Make this the year you reawaken your Lust for Life

Dr. Olivia Hurley
By Dr. Olivia Hurley
Registered Psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology, an MSc, and a PhD in Sport Psychology from UCD. Olivia is a Lecturer of Psychology, and Sport Psychology, in IADT and UCD respectively. She is a member of the Irish Institute of Sport’s panel of Sport Psychology Consultants and works with many top performers to help them enhance their performances. Olivia has also published, and presented her work extensively.

Many of us at the start of 2017 make some decisions to change aspects of our lives in an effort to achieve a better sense of general health and well-being. The best advice is always to start with small changes.

Phrases such as ‘consistency’ and ‘personal excellence’ should dominate your inner voice (i.e., your self-talk), rather than aiming for ‘perfection’ every day. The word perfection, while really only a word beginning with the letter P, has the ability to trigger another ‘P’ word, ‘pressure’, on those who hear it.

Seeking personal excellence allows us to strive for our own ‘better’ performances on a daily basis. Seeking personal excellence leaves room for improvement and allows for lots of failures along the path toward those excellent days. Indeed, we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes, so I hope you might all consider in 2017, first, to think of the word ‘FAIL’ as a ‘First Attempt In Learning’.

Second, as you may have read in some of our other A Lust for Life articles, the human mind is capable of great things, but we should also remember that it is designed to be like a ‘disco ball’, with thoughts and emotions ‘flying around’ in all directions. Our sense of well-being can benefit greatly from learning ways to ‘direct’ those disco light beams, and ‘shine’ them where we want them to shine, on our own personal targets. Perhaps that could be another goal for 2017? To aim to improve our mental fitness, and not always going for only the more typical, physical, fitness goals at the start of a new year?

But what are the skills you can work on to improve your mental fitness for 2017? I often talk about the 3Cs with my students and athletes: Concentration, Coping and Confidence skills. Yes, they are skills, and if practiced, they do improve. However, if neglected, we are often left feeling discontent with our daily performances.

So, let’s take ‘concentration’ and ‘coping’ together for now. One of the best ways to become better at concentrating on, and coping with, life’s daily challenges (and you will have heard it before because there is lots of research to support its use) is to set goals to focus your attention on. That sounds easy, but many of us are really lacking when it comes to knowing how to set GOOD goals.

One of the best ways to set ‘good’ goals, is to follow the SMART principle (again, nothing new there). This principle is really easy to follow for anyone, even beginners. It means setting goals that are:

  1. Specific – turning off your phone at a certain time each night or if a physical fitness goal is your target – running a 5K park run before the Summer of 2017 – NOT setting goals of ‘using your phone less’ or ‘running more’
  2. Measurable – make sure you can actually measure if you have achieved your goal – did you turn off your phone at the time you set for yourself? Did you run a park run in 2017?
  3. Action-based – make the goal one that is an activity – i.e., physically turning off your phone at a set time / physically running in the park run
  4. Realistic – if you must have your phone on after the set time on 1 or 2 days in the week, that is fine / completing the park run is fine, you are not expected to win it! Remember consistency, not perfection, should be the aim
  5. Time-phased – set a date for the goal to be achieved by today – i.e., by tomorrow? By the end of July 2017? You decide the date, as you are in charge of your own targets.

Once the ‘main’ long-term goal is set, you can then use the SMART principle again to set medium and short-term goals for yourself to help you to achieve that long-term goal. These goals could be ‘training goals’, like turning off your phone by 9pm on just one night each week to start with and then increasing the number of days or the duration the phone is off for gradually over weeks and months (thus giving you time to do other things) / setting short run distances (i.e., a 2k run this week and building it up over the next 3 weeks; such a goal can have a time-related target too, i.e., a 2k run on Thursday and completing it in less than 12 minutes, for example).

These short-term goals help to keep you focused (see – improving your concentration already!) on your main goal (i.e., turning off your phone by a certain time, to allow you focus other things on five nights most weeks / running the park run – both achieved by the Summer of 2017 maybe?).

I hope these practical goal setting tips have been useful as you set your own goals for 2017. This short video on setting good goals by Professor Sandy Gordon may also help you: Everest is not the goal – the next hand-hold or foot-hold should be the target, in order to get to the summit.

Finally, my best wishes for a wonderful 2017, whatever your goals are.

850