When I was younger, I was highly motivated to make the best New Year’s resolutions. I’d spend time picking big ideas like “learn a new language,” “run a marathon,” or “read 52 books.” I had great goals but no way to follow through or assess if those goals were right
for me. It wasn’t until I took the time to reflect on who I wanted to be — and why I wanted to be that way — that I could begin incrementally capturing my bigger objectives.
Yoga is a great example of how I wanted to be “a healthy person who does yoga every day” and made it happen through small steps. Now I’m certified to teach, and I practice daily. I didn’t get here overnight, but I’m so glad I took the time to reflect on my life and what I wanted to pursue — and then made an intentional effort to take steps toward that goal.
Goal-setting can be tricky when your new goals involve changing your habits. Adapting our behavior is intrinsically difficult because it challenges established routines. If it was easy and simple, we would all quickly change our lives for the better. But changing behavior takes time and effort.
Here’s my simple outline for developing goals that can help you grow new practices in the new year.
1. Brainstorm your idealized self.
Do you want to get up early and work out every day? Do you dream of being someone who is debt-free? Do you wish you could speak a foreign language so you can travel to different countries? Where do you want to go?
You do not need to be too specific, but try to outline where you want to be. Your goal is personal to you and incredibly valuable to remember throughout your process. What does your best self do — every day? Where do you want to be in five years? Write it down and define steps to move toward those goals.
2. Get comfortable with ‘more’ and ‘better’ as parameters of success.
Changing behavior occurs over time. Using yoga as an example: rather than beginning with a hard-and-fast expectation of practicing every day, you must begin with where you are. If you have never done yoga before, cool! You have so much room to grow! If you already are working with a schedule that isn’t fully functional for you, that’s fine too! We aren’t going for perfection — we are developing a practice.
Here’s one of my favorite resolutions: “I want to do more intentional reflection throughout my week.” I don’t need to do it every day, but if I can expand my baseline, that’s a win. Once I meet a part of a goal, then I reinforce my hard work.
3. Celebrate and reinforce the work you put in.
The best way to ensure that a behavior continues is to reinforce it. Positive reinforcement would be gaining a treat or activity you enjoy. Negative reinforcement means an escape from an unenjoyable task or thing. After you achieve “more,” you get to choose how you reward yourself and therefore seal your practice as important and life-giving.
I like to reward myself with special snacks or drinks that I otherwise wouldn’t take the time to make. If you take a step toward your goal, you might give yourself a break instead of starting a house chore right away.
There are so many ways you can celebrate yourself and your achievements — and that’s invaluable for solidifying your work. Reflect on what makes you happy and supports your dream life and plan to reinforce yourself with those rewards.
4. Keep track of your changes.
Another great way to reinforce and grow new behaviors is to keep note of your progress. In the beginning, keeping a record can be a daunting task, so perhaps wait until you’ve established yourself in a new pattern. A week to a month later, create a small chart with boxes to “X” when you’ve completed your goal. Then, with every 10 “X”s of success, reinforce your work. I like to pay to visit a new yoga studio, enjoy a coffee drink, or indulge in a massage.
By finding your own way to keep track of progress, you are further investing in your success. Take the time to build a system that works for you.
5. Reevaluate and keep moving forward.
As a final step, use reflection to commit to your practice. We can gain insight into why things are working for us and why some other practices don’t. Be honest with your evaluation. Viewing your obstacles and your motivations objectively shows maturity, and allows you to pivot to a new strategy.
When I create yoga goals that serve the interests of others or come from places of vanity, I fail. Holding a 10-minute backbend would only serve to boost my ego and cripple my body — it isn’t honest to who I am.
Being honest about our motivations allows us to engage our practices with a full heart — and over time, these practices cease to be a habit and simply become a part of who we are.
Don’t be afraid to reflect on your goals and then rewrite, broaden or narrow, or even create new ones to take steps toward being the person you were created to be.