Achieving goals is one route to happiness

What’s your pie-in-the-sky goal?

Achieving goals is one route to happiness. A kiss from Booker is another.
Achieving goals is one route to happiness. A kiss from Booker is another.

What’s your pie-in-the-sky goal? Mine is to get an Agility Championship with my dog. I can’t do it in one, two or five trials. And there’s a lot of training to get done before that goal is even approachable. And that’s the key. Achieving smaller, intermediate goals is the route to happiness.

Of course, life is multi-faceted. There’s work, family, home, hobbies. I advocate setting goals for every facet of life. Last year one of my goals was to make chocolate macarons. I’m not the best baker in the family (that’s my sister) but I did my research and made a batch of really good chocolate macarons. That’s another key to achieving your goals. After you think of something you want to do, figure out if you have the skill sets you need to accomplish it. If you don’t have the skills – right now – then figure out the skills you need and how to go about learning them.

Goals that are just the right size

You know that setting goals is the first step to getting stuff done. (As I wrote in “Set goals – big and little.”) And achieving a goal will certainly give you a sense of satisfaction. Without goals your life can seem directionless. Goals can indeed give your life purpose and direction, but goals that are too strict can be rigid and confining. Similarly, goals that don’t challenge you will leave you feeling incomplete. And setting goals that are too huge can be overwhelming. So, the secret is to set a series of smaller goals that set you on the path to the big goal you really want to attain. Achieving the goals that really matter to you and clarify your path will surely set you on the road to happiness.

Set your intermediate goals

Finding direction for every aspect of your life is the way to a life with purpose. I don’t specifically look for a purpose to my life, but at the same time I don’t want to just drift along aimlessly either. A recent study from the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that more internally motivated workers felt more satisfaction in their roles. We can extrapolate that to everyday life. People who are motivated to do things are probably happier than those who drift along aimlessly. 

Once you have your big goals, set those intermediate goals that will put you on the path to that pie in the sky. Happiness is on that road.

How to motivate yourself to exercise

You know you should exercise (for your healthy aging if no other reason) but can’t find your motivation. You’ve changed into your workout clothes and everything, but you’re still not feeling inspired. Sound familiar? You’re getting frustrated because you feel like you should know what to do, but just can’t get to it. Or you’re at the gym and are bored just looking at the row of treadmills. You’re at that motivation crossroads. You can exercise and feel great – improve your mindset and increase your endorphins, or not exercise and feel guilty that you didn’t. Here’s how to motivate yourself to exercise.

Are you bored with the prospect?

Motivate yourself to exercise with different moves.
Motivate yourself to exercise with different moves.

Business motivation expert Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, has identified three reasons you may be procrastinating. The first may be that you fear boredom. Like dreading that time on the treadmill because you’re afraid you’ll be bored out of your mind. I dislike running too, but get on that treadmill twice a week like clockwork.

Dr. Markman advocates a little distraction when you’re tackling boring tasks. I plug in my earphones and listen to an audiobook. Not a business book, but one with lots of action to take my mind off the running. Not even a steamy romance would help you motivate yourself to exercise. Nope – it’s got to have lots of action! That keeps my legs pumping.

Or do you think exercise is too difficult?

The second reason Dr. Markman says we might be procrastinating is because we could dread dealing with complex tasks. Exercise does not have to be complex. In fact, exercise should be the  easiest thing in the world so that we will do it. If an exercise is too difficult – like a complex step pattern, for instance, practice it again so that you can do it without stumbling. Or find a different workout that’s not as complex. At a gym, for an in-person class, ask your instructor if she teaches a more basic class.

When you’re working out at home, try a modification for the complex exercise. If you’re not strong enough, you’ll get there. When choreography is hard, rewind and practice the sequence again. You’ll get there. If the music is good, and you like the instructor, you’ll motivate yourself to exercise. As I always say, “There’s always a modification.”

Or perhaps you don’t know where to start?

The third reason your motivation to exercise may be lacking is because you don’t know where to start, or you feel that it’s beyond you. Know this: there’s an exercise for everyone. If you can move any part of your body, you can exercise it. As a beginner, suffering from chronic conditions, or recovering from an injury, if you can’t be on your feet for an extended period, there are chair exercises. If you can’t run, then walk, as I said earlier. Do arm circles if you can raise your arms. 

So, you can move and walk and even run – but if you don’t know what to do, do what you feel like doing. Like to dance? Put some music on. If you want something more structured, take a half hour and search YouTube for “beginner strength exercises for seniors,” as an example. I do a combination of aerobics and strength, which mixes moves up nicely. Search for that if it sounds appealing. As you’re doing your search, note down the instructors and programs that look interesting. 

Then, make a date with yourself a few times a week and go exercise. Look forward to that date as a way to figure out how you want to work out for the next few weeks. Keep that date. And reassess. Did you enjoy the workout? Did you wish it was longer? Shorter? Harder? Did you like the instructor’s style? If you look forward to spending time with your favorite exercise instructor, or if you like the music used, it will be easier to motivate yourself to exercise.

Exercise helps depression

We’ve all experienced depressive episodes – perhaps too many in the last couple of years. It’s natural to feel sad or depressed when we hear about all the horrible things going on in the world, and some of these hit us harder than others. In fact, “according to the National Institutes of Health, 17.3 million adults in the U.S. have experienced a depressive episode in the last year.” Major depression is considered a mental disorder, but minor depression, like what we feel on occasion, can even affect how our bodies respond. But all the experts agree that exercise can help depression.

How depression can affect us

At first depression can affect our focus and memory, and can even interfere with our sleep. Depression can cause headaches. And if our depression continues untreated, it can interfere with our ability to fight off disease. 

Happy people don’t catch as many colds.

 A study by a Carnegie Mellon psychologist found that “people who are happy, lively, calm or exhibit other positive emotions are less likely to become ill when they are exposed to a cold virus than those who report few of these emotions.” And when these happy people did catch a cold, they complained of fewer symptoms.

How to fight off depression

I'm always happier after I exercise than before. Exercise helps depression.
I’m always happier after I exercise than before.

So, we see that it’s beneficial to be happy – I don’t like being sick, and if I can fight off illness, I’m all for it. Keeping in mind that those with severe depression should seek professional help for it, those of us who have mild depression can improve their mood while improving their mental health, according to Dr. Munther Barakat, a psychologist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. Number one on Dr. Barakat’s list of ways to improve your mood and your mindset is to get physical exercise. “Exercise is a natural treatment for depression, and in some cases, is as effective as anti-depressant medication.”

Feel good about exercising

When I’m feeling down, I keep my date with myself and exercise. Inevitably, I feel better afterward. It’s not just running that produces endorphins, it’s exercise in general. Sometimes I just put my favorite tunes on and dance! Exercise helps depression. So, go ahead – turn on that music and move!

You – be nice to you!

Eliminate negative self-talk

No more negative self-talk!
No more negative self-talk

Do you avoid looking in the mirror? Are you critical of your appearance? Your abilities (or, as you see them, lack of abilities)? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good for anything? Are you uncomfortable receiving compliments? Stop it! You – be nice to yourself! Eliminate that negative self-talk!

Effects of prolonged negative self-talk

Negative self-talk is not just a bad idea, it can have a severe effect on your health. “Having a negative outlook on life can lead to decreased motivation, increased stress, and greater feelings of helplessness,” says Dr. Rhiannon Jauer, psychologist from Aurora Behavioral Health Center. “Prolonged negative self-talk can increase one’s risk of mental health problems, physical health issues, as well as sleeplessness.”

Dr. Jauer encourages us to reconfigure our brains, to avoid rousing stress that can result in a damaging impact on our bodies. First of all, recognize the negative thoughts you’re having about yourself. By recognizing it, you’re on your way to changing it. But recognizing and identifying that negative self-talk is uncomfortable, because you may start out believing it. It seems real to you, and true, and therefore difficult to change. 

A couple of easy ways to eliminate negative self-talk

But, pretend that you’re talking to a friend when you hear yourself saying those awful things. You’d encourage your friend, tell her that those negative things are not true. So, the same thing holds for yourself. That top looks great on you. Well, perhaps your hair does need a style, but it’s a good length for you. You work wonders with a spreadsheet. Will you come and organize my kitchen cabinets? 

See – wasn’t that easy? “For some reason, we humans seem to save our worst words for ourselves, and that isn’t going to help” with eliminating negative self-talk and boosting our optimism, Dr. Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, executive director of Innovation360, said. 

Acknowledge your negative self-talk. Recognize that you’re putting yourself down. And then consciously decide that it’s not true. Dismiss that thought. Send it away.

Replace that thought with a positive one. “Well, I may not like my hair style, but at least I’ve got a lot of it.” Or, “my files are totally disorganized but no one creates a better spreadsheet than I do.”

Practice daily

In order to eliminate that negative self-talk and have a lasting effect, practice being kind to yourself every day. Just like any other habit that you want to cultivate, being kind to yourself requires practice. Use a journal to remind yourself, perhaps, and reward your successes! I’ve written about maintaining positivity before, and in your daily self-kindness practice you should utilize these techniques. 

Make contributions to your “Amazing Box”

And every time you turn that negative self-talk around, make an entry to your Amazing Box. I talked about this concept a few weeks ago. It might be one of the most important tools in your toolkit of positivity techniques. It’s an instant motivator when you feel down. Whenever you recognize a negative thought about yourself and can’t immediately think of something positive, read an entry in your Amazing Box. Instant pick-me-up. You’ll be on your way to positivity, optimism, and happiness.

So next time you have a negative thought about yourself, I’m talking to you: “You! Be nice to you!”