Find optimism for goal success

Do you start each year with a list of  goals, resolutions or aspirations you hope to achieve?

Things you would like to do for the year ahead (e.g. losing weight, cutting back on alcohol, doing more exercise, taking up a new hobby) only to find many of these have failed by February?

If so, you could be forgiven for feeling discouraged, depressed and cynical about ever setting goals in the first place. But a more helpful approach might be to look at ways in which you might’ bullet proof’ what it is you want to achieve in order to gain success.

Why does goal setting fail sometimes?

Obviously we can’t control everything in life. Goal setting fail when unpredictable things happen:

  • Finances run out, economic factors change
  • People leave, change their minds, or die and we lose support from those we care about
  • We run out of time, enthusiasm
  • Other people’s needs take priority
  • We lack the skills required
  • We can’t handle criticism associated with change
  • What we thought we wanted no longer excites us etc

Tips to strengthen goal outcomes

Many articles on goal setting state that to be possible goals need to be clearly stated; bound by a timeframe for completion; attainable; dependent on progress checks and followed by a reward for work well done.

Our ability to succeed when in the past we may have failed may also be dependent on a few other key points:

  • Build an optimistic attitude

What is the ingredient that determines why, in the face of adversity, some people succeed and others fail ? In his book Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman (Random House) describes how failure is often tied to depression and how pessimistic people can, often unwittingly, develop a state of “learned helplessness”.

Seligman and his researchers asked the question: What are the characteristics of optimistic people that stops them being depressed and helps them to achieve things? It was found that optimistic people share three basic characteristics:

  1. They view setbacks as temporary or short-term
  2. Setbacks are not pervasive but due to specific, identifiable causes that are often within our control.
  3. Setbacks are not personal, i.e. if we fail we are not personally failures but rather our expectations etc may have been too high in the beginning.

Seligman went on to discover that optimism can be taught. That even very pessimistic, depressed people can be shown how to change the way they view their life and the explanations/reasons that they give to themselves to explain failure.

In his second book The Optimistic Child (Random House) Seligman goes on to show ways in which it is possible to change the explanatory style that children use to describe their world/their failings based on the use of concrete evidence/fact. How it is possible to change a child’s belief structure and build confidence and social skills.

  • Find a common theme

Sometimes it can be tempting to set too many goals. So they quickly peel off and get lost as each day passes.

A simpler way might be to settle on just one thing to achieve that has more than one positive outcome. For instance you may list that you would like to save more money, quit smoking, have a baby, get healthier this year. Just quitting the smoking could help you achieve all the above.

  • Set a goal and tie it into a passion

For instance an athlete might learn more about sports nutrition because he/she is passionate about their sporting performance. A middle-aged man might decide to drink more water and lose weight in order to improve his libido and solve his problem of erectile dysfunction.

  • Pick away at the edges

When you are planning your major goal for the year, determine high and low expectations of performance. For instance you may want to get fitter. You may decide to join a gym and go three times a week (say) Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for 50-60 minutes and that you will also walk at least 2 hours at the weekend. This way if it rains you still have a wet weather plan and if you can only make the gym once then at the weekend you can walk for longer or go and play golf to catch up.

Always pick away at the edges of the goal so that even on “hard to do days” you achieve something e.g. a walk to the letterbox, a walk up and down the hallway during the TV ad breaks (would yield approx.. 20 minutes per hour of TV viewing).Recognise that everything counts.

  • Be aware of your self-talk

There is a little child in all of us who at time harps and whines about the things it doesn’t want to do. While it is important to acknowledge this voice (especially if you are sick or overdoing things and need to stop) it is also important to also notice when you are just trying to “opt out”. It might help when the going gets tough to break the job down into “bite sized’ sections and just get cracking.

How does this relate to nutrition?

To achieve any of our goals in life we need to have the energy to cope. Eating well can give you the power to work; to earn money; to concentrate so as to learn more things; to maintain physical performance in your chosen sport and to build healthier families. To get to where you want to go not only now but in the future as it protects you body from unnecessary deterioration.

If you would like to find out how to optimise your own energy levels for life then contact us today.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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