Developing a Successful Goal-setting Mindset

Generally, we associate the start of a new year with an opportunity to renew old goals and set new ones. When we think about goal-setting, we think about using organizational aids, such as calendars and planners, as well as the importance of taking action and staying committed. However, research has emphasized the relationship between a positive mindset and successful goal completion. For example, in her book on human motivation, psychologist Carol Dweck, described the importance of having a “growth mindset” which she defined as believing that your abilities can be developed through “dedication and hard work.”

Whereas there is no doubt that discipline and dedication are essential to reaching both short-term and long-term goals, developing and maintaining a goal-setting mindset is an effective and necessary approach for goal completion. The following are some strategies for developing a successful goal-setting mindset that you can practice as you work to stay faithful to your new years’ resolutions. Feel free to share these tips with your students, clinic colleagues, clients, and/or anyone else you think could benefit from reflecting on goal-setting at the beginning of this new year.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations and Timelines.

When setting goals for the new year, a common mistake is to expect to experience the same conditions the entire year. For example, in January, most of us feel refreshed after the holiday break. However, as the year progresses, we are likely to burn out. Therefore, we should not assume that we will experience the same levels of energy every day or every month.

Perhaps, you currently have more free time to focus on your goals than you will in a month or at midyear. Consider how there may be unexpected changes and conditions outside of your control. This is why it is important to set realistic expectations and timelines, as well as learn to be flexible with the plans you make. Expectations and timelines should help you hold yourself accountable with your goals, rather than pressure you to idealize perfect outcomes due to fear of failure. Try to establish a tentative plan and review your expectations as you move forward in order to maintain a healthy mindset regarding your goals.

  1. Do Not Rely Solely on Motivation.

Unfortunately, motivation can be affected by several factors, including mood and energy levels. Motivation can be fleeting, and by depending exclusively on it, we are more likely to experience distractions and obstacles that can interrupt goal completion. Rather than relying only on motivation, try to develop self-discipline. Discipline includes establishing a system that allows you to work progressively towards your goals. Furthermore, self-discipline can help you achieve your goals because it is usually steadier than motivation. Try to implement and adhere to a system that works for you and that enables you to continue working on your goals regardless of the level of motivation you experience.

  1. Embrace Progress (not perfection!)

When it comes to our growth, we are usually not satisfied with what we consider “slow” progress. This is why it is important to set realistic expectations and accept the fact that you may not progress as quickly as you desire. We sometimes undermine progress because we feel like we have not achieved our end-goals. Nevertheless, focusing on progress, regardless of how small or slow you think it is, can make your goals more enjoyable and reinforce the idea that change is possible. On the other hand, perfectionism generally leads to self-criticism, which can in turn reduce your level of motivation and lead you to abandon your goals.

When working towards your goals, try to identify milestones of progress and celebrate these. Instead of solely focusing on the speed or size of your progress, recognize your overall growth. Remember that all progress moves you closer to the end-goals.                  

  1. Don’t Be Bound by Other People’s Values.

Try to understand that what works for your family, friends, and loved ones may not necessarily work for you. Their beliefs may not even align with your own needs and values. Every person sets different goals and even if yours are similar to a friend’s, you both are most likely experiencing different circumstances. It is okay for you to have a completely different action plan than that of your friend or colleague.

Also, consider that your definition of progress and success will most likely be completely distinctive from other people’s. Therefore, when it comes to setting and working on your goals, try to adhere to your values, needs, and expectations. Do not feel constrained or pressured to follow guidelines that do not line up with your values and circumstances. For example, who says you have to start a goal on Monday? You can start whenever you feel ready!

You’ve Got This!

Regardless of your goals for the year, remember that as long as you are taking action, you are progressing and moving closer to the end line! It is easy to get bogged down in clinic work, research demands, and administrative tedium. On any given day, counseling psychologists and counselors in training can be negatively impacted by a heavy caseload or by challenges in the classroom. This article is a friendly reminder that you’ve got this and so do the people you serve on a daily basis. Little by little, we will make this a meaningful year and continue working towards our goals.

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Rita Michelle Rivera, (she/her) M.S. is currently pursuing a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology at Albizu University, in Miami, Florida, with a concentration in neuropsychology. She is Chair of the Florida Psychological Association of Graduate Students (FPAGS), President of the Florida Graduate Coalition for Medical Psychology, and Co-chair of several working groups of the APA’s Interdivisional COVID-19 Taskforce. Rita’s areas of interest include trauma, psychoneuroimmunology, and depressive disorders. She has clinical experience working with Hispanic patients and high-risk populations both in the United States and in her home country, Honduras.

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