2021 goals: how to set – and actually achieve – your goals this year, according to a psychotherapist

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Lauren Geall
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Interested in setting some 2021 goals, but not sure where to start? Here, a psychotherapist shares their top tips.

Updated 4 January 2021: Setting goals for the year ahead can be tricky at the best of times – let alone in the middle of a global pandemic.

While some people may prefer not to make plans and resolutions as a result, for others the idea of starting a new year with a fresh set of goals remains appealing.

However, even if you decide to set goals, there’s a big difference between setting those targets and actually achieving them – especially if those goals aren’t realistic in the first place. Indeed, setting ourselves big goals like “get promoted” or “save money” may seem tempting as we enter a new year, but when we fail to break those large-scale ambitions down into smaller, achievable steps, we set ourselves up for failure.

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So, if you’re interested in setting goals in 2021, what can you do to increase your chances of achieving them?

We spoke to Daniel Fryer, a qualified psychotherapist and author of The Four Thoughts That F*ck You Up… And How To Fix Them to find out more. Here’s what he had to say.

As reported 8 January 2020: In his book, Fryer outlines the four unhealthy beliefs that are holding many of us back, and provides solutions on how to overcome them. The four categories – Dogmatic Demands, Dramas, I Can’t Copes and Pejorative Put-Downs – all hold us back from achieving the things we want and limit our thought patterns. 

And when it comes to goal setting, it’s the Dogmatic Demands we place upon ourselves that are really getting in the way, explains Fryer. 

“If you tell yourself you have to do this or you have to do that, you’re just going to pile the pressure on and fall at the first hurdle,” he explains to Stylist. “It’s about flexibility.”

It’s easy to get uber-focused on the goals we set and treat success as a black and white concept – but that kind of thinking isn’t conducive to actually achieving them, he adds.

A woman walking up stairs
2020 goals: splitting up your aspirations into smaller steps can make them easier to achieve.

“Instead of saying ‘I have to achieve these things’ like ‘I have to stop smoking,’ say ‘this is what I would really like to happen, but it doesn’t have to’,” he says. “If you take the pressure off and you give yourself flexibility you’re more likely to make the right choice to help you achieve that goal. 

“Whatever your intention, if you turn that goal into a preference rather than a demand and just accept that sometimes the journey will be boring – but that you can deal with it and the goal is more important than the frustration of tolerating it – you’re more likely to achieve it.”

Fryer also advises setting only one goal at a time in order to give yourself more of a chance at sticking at it. Breaking that goal into smaller, bitesize steps can also be a great way to hold yourself accountable for your progress.

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As brand and business coach Nicki Louise James previously told Stylist: “I’m a big believer in having big goals, and always striving to hit them – but also making sure I have smaller ones to help me get there. Then when I tick something off – when I hit my target – I know that I’m moving forwards.”

This January, decide upon one goal you would like to achieve – and break that goal down into the five or six flexible steps you need to take to get there. 

Above all, remember to be kind to yourself and accept that sometimes, even when you’re armed with the most comprehensive plan, things might not go as we want them to, we’ll miss targets and fall shy of our expectations. But remember, that’s OK.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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