Yua CC0 Public Domain / Via pixabay.com We’ve probably all set New Year resolutions—determined to change our lives for the better—only to lose our way months, or perhaps even weeks or just days later. Thinking a little harder about your resolution could improve your ability to bring about the changes you want. It just takes more than toasting to a new you and a new life as the chimes strike midnight or determining that things need to be different within a hangover of those post-holiday regrets:Understand your problems before you decide on a goal.Many of us rush into making changes without fully understanding our problems. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach based upon the concept that much of what we struggle with personally is down to the unhelpful ways we think, and how these thoughts influence how we feel and what we do. Don’t let change be a reaction to unhelpful thoughts, take time to consider your problems, recognise what you bring to them through the way that you think. Cutting people out of your life, switching careers, giving things up, moving away, setting yourself a new look, or other big life changes might only be things you’re setting for yourself because of a distorted perspective of what’s wrong in your life and an exaggeration of their meaning and importance. When you recognise the true cause of your difficulties you will be in a much better place to decide what needs to change. Make sure your goal is actually your goal.Sometimes we get told—or we think—we need to change to please others or to fit into our environments or the groups around us. You could be in a turbulent relationship, or in a college, church group or facing a potential employer who expects you to behave in a certain way or uphold a particular lifestyle, and we could be subject to their unhelpful thinking—their rules, which might not be the best fit for us. That’s another reason why it’s important to make sure you understand what’s causing the problems you’re trying to get away from. It’s always good to consider how we can improve our situations and our relationships with others, but if we want to achieve our goal and be happy when we’ve achieved it, our goals and standards shouldn’t really be set by others. Or if they are, we at least need to recognise the benefits of change for ourselves, and see that this change will be a good fit for us and our lives.Decide what’s an appropriate and realistic goal.Whether a change is right or wrong, small or big depends upon us and our individual perspective and lives. Any one goal could be seen as appropriate or inappropriate, unrealistic or realistic by different people through the way that they think, so never write off a possible change until you’ve considered why you think you need to make that change. Anyone can achieve anything with the right goal, attitude and environment. We’re all prone to reflecting on our failings and failures, which is undoubtedly why you’re considering a change in the first place, so this would be a good point to also reflect on all the things you have achieved in the past to remind yourself what you’re capable of—considering your weaknesses, strengths and your competencies will help you decide what would be the right goal for you. It might be that this isn’t the first time you’ve tried this goal and there could well be reasons why this goal hasn’t been achievable for you in the past. Picking a realistic goal for you will determine what’s achievable You might decide you want to improve your physical fitness, when your health or your ideal physique, weight, or size just isn’t going to be supported by your body type; you might want to end a relationship when it’s actually you that needs to change how you deal with people not meeting your expectations; or you want to be ‘perfect’ at something in an imperfect world when you’re saddled with an overly critical perspective; or you might want to quit a vice when it’s actually a crutch for the difficulties in your life—and it’s these problems that should be addressed first. If you don’t consider what’s appropriate and realistically possible for you in your situation in this immediate moment, you’re most likely setting yourself up to fail.Consider the pro and the con of your goal.When you’re fed up with your lot, change can seem like a great thing to do, and generally, once you’ve made sure you’re making changes that are right for you and realistic, it is. However, change can sometimes have both positive and negative effects, and if you want to maintain your progress towards difference, it’s good to consider how this change will impact on your life. It could be that the way you’ve been living your life has sheltered you from things you find difficult—which is why you haven’t changed before now—and we rarely exist independently, so people will have become accustomed to you as you are and seeing you living your life and sharing in it in particular ways. Your change might affect your work, what you do in your spare time, and your relationships with the people in those areas of your life. People might not know how to deal with a new you¬, or understand why you’re doing things differently, or trust in the changes they’re seeing, some people might even be threatened by your change and want to put you back as your were. Recognising all the ways this change could affect you and your life—positive and negative—will prepare you for the potential obstacles and help maintain your motivation and progress around them.Plan for set-backs.The chances are that if you’ve decided something needs to change, the reason you haven’t made that change sooner is because you’re likely to find it tough going. With that in mind, having a wobble or a set-back should be considered natural and to be expected—not a reason to beat yourself up, quit or to consider failure as a dead end. Take some time to think about what’s going to be difficult and why. It could be certain people, times of the year, or aspects of your life. Once you’ve recognised them you could then relax your efforts and make allowances for potential difficulties, or make sure you’re prepared mentally and practically for the support you’ll need to get through those crisis points. You might still get caught out, but don’t make any failure your focus, think about what went wrong and why, how you can get back on track and plan for similar threats to your progress, or even consider whether you need to change your goal to reflect the unanticipated difficulties or obstacles.Break your goal down into mini goals.The changes you want to make might be considered minor, but most goals—whether they are big or small—can benefit from being broken down into a series of steps. We won’t all have the courage, opportunity and personal resources to make sudden and lasting changes in our lives, whether that be cutting out cake or deciding on a career change. Our goals will often benefit from being seen in terms of mini-goals towards the ultimate change we want. You could scale your mini-goals around your levels of motivation and need of encouragement to support your progress. Putting yourself out there to find a partner after years of being content on the shelf could be seen in a variety of steps, from finding the look you’re comfortable with, to making yourself more inclusive of others, then making more of an effort socialising with friends and their friends, then getting back onto the ‘dating scene’ whether that be nightclubs or interest groups where you’ll get to meet others. Each one of those could easily be seen as an achievement and a goal in working towards finding yourself someone special.Set rewards.The change itself—the difference we want for ourselves—should be motivation enough for us to work towards our goals. However, the pay-off can be at the end of a long and difficult road. If you plan your work towards your ultimate goal as a series of mini-goals you will have a series of achievements that will reward your efforts, but you could also set yourself actual treats. They could be experiential or materialistic indulgences, like a day in your loungewear watching Netflix, time out with the latest bestseller or blockbuster, hobby time, a pampering treatment or a night out—whatever is a treat for you (and doesn’t go against what you’re trying to achieve!). Whether it’s celebrating a mini-goal or your ultimate goal being met, you’ve achieved a change you want for yourself and that’s worth celebrating.With these points considered, it’s time for action, but your thinking will remain important to your continual development. Regularly taking stock of your life and what you’re striving for will ensure your goals remain relevant, while continually considering potential obstacles and recognising milestone achievements will keep you on your toes and help you maintain your motivation. Just remember that life rarely has a final destination, and whether your goals are met or not, change is something we’ll always seek and will always be possible if we remain in touch with our needs and motivations, and are flexible and determined.If you’d like to read more about how Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help you recognise and challenge the unhelpful thoughts and actions contributing to your unhappiness and dissatisfaction—and further ways to bring about change—then check out my title ‘Get Over It’.