NO Toxic goals in 2023 !

Make new year resolutions you enjoy keeping.

With the new year approaching, there is no better time to talk to you about goals.

We all know this right? New year’s resolutions simply don’t work. Yet we keep doing this to ourselves, set up these shiny goals, fail to follow through, beat ourselves up, repeat. Research has shown that around one-quarter of people give up their resolutions after just one week. While fewer than one in ten will maintain their goal past the end of the year.

Why is that? And most importantly how do we stick to our goals for the year?

This article is about helping you make effective, enjoyable and…well, life changing goals for yourselves.

Don’t Keep your eyes on the prize!

One explanation for our failed commitments lies in our inability to delay gratification. It’s about sacrificing immediate reward for the sake of a better one in the future.

The marshmallow test is a study that was conducted by Walter Mischel of Stanford University in 1972. In the experiment, four-year-old participants are left alone in a room, each with their own scrumptious marshmallow temptingly placed on a plate in front of them. Before leaving the room, the facilitator offers them an agonizing choice: “You can eat one marshmallow as soon as I leave, and that’s all you get. Or you can wait until I come back in 10 minutes to eat it, and I will give you another one.” The study showed that the children who waited until the adult came back in the room were the ones who managed to distract themselves from the goal. They did so using different techniques such as playing with their toes, sitting on their hands, looking elsewhere etc…

What’s fascinating about this experiment is that the results of Mischel’s study were the exact opposite of what he originally predicted. The study aimed to prove that having the reward in sight would incentivize the participants to delay gratification. But instead, the rewards themselves served to increase the children’s frustration. Which, ultimately, prevented their ability to delay gratification, even at the risk of losing the second treat.

So what does this mean?

It means that focusing on something other than your goals enhances your ability to delay gratification.

In fact, other studies have also shown that fantasising about our complete goals has a demotivating effect. This is due, in part to the fact that the reminding of our goals accentuates our sense of longing to be better. They’re a constant reminder of what we are not quite yet, which can be disempowering, demotivating, and counterproductive. If you think about it, your daydreams about the perfect size, job, or relationship are more likely to leave you with a feeling of “not… enough” than a feeling of motivation.

Hazel Gale in her book, The Mind Monster Solution, calls these goals “mirages”.

“They are the glimmering illusions that our success-thirsty minds like to thrust out ahead of us to keep us staggering forward. They promise to solve the “not…enough” problem, but they actually enforce it”.

We can also refer to them as Toxic Goals.

Toxic goals

The three main characteristics of Toxic goals are:

  • They stem from negative feelings: guilt, shame, self-loathing…(I want to lose weight because I’m unattractive)
  • They are powered by external motivations: money, accolades, other people’s opinions…(I want to change career to make more money, to acquire social status)
  • Achieving them only enhances the feeling of “lack of” or deficit that led us to pursue them in the first place. This means that the pursuit is endless and leaves us forever unfulfilled

The pursuit of toxic goals is what we call the hamster wheel effect. Because no matter how many of these goals we achieve, we will keep on running to the next one. However, none of these achievements will give us satisfaction. When stuck in the hamster wheel we are not feeling as if we are evolving, growing, and moving forward.

Focusing on our progress and evolution in the now rather than a hypothetical image of success means increasing our chance for delayed gratification. Since enjoying the satisfaction of our ongoing evolution is less likely to lead to frustration and demotivation.

By doing so we are turning our toxic goals into Healthy Goals.

Turn toxic goals into healthy goals

The three main characteristics of Healthy Goals are

  • They are not driven by a feeling of lack but a positive drive for more (I want to lose weight because I want to enjoy a healthier body)
  • They are powered by a desire to improve and develop for the sake of our own well-being. (I want to change career to take on a new challenge/ learn a new skill)
  • Their presence in our awareness is not sparking feelings of shame or guilt but is inspiring

Focusing on healthy goals instead of toxic goals means we can enjoy the journey instead of focusing on the destination.

So let’s say you want to lose weight. Noticing and relishing the day-to-day improvements in your health, your stamina, your overall well-being is more likely to get you to where you need to go than focusing on a shiny vision of yourself wearing a size eight dress.

How do you set up Healthy Goals?

It’s about formulating them in a way that focuses on your personal improvement and growth instead of external factors and negative feelings.

According to a “YouGov” survey, here are some of the top 10 most common New Year’s resolutions for 2022 in the UK. Here is how you could turn them into Healthy Goals:


Examples:

Toxic goal: losing weight/improving diet to look a certain way

Healthy goal: losing weight/improving diet to feel healthier and more active

Toxic goal: pursuing a career ambition to earn more money

Healthy goal: pursuing a career ambition to take on a new challenge

Toxic goal: learning a new skill/hobby to get promoted/post about it on IG

Healthy goal: learning a new skill/hobby to develop my skill set/challenge myself

Toxic goal: alcohol abstinence to fit in with peers (dry Jan)

Healthy: alcohol abstinence to improve mental health


The common trait of healthy goals is that they are all enjoyable in the present. They grow and evolve as we do.

Of course, there is nothing fundamentally wrong about having a shimmering vision of ourselves in our future. Having ambitious goals can be helpful and motivating as long as we do not get lost in the “if only” rabbit hole of negative introspection.

Visualising our improvement and evolution rather than fixating on a version of ourselves that has already improved means that every day we’re on the right track is a mini victory in itself. This means enjoying the benefits of our commitments right now and then.

So for 2023 I invite you to turn your Toxic Goals into Healthy Goals. And to enjoy the benefits of your personal growth and development every single day of the year.

Start your journey towards the life you want

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Sarah Grace Saville Watson
Sarah Grace Saville Watson

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