How to make lasting change

How to set and reach your goals

The past year and a half has been full of uncertainty. We’ve been living in limbo, waiting for things to go back to normal, and though we don’t have a firm date for normalcy yet, it’s looking like we’re getting closer.

Being able to go out and about more and see more people in person again may be sparking a desire in you to make some wellness changes or set some goals to reach before then – but how can you ensure you actually achieve what you set out to do? Read on.

“Going back into the world in this way we are all living through is new for all of us,” says Tara Stiles, founder and owner of Strala Yoga. “I love the idea of creating a new season for ourselves like we might for a return to school after the summer or starting a new job. We can take the pressure off of hitting a specific wellness goal, and still achieve it, by creating space for loads of great new habits and routines that nourish [us].”

How to get focused on the goal you have in mind

Joyce Marter, LCPC, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, takes an action-oriented approach to goal-setting.

“Set aside 30 minutes in the next day or two to create an action plan. Developing an action plan for your personal, professional and financial vision can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, in fact, it’s best to keep it simple,” she says.

Here are Marter’s steps:

  1. Self-care: “Start with a self-care practice that will help you cultivate mindfulness, positive thinking and mental clarity, such as a meditation, exercise or [a] bath.”
  2. Write and rank your goals: “Write three to five goals and then rank them in order of importance. Make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely (SMART) goals. For example, ‘Exercise four times a week for the next month’ versus ‘Become super fit’.”
  3. Break it down: “Break goals down into smaller objectives or tasks, such as planning your meals each week or drinking eight glasses of water a day.”
  4. Be accountable: “Create some accountability by sharing your goals with a friend, coach, counsellor or accountability partner (somebody with whom you chat regularly to keep one another accountable), and schedule regular follow-ups to keep you on track.”

Stiles takes a holistic approach that starts with small things that will positively affect your whole life.

She suggests starting with a kitchen cleanup and spending a day at the farmers’ market or in a health food store to reset your meal prep routine.

“Take some time to create your meditation and yoga space in your home and decide when you can realistically fit in your self-care time,” she adds.

“Schedule in your nature walks and your reading time so you are doing something great for yourself with more of your time. When you create your life with habits that feed your soul, your mind and body know you are safe. You slide into rest and repair mode because you are feeling good and able to manage the little or big stresses of the day better and you are on your way to your wellness goals and also feel good about yourself in the process.”

When should you start?

“Every breath is an opportunity to feel better,” says Stiles. “The time is now to take good care of you. Start with a big glass of water, a crawl down to the floor for some deep breaths, or a walk outside. The great thing is you already know a few habits that make you feel better that you love. Start with what you know and you’ll crave more habits that take good care of you.”

What if you don’t have a goal yet, but want to set one?

Stiles likes the idea of setting feeling-based goals.

“Ask yourself, ‘How do I want to feel?’ Maybe you crave more calm, focus, productivity, ease or something else. When we feel stress, it makes a home in us and tears apart our gut health and mental state. When we feel calm, at ease, and other feeling-based goals, there is no limit on our well-being.”

Right now, Stiles’ personal goal is to feel calm.

“I organize my day the best I can around this feeling. I get up a little early to take care of myself with some yoga and breakfast before everyone else wakes up. I organize family nature time and library time instead of getting stuck without a plan. I take time for myself during the day to break up my workday. Even a five-minute walk around the block works wonders. The self-care things don’t need to be fancy to be effective. Let your creativity run wild and choose activities that you love.”

How do you find your “why”?

“You deserve to feel better,” Stiles says. “I see people get stuck on pulling themselves up because often we forget feeling better is possible. Start with one simple thing that helps you feel better. Once you get this feeling, you won’t need motivation to keep going, you’ll want more of this feeling good.”

Marter suggests taking it further by declaring a personal manifesto – a statement that sums up your core values, what you stand for and how you plan to live your life.

“In three to five sentences, write out the highest intention for your life. Keep it positive, write in the present tense with confident language. Consider printing out your manifesto and hanging it on your fridge or a corkboard.”

And to help you achieve your goals, Marter suggests visualizing them happening.

“Visualizing a positive outcome has long been utilized in sports psychology – if you can envision yourself making the goal, the more likely you will. Many neuroscientists have found that visualization helps the body respond better in pursuit of desired outcomes, including health goals,” she explains. “With your eyes closed, pretend you already achieved your goals. How does that feel? How do you feel differently about yourself? You are worth the action needed to achieve this feeling of positivity.”

A vision board can be a great way to have a visual representation of how it will feel to achieve your goals, Marter says. “I recommend making your vision board your screensaver on your device as a constant reminder of your goals and intentions.”