- 11 January 2023
- Posted by: M-author
- Category: Workplace
The start of the New Year is a time when many of us set goals or resolutions. This article explores the tradition, along with the psychology of how to increase our chances of achieving our goals.
New Year Resolutions
The tradition of New Year resolutions dates back thousands of years, to the Babylonians. Their New Year began in March when crops were planted and promises to the Gods were made to win favour. They had a strong belief that their commitment to bettering themselves would directly impact the success of crops and other life-defining fortunes.
As humans, we are the only species capable of visualising and setting long-term goals, to improve our circumstances. We can recognise areas of our lives which could be better and see how we would prefer things to be.
The challenge is, that achieving life-improving goals is seldom a quick process. It takes time, effort and sustained motivation. Often, our enthusiasm dips and focus is lost before our goals are realised. Can psychologists help us understand what needs to be in place to increase our chances of success?
What Goals are Important and Attainable to you?
In research conducted by Klein*, two key factors were identified as vital for achieving goals; importance and attainability.
Firstly, the individual must believe the goal is important. Like the Babylonians, this has to be something that you wholeheartedly believe in. Self-improvement isn’t driven by society’s ideals, it’s personal. Therefore, someone setting the goal of getting a job promotion so they can work on a dream project or afford to get a mortgage has a head start over someone who feels the need to keep up with peers or meet parental expectations.
Secondly, whilst goals are usually challenging in nature, you’ve got to believe that they are attainable. You need confidence in your ability to undertake the necessary steps. Research by Lee, Sheldon & Turban** found that personality traits influenced success. It took mental focus and a level of enjoyment to stick on the path towards goals. Equally, low confidence in ability led to individuals channelling energy into goal avoidance.
Set Specific Goals
Locke and Latham*** are widely known for their Goal Setting theories. They explored difficulty as a factor in goal achievement but found that, when motivated, individuals adjusted their efforts to the difficulty of the task. The factor they identified as essential to success was being specific.
To retain motivation, we need to be clear about what we are aiming for and when we have reached that goal. So, we are more likely to ‘enter and complete a 10k race in May’ than ‘get fitter’. We can expect to increase our chances of success if it is ‘secure a team leader role in a HR department, earning a salary of at least £45,000’ than if it is ‘find a new job’.
So pin down your goals to statements that are specific and measurable. This will help you stay focused and make it clear when you achieve that goal.
Write the Goal Down & Share it with Others
A 2015 study by Gail Matthews**** revealed that individuals who wrote their goals down were 33% more likely to achieve them than those who held plans in their heads. It is as if committing the goal to paper raises its importance.
Once we’ve set our important, attainable and specific goal, it remains in our conscious thought. It guides our thoughts and behaviours; we might not always choose the action that is best suited to our goal, but we think about it. Finding ways to keep this goal fresh in our minds will help us stay on track.
One way to achieve this is by setting smaller milestone goals. These could be monthly targets or actions that move us in the right direction. We gain positive feelings when we reach each step and that motivates us to stay on track. Paying off £50 a week may be an achievable milestone towards the ‘clearing my debt before July’ goal. Signing up for an online business course and applying for two industry vacancies a month could be the steps towards a career progression goal.
A second option is making ourselves accountable to others. If we share our goal, we make it real. We can expect others to ask us about it, so we feel more inclined to stick with it, so we have good news to report. The support of others can also be valuable when we hit setbacks. They can encourage us over the hurdles and onwards. The trick is telling the right people; those who champion your efforts rather than those who want to hinder your progress for their benefit.
Is January the Best Time for Goal Setting?
Finally, the start of a New Year offers the chance to turn over a new leaf, but this isn’t the right time for everyone to commence new habits and a different lifestyle. You can set goals on any day of the week, any time of the year. The best time is when you feel motivated to take action.
January may not be when you are ready to steam ahead with fresh ambitions. However, if you have an idea of what you want to work towards, one small action this month can aid your future efforts. Planning to change jobs? Update your CV. Seeking a better work-life balance? Block out slots in your diary. This planning and preparation can help you move forward when the time is right.
**Lee Sheldon & Turban https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10773182_Personality_and_the_Goal-Striving_Process_The_Influence_of_Achievement_Goal_Patterns_Goal_Level_and_Mental_Focus_on_Performance_and_Enjoyment