The Number-One Tip for Setting “Good” Goals

4 min read
Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Source: Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

The holiday season is fast approaching, and, before we know it, we will be ringing in the new year. With each new year comes a flood of articles, social media posts, and advice columns on New Year’s resolutions. I’m not here to tell you not to make them. Rather, I am here to tell you that if you do want to make New Year’s resolutions, there is one crucial thing to keep in mind that will determine the likelihood of reaching your goal and—if you do—how you will feel when you reach it.

Knowing Our True Selves

What is that one thing? Well, research from the field of goal setting teaches us that, to make “good” goals, it is of utmost importance to know our “true selves” (e.g., see the self-concordance model by Sheldon, 2014, and self-determination theory by Deci & Ryan, 1985). That is, who are we, deep down inside? Unfortunately, this same research tells us that, as we grow into adults, we become increasingly less in touch with our true selves—for example, because we begin to think more about what other people and society expect of us, or because we simply have less time to invest in anything outside of the day-to-day grind.

Thus, an important task is rediscovering our “true selves.” One way to do this is to make a list of all of the things that you used to love doing when you were a child. What activities brought you joy? What activities got you into the “flow” and made you lose track of time?

Looking at this list, what do you think these activities tell you about the kind of person you are, what you love, and what you find important? Write down a few keywords. For example, if you are like me, and used to spend endless hours drawing as a child, you might write down keywords like art, creativity, and self-expression.

Another strategy is to find someone you love and respect, and who loves and respects you, too. Ask them what they notice brings you joy. When have they seen you at your most joyful and carefree? What do they think are your true interests and talents? Interestingly, research shows that, oftentimes, our loved ones can have a more accurate perception of us than we do of ourselves.

Based on these insights, think about some goals that could reflect your true self, and that you would feel excited about achieving. Imagine yourself working toward and achieving these goals, and notice which goals resonate most with you. Write these down, too.

Goals That Bring More Fulfillment

Returning to the research, we know that goals that are in line with our “true selves” are better than goals that are less in line with our true selves. We are more likely to strive toward them and to persist over time, and more likely to achieve them in the end. More importantly, when we do achieve those goals, they will bring us more fulfillment, happiness, and well-being. In contrast, when we make goals that aren’t really in line with who we are deep down, we are likely to feel empty and unfulfilled even if we do achieve them.

Coming to my own research (body image), I will close by making a plea to resist the inevitable onslaught of messages that encourage you to make diet and exercise-related goals to “look your best” in the New Year. After all, research shows that (a) goals pertaining to physical appearance are typically not in line with our “true self” and, thus, are likely to be unsuccessful and unfulfilling (see the research described above) and that (b) focusing on our physical appearance as a source of self-worth will ultimately lead to lower self-esteem and poorer well-being, compared to focusing on all of the aspects of our self that make us truly fascinating and valuable human beings.

You May Also Like

+ There are no comments

Add yours