Setting Realistic Goals

June reminds me of a motivational speaker coaxing us to shed pounds and spend more time outdoors. Unfortunately, the power of motivational speakers to influence change is only as good as the individual’s resolve to do so. James, for example, made a pact with himself that by the second week of the month he was going to plant a vegetable garden. He made this same promise to himself last year, but didn’t get any further than one row of tomatoes. James, like many of us, finds that a lack of motivation regularly interferes with his success in many areas.

We assume that apathy comes from laziness or the absence of a strong enough conviction. Not true! For many, subconscious emotional barriers are what thwart resolve. That, and the fear of failure, the greatest barrier.

Unsuccessful attempts to diet or exercise are an excellent example of de-motivators. It is hard to imagine a self-image at a healthy weight or fitness level and easy to become deflated. Alternatively, setting unreasonably high goals will make failure likely, plummeting motivation within weeks or even days. Productive inducements are set as manageable, realistic, short-term goals that can be achieved and bolster confidence. Rather than take to an ambiguous task, like “get healthier,” this week eat one piece of fruit a day or schedule a 10-minute walk three times a week. Don’t even think of the long-term goal. As success is achieved incrementally, plan the next milestone, one that will sustain energy and focus.

Inadequate incentive can be a barrier too. If James committed to making a huge homegrown salad for his friends in August, he would probably find the motivation to finish planting a vegetable garden this month. Similarly, Marilyn desperately wanted to clean up her closet, though she kept putting off the job. But she found a powerful incentive when a friend held a clothing drive for Dress For Success to support disadvantaged women seeking work. Marilyn became empowered and her closet was neat within days, a big pile of clothes ready to be donated.

A final important barrier can be trying to achieve a goal that is not consistent with your psyche. Linda has an artistic, creative personality, not at all in line with the neat-as-a-pin household that her mother kept. For 20 years, Linda tried hard to find the motivation to be as neat as her mother, but simply couldn’t do it for more than a few days. For a long time she felt like a housekeeping failure, but when she finally embraced her true personality and let go of the need to be tidy, she found a true motivation to create an interesting, artistic and eclectic home that was admired by everyone—even her mother.

Fighting complacency by not allowing emotional barriers to dictate the trajectory of daily life is key. Goals, small and large, are the attainable steps to getting there.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.