As the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, a tradition unfolds worldwide – the making of resolutions. From health-influenced goals to learning a new skill, individuals set lofty aspirations with the promise of a fresh start. However, the allure of resolutions often fades as quickly as the confetti settles, leaving many feeling disheartened and defeated by mid-January.
But what if there was a more meaningful and sustainable approach to kickstarting the new year? What if, instead of fixating on resolutions, we shifted our focus to values-driven goals? When you decide to develop a goals related to how you want to show up in the world, you can often foster a sense of purpose and fulfillment that can help you achieve and attain your goals.
The Problem with New Year's Resolutions
The allure of New Year's resolutions lies in their immediacy – a fresh calendar, a clean slate, and the promise of rapid transformation. However, this short-term focus often comes at the expense of long-term well-being. The emphasis on quick results can lead individuals to adopt unsustainable habits and overlook the importance of gradual, sustainable change.
Resolutions tend to be outcome-oriented, focusing on the end goal rather than the journey. Weight loss, for example, becomes the primary objective, overshadowing the importance of developing a healthy relationship with food and exercise. This tunnel vision on outcomes can set the stage for disappointment, as individuals may find themselves ill-equipped to handle the inevitable challenges that arise on the path to change.
The societal pressure to conform to New Year's resolutions is palpable. The gym floods with eager members in January, only to see a gradual decline as the months pass. The external validation sought through resolution-setting often stems from societal expectations rather than genuine personal desires. The desire to meet perceived standards of success can lead individuals to pursue goals that may not align with their true selves.
This external validation can create a vicious cycle where individuals set resolutions based on societal beliefs and expectations, achieve or fail to achieve them, and then experience a rollercoaster of self-worth based on external metrics. This cycle can contribute to a sense of emptiness, as personal growth becomes secondary to meeting external standards.
One of examples of the inherent pitfalls of resolutions is the all-or-nothing mentality that often accompanies them. The momentary lapse in adherence to a resolution can lead to feelings of failure, triggering a cascade of negative emotions. Whether it's skipping a workout, indulging in an extra dessert, or neglecting a daily habit, setbacks can become insurmountable obstacles, derailing progress and undermining self-esteem.
The all-or-nothing mindset is counterproductive to the nature of personal growth, which is inherently iterative and involves learning from both successes and failures. By fixating on perfection, individuals may miss valuable opportunities for self-reflection and course correction, perpetuating a cycle of unrealistic expectations, stress and disappointment.
The Power of Values-Driven Goals
In contrast to the transient nature of resolutions, values based goals offer a foundation for enduring fulfillment. Rather than fixating on specific outcomes or time frame, these goals are rooted in aligning personal aspirations with one's core values and what's most important to you. Whether it's fostering connections, cultivating compassion, or embracing authenticity, the pursuit of values-driven goals contributes to a deeper sense of purpose that extends beyond the confines of a single year.
Values-driven goals invite individuals to explore the "why" behind their aspirations. When the focus shifts from losing a certain number of pounds to cultivating a healthy relationship with oneself, the journey becomes an ongoing process rather than a fleeting moment of achievement. This shift in perspective allows for sustained motivation and a sense of accomplishment that extends well beyond the initial burst of enthusiasm.
At the heart of values-driven goals is the concept of intrinsic motivation – the internal drive to pursue goals that align with personal values and principles. Unlike the external pressures associated with resolutions, intrinsic motivation is a powerful force that emanates from within a person. This internal compass guides individuals toward goals that resonate with their authentic selves, fostering a deeper connection to the journey of personal growth.
When goals are intrinsically motivated, individuals are more likely to persevere in setting goals in the face of challenges. The pursuit of a meaningful goal becomes a source of inspiration, tapping into a wellspring of resilience that transcends external validation. This shift from external validation to internal motivation not only enhances the likelihood of goal attainment but also nurtures a positive self-image rooted in authenticity.
Flexible and Adaptive
One of the key advantages of values-driven goals lies in their inherent flexibility. Life is dynamic, and unforeseen challenges are inevitable. Values can be used like a compass and point you in the direction you want to go. Unlike the rigid structure of resolutions, values-driven goals allow for adaptability in the face of change. When setbacks occur, individuals can reassess their goals, recalibrate their strategies, and continue progressing without succumbing to the discouragement that often accompanies deviations from resolutions.
This flexibility encourages a growth mindset, fostering resilience and adaptability. Rather than viewing challenges as insurmountable obstacles, individuals can perceive them as opportunities for learning and refinement. In essence, the pursuit of values-driven goals becomes a journey of self-discovery, characterized by continual growth and evolution.
How to Set Values-Driven Goals
Identifying Core Values
The first step in setting values-driven goals is identifying one's core values. These are the principles that guide behavior, shape priorities, and define what matters most in life. Core values can encompass a wide range of domains, from relationships and personal development to career and community involvement.
To identify core values, individuals can engage in introspective exercises, asking themselves probing questions about what brings them a sense of joy, fulfillment, and purpose. For some, authenticity may be a core value, leading to goals centered around self-expression, creativity, and genuine connection. For others, resilience may take precedence, inspiring goals that cultivate inner strength and perseverance.
SMART Criteria for Values-Driven Goals
While values-driven goals are inherently meaningful, applying the SMART criteria can enhance their effectiveness. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Integrating these criteria ensures that goals are well-defined, realistic, and aligned with one's values.
Clearly articulate the details of the goal. Instead of a vague resolution like "exercise more," a specific goal might be "engage in 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week."
Establish concrete criteria to track progress. This could involve tracking specific metrics, such as the number of days exercised or the completion of milestones within a broader goal.
Ensure that the goal is realistic and attainable. While aspirations can be ambitious, they should also be within the realm of possibility, given one's resources and circumstances.
Confirm that the value based goal setting also aligns with core values and contributes to overall well-being. Goals should be personally significant and resonate with the individual's sense of purpose.
Set a timeframe for achieving the goal. This could involve establishing deadlines set goals, or breaking down the goal into manageable milestones with associated timelines.
Creating a Committed Action Plan
Setting values-driven goals is just the beginning; creating an action plan is the roadmap for turning aspirations into reality. An action plan involves breaking down the overarching goal into smaller, actionable steps. This not only enhances clarity but also provides a roadmap for making progress together.
When creating an action plan, consider the following:
Break Down Value Based Goals:
Divide larger goals into smaller, more manageable steps. This not only makes the journey less overwhelming but also provides a sense of accomplishment with each milestone achieved.
Identify the most critical tasks that contribute directly to goal attainment. Prioritizing tasks ensures that energy and resources are directed toward the most impactful actions.
Establish a Timeline:
Assign realistic timelines to each step of the action plan. This temporal structure creates a sense of urgency and accountability, preventing procrastination.
Regularly assess progress against the action plan. This could involve weekly or monthly check-ins to celebrate successes, identify challenges, and make necessary adjustments.
By incorporating these elements into the goal-setting process, individuals can navigate the journey of personal growth with intentionality and purpose. The combination of intrinsic motivation, flexibility, and a well-defined action plan transforms values-driven goals from abstract aspirations into tangible, achievable outcomes.
Set Values Based Goals, not New Year's Resolutions
As the new year unfolds, the choice between resolutions and values-driven goals becomes a pivotal one. The pitfalls of resolutions, rooted in short-term focus, external validation, and an all-or-nothing mentality, highlight the need for a more holistic approach to goal-setting. Values-driven goals, anchored in long-term fulfillment, achievable goals, internal motivation, and flexibility, offer a transformative alternative.
Embracing values-driven goals is not a rejection of change but a reimagining of it. It's an acknowledgment that personal growth is a nuanced, iterative journey that extends beyond the confines of a single year. As a psychotherapist, I've witnessed the profound impact of aligning aspirations with one's own values, fostering a sense of purpose and meaning that transcends fleeting resolutions.
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Your journey of personal growth is a unique and valuable exploration. By partnering with a therapist, you can navigate this journey with intentionality, gaining insights, and cultivating the resilience needed to transform aspirations into reality. Take the step toward a more fulfilling and authentic life – Reach out to Living Openhearted Therapy and Wellness to book a free consultation and learn more about therapy for adults.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maegan Jones, LCSW, ASW is a licensed clinical social worker in Puerto Rico and an associate social worker in California. She specializes in adults navigating difficult family dynamics, anxiety, relationship problems, and ADHD.
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