I always thought that setting a goal is the perfect solution for realizing personal change. By setting a goal you gain a clear understanding of the what – the how and when – so the things you want to happen are more or less bound to happen. While this is a great way to set things in motion and find your motivation, there’s also a downside to goals: the time after reaching your goal.
Let me explain what I mean with a simple example. A very common wish is "I want to become more healthy and fit". While this is a very admirable change, it lacks a few fundamental characteristics so it doesn’t really count as a goal: there is no timeline and it is phrased very broadly. Chances are very high that nothing will happen and it will remain just a wish.
So let's convert this to a goal: "I want to be able to take part in the 10k city run this fall". Well, this will certainly help to set things in motion and it's a perfectly valuable goal. Moreover, drawing from my own experience and the feedback from our Goalify community, it is a proven and successful approach. All of the sudden you have a mental picture in your mind of stepping over the finish line – a tremendous source of motivation.
Let's fast forward to the moment you actually do step over that finish line. Feelings of great excitement, exhaustion and relief all come together, making this a truly memorable moment. All the hard work has paid off, while the sacrifices you made fade into the background and are maybe even forgotten entirely. During training, you learned that after a race you should have a recovery phase so you sit back for a few days to recuperate, not only from the run but also from the anxiety that accompanied working on making a tremendous personal change.
Over the course of the training, the original wish to become more healthy and fit has been overshadowed by the 10k goal. With the goal successfully accomplished, chances are high that you’ll start to feel a little disorientated. Now you are fit, you have fulfilled your training plan, and you successfully finished a race…and what now?
This is a time where you are very vulnerable to falling back into old habits – habits that might have shaped your life for years before setting the 10k goal. Training for the race did not necessarily make you a consistent runner or someone who habitually keeps a close eye on how you eat. All the activities and sacrifices were linked to that one goal, which is now missing.
Give your body and mind as many reasons as possible to prefer your new lifestyle over the old one. Take a step back every once in a while and simply enjoy what you have already accomplished, and cut yourself some slack from time to time.
Lasting personal change does not come from a perceived sacrifice. Every time you find yourself thinking "only so many days left until..." you have not managed to really change. To avoid this pitfall, try to accomplish change with steps that are as little as possible. It's not about rapid change – it’s about lasting personal change.
Be aware of the "dilemma" of reaching a goal, and don't be discouraged if you seem to fall back into old habits. Find joy and excitement in the things that you are now capable of doing. Be proud of what you have been able to achieve, free your mind and be open to new ideas that will certainly pop up soon.