Grit your Goals to Keep Your Resolve
By Miriam Akhtar
The fact that I frequently mistype ‘goal’ as ‘gaol’ would lead any Freudian to suspect that I’m just not that into New Year’s resolutions. And it’s true, I’m not. They seem like such a good idea, but all too often, they end up provoking negative emotions like guilt, anxiety or sadness that another year has gone without achieving your goals. It is far better in my experience to hold ‘intentions’, lightly-held goals that you work towards but are more open and accepting of what manifests. This is far more likely to help you keep your resolve because an intention acts as a carrot inspiring you to take steps towards your desired outcome rather than a stick to beat yourself with if things don’t turn out as planned.
Having goals, however, does play a key role in your happiness, giving you a sense of purpose in life and a positive direction to aim for. There is plenty of research that shows that your satisfaction with life increases when you achieve your goals. In 2011 Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, published a new theory of well-being, in which he named accomplishment, or achievement as one of 5 main pathways to happiness. The others are experiencing positive emotions, being engaged with life, having positive relationships and a sense of meaning.
One of the most important qualities to help you achieve your goals is to have grit. Not the stuff that stops you falling over on icy mornings but rather the perseverance and passion to follow-through on taking action towards your long-term goals. I often say to coaching clients that ‘life rewards action’. You can think and plan all you like but life will only start to change once you turn a thought into a deed and take some steps towards your goal.
Grit aka hardiness is not a popular concept in the 21st century where instant gratification and the easy solution are far preferred but being hard-working, tenacious, determined and stubborn in the face of obstacles are the qualities that lead to success. Studies of world-class achievers in fields like chess, music and sports all suggest that it is the many hours spent over many years practising their skill that marks the difference between the good, the great and the elite. It is the hard work, rather than the talent that is the deciding factor in their greatness.
Gritting Your Goals
Here are some of the ways in which you can grit your goals and increase your chances of achieving them in 2012.
- Follow Through. This is what really makes the difference to success so get with the programme and when you grow weary, pause to rebuild your energy and then get stuck in again. Break the task down into small steps to encourage yourself to get going again.
- Identify Role Models of Grit. Find examples of mental and physical toughness and observe what they do. In my local park, for example, you’ll find military fitness experts. Or read biographies of gritty people like Ellen MacArthur or JK Rowling.
- Pursue with Passion & Persistence. Passion gives you the energy to invest in your goal and the edge to keep going in tough times.
- Face Up to the Test. Shirking a challenge is the very opposite of grit so shed your comfort zone and show people that it can be done even if they say it can’t. You develop grit by taking on challenges that stretch you.
- Don’t Allow Criticism or Failure to Define You. Learn the lesson from the negative stuff and adjust what you do so that you bounce back and find another route to your goal. Treat failure as feedback and don’t take it personally.
One of the best ways of setting yourself up for success is to create ‘implementation intentions’ for your goals. These are ‘if then’ strategies which help to keep you on track and can be used to motivate yourself. So say your goal is to ask for a promotion, your ‘if-then’ strategy might be ‘if I see the boss,then I’ll ask him if I can make an appointment to talk.’ Or say you’re trying to give up chocolate your ‘if-then’ strategy might be ‘if I have a craving for chocolate, then I’ll go for a walk around the block instead.’
A final tip to making your goals happen is to externalise them by writing them down or telling other people what you want to achieve. One of my intentions for 2012 is to develop my social media presence. You can find me on Twitter at @pospsychologist or on Facebook by liking Positive Psychology Masterclass.
Miriam Akhtar (www.positivepsychologytraining.co.uk) is one of the first positive psychologists in Britain with a licence to help you feel good, function well and flourish. She practises in Bristol and is the Happy City Initiative's chief 'Health & Wellbeing' correspondent. Her new book ‘Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression: Self-help Strategies for Happiness, Inner Strength & Well-being’ is published on Feb 2nd.