It’s been almost three weeks since our blog post on “New Year’s Resolutions and Other Goals: How to Make Them Work.” During that time period, thousands of people have made New Year’s resolutions; marked their calendars with the proper steps for getting started; plunged in with enthusiasm—then lapsed back into business-as-usual. The phenomenon is so common, January 17 is widely called “Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day,” and the second Friday in January (Friday the 13th this year), “National Quitter’s Day.”
However, lapsing on progress toward a goal doesn’t make anyone a “quitter” unless they let it shame them into staying off track. Let’s review the key points in the “make goals work” article, from a perspective of “when you want to give up or feel you’ve already failed.”
Choose Personally Meaningful Goals
If you’re losing interest in a goal, maybe the “meaningful” part has been eclipsed by fatigue or frustration. Review what you want to accomplish and why. Get refocused on your real motivators by writing them in a journal or sharing them in a text.
Write Down Your Goals
Has your goals list or vision board, though still in plain sight, become “invisible” to your brain? Move it to a new location where your brain isn’t used to expecting it: from the home office to the bedroom, from 1:30 to 5:15 in your calendar app’s reminders. Relocate it again every few weeks. If you really want to implant a goals list in your brain, recopy it every month or two.
Start Where You Are
If you’ve neglected a goal for some time, “where you are” may feel like “back at square one.” It isn’t really. Specifics depend on nature of task and length of lapse, but you likely can resume at a higher square than “one,” perhaps right where you left off. (If a goal involves physical toning and you’ve skipped more than two weeks, do consult a doctor or physical therapist about your best “reentry” level.)
Focus on Strengths, Not Weaknesses
The #1 weakness never to focus on is the universally human pull of the old status quo. Calling yourself a “quitter” feeds discouragement and nurtures self-fulfilling prophecies. Consider what you’ve overcome to get wherever you are now: if you live everyday life with a disability, you’ve already proved yourself capable of managing more than the average person. You’ve achieved goals before, and you can achieve them again.
Expect It to Be Challenging
As the saying goes, “Success is getting up one more time than you fall.” Babies learning to walk know this instinctively, but even for them, frustrated screaming often precedes the getting back up. Frustrations do accumulate weight after picking yourself up multiple times, and it gets so tempting to decide one more time isn’t worth the effort. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the inevitability of this stage; recognizing it will strengthen you to push on through it.
Track Your Progress
Revisit your goal timeline to check whether you’re still on track. If you’ve wandered off track, note the cause and take steps against recurrence, but don’t waste time on self-blame or self-pity. Just edit your schedule and keep moving. And if you’ve passed any milestones without acknowledging or celebrating them, do so before you do anything else!
Pushing on toward a goal does not mean going nonstop until you collapse into exhaustion, despair, or even physical injury: no one finishes a marathon by running it at hundred-yard-dash speed. When working on goal timelines, always include days to refresh and recharge.
If you’re already weary enough to need a longer break, set a firm date to resume progress; but beware of resuming it too quickly, even after you start feeling better. New stress before full recovery only makes things worse.
That is, keep your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. Achievability and time-based deadlines are particularly easy to misjudge, especially in a household where significant disability makes the unexpected more frequent and more challenging. Double-check that you aren’t being over-optimistic (i.e., counting on life always going smoothly) in any areas.
Walter Prescher, BridgingApps Digital Navigator, on SMART goals: One “big every year” goal is “work out and get healthy”; this is evident right now at my local gym. However, “get healthy,” not being a measurable goal, is easier to walk away from than “reserve at least 100 active hours for working out, and complete 500 miles of running, biking, swimming, and walking”—a personal SMART goal of mine for 2023.
Get Help from Your Friends
Few goals are reached without a personal support network, whether that means organized peer groups, doctors, counselors, teachers, extended family, understanding friends, people to delegate to, or all the above. The more challenging a goal, the more support is needed (it takes a true village to raise three kids with Down syndrome into independently living adults with full-time jobs); but even a single accountability partner can prod you to keep up a walk-for-exercise schedule, or can offer an arm around the shoulder to counter discouragement.
Walter Prescher: Always have someone who cares enough to help keep you working towards your goal. I have time scheduled every evening to go to the gym, and my wife goes with me and holds me accountable. I also use Strava [a fitness app that emphasizes sharing and support] to track my time and miles, so I stay ahead of the curve on both.
In conclusion, remember that one significant goal achieved over three years beats three one-year goals prematurely abandoned. You don’t need your timeline or anything else pre-planned to 100 percent perfection. What matters is, as Prescher puts it, “consistency. Set a time every day [or every other day or every week—no further apart] and allow no excuses: develop the routine and stick to it.”