How to stick to your New Year’s resolutions: Combine outcome and process goals

In this article, I discuss how using goal-setting concepts can increase your effectiveness at sticking to New Year’s resolutions.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

The start of the New Year is a time when many people make resolutions involving setting goals for everything from losing weight to being a better person. And a short time after the New Year begins is typically when many of those who made resolutions give up on achieving them.

Although lack of a plan is often a key factor in people not sticking to their resolutions, there is an additional reason people fall short which often gets overlooked. This factor relates to the types of resolutions people tend to make with a focus too much on outcome-oriented goals in which achieving a particular result is the aim. If people were to have their resolutions based on measures of success in addition to outcome measures, I believe they would be more likely to stick with their resolutions and therefore be more likely to achieve their desired outcomes and results. In the following sections, I will discuss the kinds of New Year’s resolutions which tend to get the best results.

Making outcome goals the focus of your New Year’s resolutions: The pros and cons

Outcome goals focus on achieving results. Losing a set number of pounds, completing a marathon or doing so under a specific time threshold, making the honour roll and being promoted are but a few examples. It is important to have outcome goals because the prospect of achieving them adds excitement to your life. This excitement provides you with the motivation necessary to begin taking steps in the pursuit of such goals.

Unfortunately, outcome goals have a drawback in that in most instances achieving the desired results is beyond your direct control. For example, factors other than your performance at work may interfere with your getting promoted. Finishing first in an event may not be possible even if you perform at your best if you happen to face more talented competitors who also perform at their best. You may not be able to complete a marathon in your goal time if weather conditions are adverse.

In addition, for outcome goals to be exciting and motivating they are necessarily challenging. This means that on at least some occasions you may not achieve your outcome goals despite working toward them for a good period of time. This often leads people to give up in pursuing particular outcome goals and sometimes to stop setting any further outcome goals. The void created by not having these goals leads to less excitement and passion in your life.

Set process goals to help you stick to your outcome goals

Process goals focus on performing actions within your control which give you the best chance of achieving your outcome goals. For example, exercising five days a week and following an eating plan are process goals which will help you achieve your weight-loss outcome goals. Attending classes, reading books and seeking advice are process goals which will help you achieve your goal of being a good parent.

Focusing on process goals will help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions in the following ways:

1. Having a sense of control over some of your goals will make things less stressful for you than by focusing solely on goals over which you do not have direct control.

2. You will be less frustrated and therefore more likely to persist in the pursuit of your outcome goals if you receive regular positive reinforcement from achieving your process goals.

You may find it helpful to receive some guidance in implementing these goal-setting strategies by meeting with a psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I help my clients learn and practice these and other skills in my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist.

May you incorporate process goals into your New Year’s resolutions,

Dr. Pat

About the Author:

Feeling Challendged? Work with a psychologist who knows how to overcome challenges… Depression, anxiety, stress & other psychological issues may seem as daunting as completing a marathon. My approach to “Plan, Take Action & Track Progress”, has helped 100s of clients and is the same approach I used to succeed in the Boston Marathon & Ironman Canada.

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