.  When you lose two pounds, they are there to tell you how awesome you are, and when you overindulge on the weekend, they can just ignore you like I suggested a few paragraphs ago.  This post is coming full circle quite nicely.

4. Make it habit.  They say if you can do something for 14 days straight (or is it 21?) it will become a habit.  Habit = autopilot.  When something is habit then you don't need to remember it at all, which is amazing.  Digging deep for three weeks and using all your mental energy to get a habit started will reap benefits for a long time if not indefinitely.

Hopefully some of these thoughts can be helpful in the pursuit of our goals.  If you have any good tips that have helped you along your path, I'd love to read them in the comments!

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