Why you should try Melinda Gates’ ‘word of the year’ strategy instead of setting big, lofty goals

Melinda French Gates
Melinda French Gates.

  • Big, lofty goals can be demotivating – try focusing on how you want to feel in the moment instead.
  • Melinda Gates does this by choosing a ‘word of the year’ instead of making New Year’s resolutions.
  • Gates says focusing her attention on the moment creates more powerful change than a long-term goal.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Those who dream big dreams are often advised to set big goals. But there are a few big problems with big goals. First, they can be demotivating. People stumble and give up hope, or feel their destination is too far away to even attempt to reach.

Second, big goals can actually turn into distracting daydreams, science shows. Rather than do the hard work that’s required to reach their aims, people imagine their fabulous future and actually end up less hungry to make it happen in reality.

Finally, big goals often take a long time to achieve. By the time we reach our destination, we’ve changed so much that we no longer even want whatever it is we’ve been working so hard for.

So what works better than big, fixed, long-term goals? Melinda Gates and others, including some of the world’s happiest people, offer the same suggestions, and you’re going to love how simple they are.

Read more: Coaches, founders, and executives share how they’re setting goals this year

Why you need a ‘word of the day’

Writing on Fast Company recently, Michelle Wax, the founder of the American Happiness Project, explained the lessons she learned from interviewing 500 exceptionally happy people. Among her takeaways was the immense value of a “words to live by list.”

“Often, people think once you achieve a life goal, you’ll achieve long-term happiness, but that wasn’t the case for the majority of people I spoke with. For them, happiness was a muscle they needed to continuously exercise and reevaluate,” Wax wrote.

Rather than rely just on big, distant goals, the super joyful focused on how they wanted to feel and behave in the moment. “List a handful of words that embody the emotions and experiences you want to be feeling,” Wax instructed. “Once you have your list, you can start to shift your activities, thoughts, and content to align with those words.”

Process beats vision.

As soon as I read this advice, it struck me that I’d heard it before, and not just from some extremely cheerful friend. Melinda French Gates, the billionaire philanthropist and soon-to-be ex-wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, once made a very similar point though in a different context.

As Gates explained a few years ago on LinkedIn, she’s not a big fan of the subset of goals known as New Year’s resolutions. Instead, she sets herself a “word of the year.” Previous choices include grace, spacious, and gentle. Each “encapsulates my aspirations for the twelve months ahead,” she wrote.

Like the exceptionally happy folks Wax spoke to, Gates believes focusing her attention on the feelings she wants to experience moment to moment is a more powerful way to change her behavior than a long-term goal. Gates, for instance, recalled her touchstone word grace “during difficult conversations, long days at the office, busy trips with our foundation. … When I was upset or distressed, I whispered it to myself: ‘Grace.'”

While it can be hard to translate distant goals into daily behavior, a word of the day (or year) or personal mantra of some kind is always there to help you make sure your conduct lines up with your values and aspirations. And as “Atomic Habits” author James Clear points out, when it comes to achieving great things, a focus on the daily process will get you further than a focus on the end goal itself.

Or to put that more concretely, setting yourself the goal of writing a book can be stressful, vague, or overwhelming. Repeating the mantra “write” to yourself each day is more likely to keep you pumping out pages. Eventually you just may have a book.

So if your big goals don’t seem to be getting you far, consider taking the advice of Gates, Clear, and a bunch of happy folks and swap them for touchstone words instead.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A psychotherapist says there are 3 common reasons so many people’s New Year’s resolutions end in failure

woman writing
Struggling to keep your New Year’s resolution might mean you’re not setting the right kind of goal.

  • Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but few people actually see them through.
  • Psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert told Business Insider three of the biggest reasons why our New Year’s resolutions fail.
  • People often don’t make their resolutions specific enough, they’re worded too negatively, and they’re not relevant to the individual, he said. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Millions of people in the US make New Year’s resolutions each year, but only a small fraction of them manage to keep them.

If you struggle to keep your New Year’s resolution, one expert says you might not be setting the right kind of goal.

Business Insider spoke with psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” who broke down three of the biggest reasons people fail to complete their resolutions each year.

Here’s what he said:

Your resolution isn’t specific enough

One of the biggest reasons people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions is because they’re not specific enough, Alpert told Business Insider.

For example, resolving to “exercise more” or “lose weight” are easy ways to set yourself up for failure, as they lack ways to mark progress and are unlikely to keep you motivated throughout the year.

Instead, try making your goal specific, like running a particular 5K you have circled on the calendar or losing 10 pounds by a certain date.

FILE PHOTO: Runners race during the 2018 New York City Marathon in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/File Photo
Running a 5k is fun and definitely doable.

“It’s easier to drop out or walk away when you set goals or resolutions that are vague,” Alpert told Business Insider. “When it’s really detailed and specific, it’s harder to walk away from it.”

Having a timeline on your resolution is helpful, he said, so think of short-term, medium-term, and long-term benchmarks that will let you know you’re on track to achieving your goal.

“What do I need to do this week, what do I need to do over the next month or so, and what do I hope to accomplish over the next several months?” Alpert said.

You aren’t framing them positively

Another problem people face when making resolutions is framing them with negative language.

When people resolve to stop wasting money or stop eating junk food, for example, it often backfires because it makes them think about the very thing they’re trying to avoid.

“It’s almost like I say to you, ‘I don’t want you to think about what a zebra with pink and blue stripes looks like,” Alpert told Business Insider. “You kind of have to think about what that would look like not to think about it, right?”

Try framing your goal in positive language instead.

“So much of how we talk to ourselves impacts our actions and our behavior,” Alpert said.

“We need to feed ourselves positive self-talk. Instead of telling ourselves ‘Don’t eat junk food,’ we should be telling us the behavior we desire, like ‘Eat carrots and peanut butter as a healthy snack.'”

Your resolution isn’t about you

Another major obstacle people face is the tendency to make New Year’s resolutions that don’t reflect what they actually want.

The biggest culprits are dieting and exercise trends, Alpert said. But it can apply to any number of goals, like a career-related goal inspired by what you think other people expect of you.

“Goals need to be made for the individual,” Alpert said. “So often, people seem to be influenced by their friends, their family, what they see in society.”

“I think it’s important for people to set goals that are for themselves and unique to themselves.”

Read the original article on Business Insider