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Goal setting 101: A psychologist’s hacks

The science-backed secrets to getting the results you want.

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Dr Samantha Clarke knows a thing or two about motivation. She’s both a clinical psychologist and a personal trainer, and completed a PhD exploring how individuals can set better goals – and maximise their chances of achieving them.

Here, Samantha shares a few gems of wisdom on the psychology of goal setting, and how we can achieve better wellbeing.

How can goal setting help people improve their health and wellness?

Often when people think about their values and intentions around health they become overwhelmed. Goal setting is a great way to hold our values and intentions in mind while ensuring we set achievable milestones. Also, focusing on what is within our control is healthier for long term success and maintaining motivation.

“Your goals should be about what’s really important to you, not what you think you should do or what others want for you.”

What is key when setting goals?

Through all my PhD research, there were a few key factors attributed to goal attainment. These steps can really make the difference to goal success.

1. Choose goals that matter to you

Your goals should be about what’s really important to you, not what you think you should do or what others want for you. This helps you stay motivated and enjoy the goal striving process.

2.  Set goals that are in your control

A good way to do this is to focus on your behaviours, rather than the end result – for example, exercising 50% of the days in the month, rather than the goal of losing weight. The aim of this is to build self-efficacy, maintain motivation and persistence.

3. Make them achievable

Set goals that you feel at least 70% confident to achieve. If you feel that you cannot achieve a particular goal, it’s very unlikely you will work hard towards reaching this goal.

4. Set some limits

Keep your goals between one and three at a time, with a timeframe between 1 and 3 months, if possible. These limits can help maintain motivation and higher goal success.

“A good way to do this is to focus on your behaviours, rather than the end result – for example, exercising 50% of the days in the month, rather than the goal of losing weight.”

5. Tell people

Share your goals with those who will support you and help keep you motivated.

6. Break it up into smaller steps

Make a detailed plan and set tasks for each day.

7.  Plan for roadblocks

Identify and problem-solve barriers to achieving your goals, so you’re ready for anything and have a plan to overcome it.

8. Reflect on your progress

The last big tip is set a time to review your goal. Take the time to assess your progress and see whether your goal was achieved. If not, decide if you need to re-set the goal or change the goal in some way.

How do values play a role in helping to achieve goals?

Values are so important – they provide a direction to head in and can help keep our awareness on what is most important to us.

When we move towards values, difficult thoughts and feelings often arise and act to derail us. This is that little voice that might say, “You are going to fail or be rejected” and feelings of fear that come with that.  This can be scary, but if we are aware of our values we can decide: “Am I willing to move forward with this fear in order to move towards this value?”

What have you learnt from the people you help?

That people are amazingly resilient. When people go through something difficult they also grow in a very deep way. They do not always see this and I think one of my roles is helping to raise their awareness of this strength, courage and resilience.

I think it’s important to remember that extremely difficult things can happen in life, but making choices in how we respond to it can make all the difference.

What advice do you have for people who have had trouble reaching their health goals in the past?

Working towards health is a lifelong journey and even the smallest step can create a huge change. Often we fall off the wagon with a health behaviour, but the best thing we can do is be compassionate to ourselves, while also asking, “What is one small thing I could do now to improve my health?” and then adopting this behaviour.

Find out about Samantha’s Mind Body Resilience retreats.

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