The start of a new year equates to a promise of something better. We start committing ourselves to new goals such as “I’m going to go to the gym EVERY DAY! I’m cutting out ALL the sugar and ALL the gluten! I’m going to learn Spanish and finally take that salsa dancing class! Yes! This year is my year! New year, new me!”.
But let’s be honest, are these goals realistic? How can we strive towards these ambitions and maintain a balanced life without burning ourselves out? Goal setting is great, but without a direction and a plan to overcome possible barriers, you are destined to trek on a pretty rocky and disappointing path. The solution? We have to keep ourselves in check. In other words, for effective goal setting and follow through, we have to keep it R.E.A.L.
R = REASONS
Reality Check #1: “What’s in this for me?”
Before jumping head first into doing something, it’s worth stopping and asking, “Why am I doing this in the first place?” A way to assure your success is to establish the value of the goal. This value is found by identifying your extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
- Extrinsic motivation is an external factor that influences our behaviors or drives our choices around which activities we engage in.
- Examples: completing your work on time to avoid getting reprimanded by your boss; participating in a sport to win a trophy, performing your exercise homework to receive praise from your physical therapist.
- Intrinsic motivation occurs when we behave or engage in an activity because it is personally rewarding.
- Examples: participating in a sport because you like having fun while staying in shape; going to yoga not just because it lowers your stress levels but because you want to be a grounded person; doing your physical therapy exercises because they improve your yoga practice
Thus, establish your reasons for striving towards your goal, define extrinsic and intrinsic motivators to find your value in this goal and keep that in mind as you work towards them to stay inspired.
Tip: Brainstorm all the goals you have and write down all the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for each. This can direct how you prioritize your goals. The more value, the higher they should be on your priority list.
E = EXPECTATIONS (versus REALITY)
Reality Check #2: “Are my expectations realistic?”
Think about the outcome you envision and what you are willing to do to. Are you prepared to make some changes? Do you know how you will invest your time and energy to create your vision? What are the barriers you might face?
Some things to consider:
- Am I able to allot time to work towards this goal?
- How long will it take me to reach this goal?
- Does meeting this goal involve someone else’s time/schedule?
- Is this worth my time?
- How much am I allowing myself to invest in this goal?
- Will this be a financial burden?
- Is this worth my investment?
- Is travel required?
- Can I travel this distance on a regular basis?
- Is this worth traveling to?
Being mindful of the difference between your ideals and what is reasonable – this is the key to not setting your expectations too high and abandoning your goals too soon. Dare to dream, but avoid exceeding your limits to ensure that you can make goals that fit your daily life for the short and long term.
Tip: Decide which barriers you are willing/able to overcome and they will no longer be barriers.
A = ACTION
Reality Check #3: “Am I ready to get started? If not, why?”
You have established your reason, outlined realistic expectations and possible barriers, now it’s time to take action.
Make a list of your action items with things that you are ready and able to do and things that you might need help with. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have all the information that I need? à Where can I find resources?
- Do I need additional help? à Who can help me?
- Are there reasons why I can’t take action? Are they within my control?
Answering these questions can give you a sense of direction with your action items. Stay focused on the things that you can do and have the power to do on your own while you seek the additional answers and help you need to move forward. Remember that you are the hero in your story, but you do not have to take on the world by yourself. Know your specific role in your action plan and think about how others may support your efforts—friends, family, or a professional.
Tip: Write out all action items and then break them down in smaller chunks. Highlight which steps you can do on your own, and take note of where you need guidance.
L = LISTEN and LEARN
Reality Check #4: “Is this working for me?”
If the change you are seeking isn’t happening within the timeline that you set for yourself, that doesn’t mean that you have failed or backtracked. What it does mean is that it warrants some time to pause, listen to yourself, and re-calibrate. Things to consider:
- Is the process working for me?
- Am I seeing the changes that I want to see?
- What’s within my control of modifying?
- Is there too much on my plate right now, and do I need to reorganize my priority list?
Ultimately what you are asking yourself is, do I feel happy and balanced? Listen to yourself and learn how to keep making the process more suitable for your personal needs. Keep the things that are working for you and identify and modify what is not. Listen to yourself, learn from the process, and continue down the path.
Tip: Take time to journal, meditate, play music, make art, or do something active. Get in a space where you can think and find peace so that you can listen to your inner voice.
Reality Check #5: “My path is my own.”
Goal setting is completely individual and the journey of making them R.E.A.L. is just as valuable as reaching it. Download this worksheet to help brainstorm your ideas.
If your goals include improving your fitness, preventing injury, getting back to your sport, improving your health, moving better and feeling energized, physical therapy can help with that. Give Stride Physio a call, where the Physical Therapists are always keepin’ it R.E.A.L.
Final tip: Take time to enjoy and celebrate how you are evolving. You are creating your best life.
Mylan Vu, PT, DPT, OCS, MTC, CAFS
Physical Therapist and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist