How to set and stick to goals

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Most people begin new years, trimesters or jobs with the best intentions. Clutching fresh stationery and touting grand plans to be more organised and goal-orientated than ever before, the commitment feels robust. But sometimes life interferes with plans, schedules are changed, requirements stack up and the goal begins to feel unreachable. When that happens, there’s a risk that the ‘I can’t do it’ mindset will set in.

Unexpected challenges will always crop up when you’re working towards a goal, but Deakin University clinical psychology Professor Nicole Rinehart says there are simple tools you can use to set a goal and reach the finish line without falling into a crumpled heap on the way.

Be realistic

If your goal is to run against Kanye West in the 2020 presidential election, you might want to set a more feasible target. That’s not to say you shouldn’t dream big, but setting incremental milestones, achieving one, then another, will help you progress. Prof. Rinehart says the key is to plug your goal into a timetable that works for you. This will help you to, ‘avoid getting into a downward spiral or feeling like you’re always behind.’ she explains. Within that daily or weekly timetable, she suggests allocating time for mini breaks so you’re not staring down the barrel of endless days of study or work. Prof. Rinehart suggests connecting with friends, going for walks and taking time to eat well.

Be kind to yourself

Few people are good at everything they try their hand at; so don’t beat yourself up if you experience frustration as you work towards a goal. Prof. Rinehart says it’s important to, ‘remind yourself of the things you are good at.’ In the event that you do hit a snag and find yourself questioning your goal, Prof. Rinehart suggests remembering the passion behind your objective and using that for motivation when the going gets tough.

No comparisons

Comparing yourself to others can be detrimental to achieving a goal. It’s difficult to avoid comparisons when your social networks are filled with people shouting about their latest achievements, comparing yourself to others success can lead you to lose of focus and question your own ability. ‘Your job is to be the best that you can be. What other people are doing is irrelevant and might distract you,’ Prof. Rinehart says. Her remedy is to look at the people you’re surrounding yourself with – it might be time to re-evaluate what you’re giving your time and mental energy to.

Seek out mentors

Once you’ve weeded out any sources of negativity or ‘anxious energy’ you’ll have more time to spend with people who are on your team, cheering you towards your goal. ‘Positive energy can help you to do wonderful things you never thought possible. Keep a check on the type of energy level around you and go to the positive people,’ Prof. Rinehart says. She recommends finding mentors who’ll provide support, practical advice and help to build you up instead of bringing you down.

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Professor Nicole Rinehart
Professor Nicole Rinehart

Professor of Psychology (Clinical), School of Psychology, Deakin University
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