By: Sarah Zucker, Psy.D.

Psychology San DiegoHappy New Year! It’s the NEW YEAR! Doesn’t that make you excited!? No? You mean at the stroke of midnight you didn’t instantly feel like a new and improved version of yourself? If you didn’t go to the gym, learn French, cut out gluten, finish that nagging project, and log off of all social media on January 1st, don’t worry. You’re not a failure and you’re not alone.

“New year, new you” is mostly a theme seized on by companies who benefit from selling you the dream of effortless self-improvement. They know that the new year is a great time to capitalize on people’s inherent shame for not being exactly where they want to be in life. It’s a great time to sell gym memberships, diets, self-help books, and everything in between. It’s great that we so desperately want to be better versions of ourselves in the new year. But the truth is, as the arbitrary new year starts, we are still stuck with our same habits, fears, routines, and emotions from last year. We’re still us, in all of our wonderful, dysfunctional glory.

This is why so many resolutions fail, or never get started in the first place. Nothing that was hard in 2014 magically becomes easier in 2015. As the annoyingly true saying goes, nothing changes if nothing changes. However, there is hope. We CAN get motivated to achieve our goals and make changes. We don’t even have to wait for a new year to do it. Any moment is a great moment to take action and live life in a way that makes you feel more fulfilled and alive. And you don’t need any gimmicks to help you do it. The truth is, people do it all of the time.

The strategies of successful goal-setters are well-researched and documented. There is no mystery as to what actually helps us increase the likelihood that we will succeed at our goals. Listed below are just a few strategies. I’m sure you knew these all along, but maybe like the rest of us you were holding out for some magic pill that made goal achievement easier. (I lovingly say that to you as someone who has a history of doing just about anything to find an easier, softer way than doing the hard work.)

  1. Goals should be specific, measurable, and attainable. Goals and resolutions like “lose weight,” “eat better,” or “improve my memory” are quite difficult to attain. Eating better for you might include incorporating more fresh produce into your diet, while eating better for your spouse may simply be “Eat less hot dogs.” Take the vague goal and define it very specifically. It only matters that you define it so it is relevant to you. Goals also should be measurable. Break your goals into increments that are easily achieved and documented and keep track. People often say in therapy that they want to “work out more.” That’s a great place to start, but a much more measurable, specific plan is in order. What will your workout be? How many days a week will you do it? How many minutes a day will you spend? These questions are very important. This way you know each day if you met your goal. Increments show you how you’re doing and let you know if you’re on or off track.

Finally, don’t set yourself up for failure. Only make goals that you can reasonably achieve. If you’re finishing freshman year in college and you had a tough time earning a 3.0, don’t make it your goal to take 22 units, earn straight A’s, and work full-time sophomore year. It’s good to reach for the stars, but we are only human. You can always reevaluate your goals if you’re excelling in order to make them more challenging.

  1. Tell People Your Goals. Tell people you trust about your goals. They can hold you accountable and help to support you. Bonus if you have someone working on the same goal as you. If your desire is to power walk for twenty minutes everyday and you have a friend who wants the same thing, you now have a built-in partner. (Having a partner increases the likelihood of success. And makes things less boring.)

Another surprise benefit of filling people in about what you’re doing is that others are often quietly trying to do it too. A common resolution that we hear frequently is to reduce alcohol consumption. Many friends are surprised to find out when they express this goal out loud for the first time that others in their group want to cut down too. In these situations, if nobody had shared, everyone would have been needlessly suffering in silence. We are social animals, and life is difficult. It’s best if you don’t have to go at it alone.

Articulating your goals to your loved ones also allows you to let them know when you accomplished a part of your goal. Affirmations are a great way to get a boost. They remind you that people see what you are doing and are happy for you.

  1. Be Nice to Yourself. If achieving goals was easy, everybody would do it. Don’t be hard on yourself if you make a mistake or have a slip. This can often be part of the process, although it doesn’t have to be. Wallowing in your “failures” will only hold you back. Accept your shortcoming, analyze what went wrong, and move forward. You don’t have to punish yourself. Remember, this is YOUR goal. It should something you want for yourself. It should not be punitive or harming your sense of self-worth. If you’re feeling down, it can be nice to create a gratitude list so you can remember all of the things you already have.

Us mental health advocates often have adverse reactions to the term “resolutions” because we know the low success rate associated with them. But a new year’s resolution is merely a fancy goal, and we love goals. If you’re struggling, San Diego therapists can help you to achieve your goals and make improvements so you can be a happy, healthier, more fulfilled you. What are your goals for 2015? How can you maximize your opportunities to succeed at those goals?