Don’t be a stranger to yourself, fulfil your New Year’s resolutions

Anne Wilson, Wilfrid Laurier University, psychology, goal pursuit, goals, goal setting, New Year's, New Year's resolutions, self identityIt’s the second week of 2017…have you broken your New Year’s resolutions yet?

Although January marks a symbolic turning point and the ushering in of a new year, the month is also notorious for lofty goal-setting and promises that are often too difficult to keep from the get-go.

Anne Wilson, Wilfrid Laurier University psychology professor, studies goal pursuit, change, and self-identity, and examines how landmarks can act as a motivating transition point.

“Transition points act as a break in identity,” Wilson told Laurier. “People feel that past failures no longer hold them back and that a new year marks a clean slate—it can be very psychologically freeing.”

However, where these goals tend to become unachievable is when we put great expectations on our future self—without taking the necessary steps to create this version of who we want to be in the present, according to Wilson.

“Often long-term goals are derailed by short-term concerns. People often think about their future self as a stranger and are less likely to incur immediate ‘costs’ to themselves for the benefit of a stranger.”

Wilson offers ways to connect with your future being to bridge this distance. Virtual aging programs and mental visualizations create a realistic image of yourself. Writing letters to this future person also helps mitigate any present attempts to sabotage your plans.

“The key is to make the future seem close at hand. Our perception of time can be very elastic, so we can use that to our advantage when goal-setting to ‘trick’ ourselves to be more committed to our goals,” says Wilson.

For the highest chance of success, Wilson recommends making very specific goals with immediate steps in order to fulfill a larger, long-term goal. Focusing on the positive aspects of these smaller goals, such as, how you feel better daily when you eat well, for example, helps achieve the larger goal of healthy living.

Other common mistakes people make  when it comes to goal-setting include over-indulgence before you begin (giving you a false sense of improvement when you start the resolution) or choosing goals that are externally driven rather than truly important to you.

Regardless of how you plan out 2017, Wilson urges self-compassion if you fall short.

“Often failure is met with guilt, shame, and blame, which aren’t very helpful in persevering when ultimately any long-term goal will meet obstacles,” she says. “The more we fail, the closer we are to experiencing success. Self-compassion helps us understand that setbacks are simply obstacles to overcome and not a reflection of our worthiness of achieving our goal.”

Wilson is a Canada Research Chair in Social Psychology, a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Successful Societies program, and a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists at the Royal Society of Canada. 

Tagged: Health & Wellbeing

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