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Some fresh resolve for those new year goals

Tired of making new year resolutions that quickly fall by the wayside? It might be you’re unknowingly sabotaging yourself from the outset.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) Associate Professor Joanne Dickson, who has completed a body of goal-setting research, has five simple tips to help you pursue your 2019 aspirations with more purpose and vigour.

Be specific

Setting specific goals is better for personal wellbeing than setting overly general goals. Abstract goals such as “I want to be happy” are more difficult to pursue and to monitor as there are few cues to assist a person toward reaching their goal.

“It’s best to set new year resolution goals that include specific features such as timeframes, places and relationships,” Professor Dickson said. “These provide people with helpful mental cues to aid them in reaching their goals. For example, a specific goal might be ‘to set aside a little extra money each week to take the family on a holiday to Broome in June’ versus a more abstract goal, ‘to have a holiday’.

Understand your motives

Professor Dickson’s research has shown that pursuing goals that are freely chosen and intrinsically motivated are better for personal well-being and tend to reinforce goal efforts. In contrast, pursuing goals for more controlled or external reasons have been linked to psychological distress.

“We’ve found that if people set goals for personal fun and enjoyment or because a goal is personally meaningful, valued or important to them, then the more likely they are to have a sense of well-being,” Professor Dickson said. “They are pursuing a goal that is freely chosen and true to their sense of self.”

“In contrast, sometimes people pursue goals because some external situation or context demands it or they feel they ‘ought’ to. Or people might pursue a goal to ward off a sense of guilt or shame if they didn’t try to aim for a certain target.”

“For example, a person might strive for excellence in their workplace, to ward off negative emotions such as a sense of failure versus striving for excellence because of the sense of reward and enjoyment it provides.”

Look at how you frame your goals

Professor Dickson’s research has shown that how you frame your goals is linked to personal well-being and emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

“Approach-type goals are focused on positive outcomes and are aimed at moving toward a desired outcome (e.g. to pass my end of year exams),” she explained.

“Avoidance-type goals are focused on negative outcomes and are aimed at preventing or moving away from an undesirable outcome (e.g. not to fail my end of year exams).

“The content here is essentially the same but how the goal is framed (approach vs avoidance) is likely to determine emotional wellbeing over time.”

Avoid conflicting goals

Inter-goal conflict occurs when one goal makes it difficult to pursue another. For example, a person’s goal to spend more time with the family might conflict with their goal to be promoted at work, Professor Dickson said.

Conflicting goals are more difficult to pursue as we are drawn by competing goal directions and we typically only have a limited set of personal resources (e.g. time, funds, relationships).

Professor Dickson said, “One tip is to try and set coherent personal goals – that is, goals that benefit the pursuit of other personal goals.”

Goal flexibility

Goal flexibility (e.g. even if I don’t achieve this goal I can still be happy) has been found to be related to psychological wellbeing, whereas goal inflexibility has been linked to depressive symptoms (e.g. if I don’t achieve this goal I cannot be happy).

“Having a repertoire of meaningful personal goals rather than putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, will provide you with alternatives to fall back on if one highly valued goal is unachievable,” Professor Dickson said.

And, if you fail again this year to stick to your New Year Resolutions, take heart in this final piece of advice: regardless of whether you’re able to stick to your new year resolutions or not, research indicates that the very act of personal goal striving itself is associated with personal wellbeing, positive adaptations in life, psychological growth and resilience, and gives life meaning and purpose.


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