How to Get at Your Goals, According to Psychology

By April 12, 2017Live, Motivation, Move

We got goals.

Everyone does, right? Yet how many times have you set a goal, only for it to slowly slip from consciousness and become abandoned within weeks…? I don’t know about you, but I have quite the goal graveyard.

We tell ourselves, “I’m going to lose weight,” or, “I’m going to workout more,” but without true intention and action, those words alone don’t make anything happen. They don’t have any meaning on their own.

I’m here to direct you through adding meaning to your goals. I spent the past semester learning about personal health and behavior change, so believe me when I say I gotchu. Get ready for the science to blow your mind.

Goal Getter: A Comprehensive Guide to Realistic Goal-Setting

According to the health belief model, whether or not a person will change their behavior is based on their perspective. They have to believe that the perceived benefits, barriers, and consequences are too great to ignore. This, paired with this is the belief in one’s ability to succeed in making a change, influence someone to take action. That belief in yourself is called your self efficacy

There are several stages of change, illustrated in the transtheoretical model of behavior change.

  • Someone in the “precontemplation” stage believes that there is nothing wrong with them and that their behaviors are just great the way they are.
  • Then, “contemplation” includes thinking about changing, but not being incredibly serious about taking action.
  • The “preparation” stage is when you start to actually plan for the behavior change. For example, you might buy a gym membership or plan a new workout regimen
  • Those preparations quickly turn into action; this is the stage where the behavior change is actively being made.
  • After six months of action, one enters the maintenance stage, and voila! A change has been made. 

How to Get at Your Goals, According to Psychology

So that’s how it all goes down. When you find yourself in the preparation stage, it’s important to set goals to fuel your action phase. Not your big goal, your “I’m going to get in shape!” or your “I’m going to build my resume!” These goals need to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. To clear up what that kind of goal looks like, let me break it down with an example.

“I’m going to workout (with a mix of strength training and cardio) 4-5x a week for a month straight before the first week of May.” 

Specific: Outlines what type of exercise will be performed and how many times per week. An example of a non-specific goal would be, “I’m going to go to the gym more.” 

Measurable: It’s certainly possible to measure how many days per week one works out! Check.

Attainable: For someone who’s pretty fit who has access to a gym, there should be no problem getting in the gym 4-5 times a week. Check.

Realistic: Similar to above, this goal is pretty realistic. Something that wouldn’t check the box (for me, at least) would be, “I’m going to squat 500 pounds by next week.” See what I’m getting at?
Unrealistic goals, or aiming higher than is kind or forgiving to yourself, might seem like a good idea but they can set you up for failure and low self esteem. If you’ve taken a year off exercise, maybe don’t start with 4-5 times a week. There’s a difference between starting off strong and overdoing it

Time-bound: This goal has an end date and clarifies how long the intention will be set for. Of course it could continue after the first week of May, but the fact that it’s set for a month straight is a good sign. Check!

Goal Getter: A Comprehensive Guide to Realistic Goal-Setting

Get the point? I hope so! Now you’re ready to begin goal-getting.

It’s important to remember that goals are mere guidelines and that your journey towards reaching it won’t always be smooth sailing. You have to be prepared for hardship and failure. After setting your goal, write down every single thing you could think of that would block you from attaining it; these are called barriers. 

If you plan ahead and decide how you will react to each barrier as it meets you, you will be less likely to abandon your goal when the going gets tough.

In terms of the example goal I’ve been using, some common barriers to working out include time, materials, relationships, etc. You may believe you don’t have time to workout, you may not have a gym membership, or you may prioritize school and friends over working out. As long as you know this, you can plan for the change and ensure that these barriers won’t get in your way. Make time, use what you’ve got, and if it’s really important to you, it’ll show.

Now, all you have to do is start. I promise you that the hardest part of doing anything is just getting going with it. I can’t promise you that it will be easy, but I know that it’ll be worth it.

Anything you could wish for is already yours, you just have to unlock it! Armed with these tools, you’ll be sure to succeed. Determine what you want to change and GO GET IT. You got this.

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Author Hannah Chapman

Hannah is a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University studying Health Science and English with hopes to become your go-to trainer, dietitian, and wellness expert! When she's not planning her next four meals you can find her at a music festival, a yoga class, or the cutest coffee shop in proximity.

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