What Mental Health Experts Want You to Know About Setting Goals

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If you decided to pursue a handful of lofty goals on January 1, good for you. And if you've already let some or all of those resolutions fall to the wayside, you're pretty normal: Studies show 80 percent of people give up on their New Year's resolutions by mid-February. While these numbers are bleak, they're not all that surprising. We live in a burned out society where we don't feel like we have enough time to eat lunch, let alone prioritize a vague (but important) goal.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Here's what mental health experts want you to know about setting and sticking to goals.

Make your goal measurable.

"Eat healthier" and "exercise more" are common resolutions, but they're incredibly vague. What does eating healthy mean to you? Will you make any exceptions for special occasions? And when it comes to exercise, what does "more" mean? Will you make your existing workouts longer, or will you add an extra day of exercise every week?

Before embarking on a new goal, make sure you address these questions. "Having goals be too broad or unmeasurable is a common mistake," Holistic psychotherapist Alison Stone says. "Without seeing much tangible progress, we are more likely to give up because we feel like we've failed."

Be specific.

Clinical psychologist Marianna Strongin echoes Stone's point, saying that we're a lot more likely to stick to goals that are specific, detailed and quantitative. "In doing that, people can begin to make progress towards those goals and begin to check off their consistent progress," she explains.

Strongin adds that small accomplishments are incredibly important when it comes to keeping us motivated, so as you create your goals, make sure to establish little milestones along the way. "Eventually [these accomplishments] create a feelings of mastery, which is contagious and prolongs consistency."

Meet the Expert

Marianna Strongin, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist trained to treat mood disorders, life transitional issues, relationship problems and help people understand and recognize unhealthy life patterns. Since completing her training, she has been expanding her private practice on the Upper East Side and serving as an Adjunct Supervisor for Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology.

Be honest with yourself.

One thing that can get really tricky in the goal-setting department is when we don't actually want to achieve a goal but feel we should. Quitting smoking is a good example of this. We know we should stop smoking for the sake of our longterm health, but because cigarettes are addictive, it's hard to actually want to go after this goal.

If this sounds familiar, Stone suggests honoring the parts of yourself that aren't motivated to achieve this goal. "We like to think that when we set our mind to doing something, we are always 100% on board," she explains. "Usually, regardless of how motivated we are to achieve something, there are still parts of us that might have doubts or fears about what this means."

Once you've taken the time to be honest with yourself about how you really feel about going after this goal, it may be easier to actually work toward it. "Once you've done this, it can help you recognize that you can still want to accomplish something-—and make strides towards doing so—even if you have reservations about it," says Stone.

Stay focused.

When it comes to goal-setting, one thing is clear: Being specific is key, even if that sometimes means being specific about the fact that you're not that enthusiastic about it in the first place. When that's the case, one trick you can use is getting clear on why you're going after something. For example: "I'm quitting smoking this year because I want to live a long, healthy life." Staying focused on that why (even if you don't always feel it) can help.

Feeling motivated to revisit those 2020 goals with laser focus? We thought so.

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