If you’re the type who avoids new year resolutions, maybe this will change your mind: Having and naming a goal is associated with overall improved wellbeing.
But there’s a catch.
There are two types of goals. One type is a positively-framed goal called an approach goal.
The other is an avoidance goal, which is negatively framed. The type you pick can influence the likelihood of achieving your goal.
The difference between an approach and avoidance goal is in the why.
Why this goal? Is it to avoid something or to gain something?
Let’s say you want to give up smoking. Listen to what you say, to yourself or others, about your motivation for having this goal.
Are you saying, “I want to give up smoking so I can get fitter and do the weekly fun run with my grandkids?”
Or is it more like “I want to give up smoking because I am worried about lung cancer.”
The first is an approach goal, about adding something and the second is an avoidance goal, which aims to avoid a bad outcome.
What you focus on and where you put your attention guides your thoughts and behaviour.
Since avoidance goals focus on the very thing you are trying to avoid, they can lead you away from your goal instead of toward it.
Avoidance goals are also usually experienced as less enjoyable, less motivating and less meaningful.
No wonder they are also associated with more procrastination and an increased sense of hopelessness about achieving the goal.
Simple as it sounds, it is worth rewording your motivation for any goal to be approach focused.
Think about what you might win or gain by achieving your goal and use that to reword your “why”. You will still get the benefit of avoiding that which you want to avoid but your focus will be on the positives you will be gaining.
For this year’s resolution, challenge yourself to set an approach goal and increase your chances of achieving it.
Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.