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Using science and mindfulness Towards a more effective goal setting (pART 1)

When we think about the year ahead, most of us start to reflect on the new year's resolutions or a list of goals.

The psychologist Kelly McGonigal says, "research shows that when people resolve to change, they may immediately feel more confident, in control, and hopeful". The thing is… change is hard. To tune ourselves to change means leaving behind a part of us and that, can bring discomfort or be painful. The beautiful part of taking decisions and actions to grow personally is that we can achieve higher wellbeing and, through that, a more fulfilled life. The excellent side of the coin is when you get there, it's not so about the outcome, but more about what you are now as a person and how that makes you feel.

Your goals can count as an inspiration to become a better person, spreading around strength, creativity, friendliness, or other positive skills.

There's some research around setting goals that can give us clues on finding and exploring the power to turn the New Year's Resolutions into a more effective approach. I hope the description of some, can make you reflect and turn hope into achieving your goal into decisive future action. Make it happen!

1. Pre-steps:

Before you make your New Year’s Resolution reflect on the lessons, the challenges, the best moments, and things you're grateful for, during last year. This exercise will be like a Zoom Out and takes you to a big picture perspective shaping the way you want personally to grow in the future.

2. Choose a goal or resolution that you do want, not the ones from somebody else.

First, start with mindful awareness and be sincere to yourself on how you choose your goals by answering questions like:

- Is this goal a should or a must be? A personal or social obligation?

- Do I really want to achieve this goal, or is this about pleasing somebody else?

When we start from a place of “I should do that…” or “I must do this…”, we are placing our heart and needs behind our back while being driven by the goals of somebody else. Additionally, when you set a goal from a place of deep shame or guilt, the chances of giving up on a goal are increased and catalyzes in your heart more shame and guilt. It's like a hamster wheel, and if you are unconscious about it, it can be vicious.

The awareness is necessary when somebody or the society presses you to be or feel something that you don't identify with, or makes you feel through the shame that you "should be somebody else". For example, when there's pressure to dress in a certain way or having a specific type of body. It's time to let go of that goal and investigate the Why.

3. The Why: choose goals that are meaningful for you.

The best kind of resolution starts by getting in touch with your core, your heart, and understanding the "Big Why" behind it. Knowing the real intention behind the goal is crucial to maintain it alive inside of you while keeping you motivated to try a new strategy to attain it if something fails. Understanding what you wish to experience more in your life and how you want to be in a relationship with yourself, others, and the world in the year ahead can help you find meaningful goals.

Questions to reflect on the Why behind a goal:

- What I want to experience more in my life, and what can I do to create that?

- How do I want to be in the important relationships in my life? With myself, with my loved ones? What would I express in the relationship?

- What do I want to offer to this world? What small step can I select to begin with?

If you have already a list of goals or New Year's Resolutions, you can as well start this investigation by asking yourself:

- Who do I wish to become / what I want to experience and express, when I achieve this?

Check if the answer resonates with you or if it's time to let go or adapt the goal.

The “Why Exercise” of the psychologist Kelly McGonigal is as well interesting:

Think about what you want in the coming year, then ask yourself why you want that — three times in a row.


Let's say you have a goal of losing 10 Kg. First, begin to ask why you want to lose 10 Kg? The answer: to be healthier. Then, ask why I want to be healthier? The response can be to start to be able to run with my kids. Why would I like to be able to run with my kids? The next answer is more likely to be linked to one or more inner values that guide you in life: "I want to be more connected with my family". What did you discover here? That connection to others and family are crucial to you. You now have the clarity to know what drives you to lose weight and the real and deep reward of it.

It is a homecoming knowing why that goal matters and that motivation can boost you the strength to work toward the goal. You will be intimately connected to the vision of the life you desire, and that will inspire you to pursue that meaningful change.

4. Choose realistic goals and plan to reach them: make a reality check.

Research shows that setting action intentions by being specific about what you are going to do to meet your goals—increases people's success rate (Sheeran 2002). While it's essential to set specific goals, being at the same time flexible is the key. It’s periodically relevant to leave space to revise and inquire about your experience. Sometimes, the steps you're taking can be unsustainable or not leading to the benefits you wish for. Then it's time to reframe the steps you're taking or the goal itself.

Another research study shows that usually, a person wishes so much to accomplish something that forgets to plan it considering their daily life and taking into account obstacles that may arise (Tanner & Carlson 2009). This study proposes a simple reality check that you can make every week. For example, if you want to exercise more, before designing a plan and breaking it down into small steps, make a reality check by asking yourself these two questions in the following order:

1 - “In an ideal world, how much would you exercise in a week?”

2 - “How much time do you think you will have for exercise this week?”

After reflecting you know that your goal is to lose 10 Kg and you can formulate your commitment to exercise more as “During next week, I will dance at least 20 minutes on Monday and Friday at 6 AM at home.”

Like this, you can recognize the obstacles to a wonderful but unrealistic plan that can lead you to fall short. Recognizing potential competing demands to your plan brings clarity to blind stops. You can proactively define a more sustainable and measurable strategy considering the reality of your daily life.

5. Frame your goals in a positive way.

A research study showed that goals with positive framing resulted in higher self-reported success rates than did goals with negative framing (Dontre 2018). The positive formulation acts as a catalyst to see the big picture instead of focusing on one small part of the puzzle. A positive goal statement is more informative and creates a higher receptivity to what you want to bring to your life. If you're going to exercise more, you can write a sentence like "I want to have more fun while exercising!" or "Let's enjoy moving my body!". Trust yourself and be creative! This positivity will trigger a renewed motivation when you find yourself slipping.


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