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It does not matter if we are in January, February or August. Any month of the year is a good time to start setting goals for yourself, whether for your professional or personal development.

The trouble is that we are still exhausted from the pandemic. Many do not feel productive enough to start setting goals and the very idea of adding more to our full plates seems too much to take on. Or, if we did set new year's resolutions this year, maybe they have already fallen through.

Well, it is never too late to get back on the horse. In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, psychologist and psychotherapist Charlotte Armitage offers pointers on how to achieve your ambitions even if you are not feeling up to the task.

Courtesy of: Charlotte Armitage (above)

Lean into your gut feeling

The first step is picking goals for you to work on. Doctors, mentors, bosses, family members can all put ideas in our heads but if we are not internally driven to work on something, we stand little chance of seeing them through.

Armitage says that our unconscious brain is our most powerful ally to hit the ground running. Do you feel suddenly compelled to start learning a new skill, change your work routine, or simply get fit? Do not let that motivation slip.

"Those things which pop into your brain are your unconscious telling you something. Just go with it," she says.

Start with easy wins

Many get carried away and start creating huge goals and expectations. Momentum is critical and if you have a long-term goal, you need to break it down into manageable chunks. It is essential that the first two or three chunks are super simple to achieve to reinforce positive behaviour and feel good about the process.

"We tend to set goals that are hard for us, we don’t set goals for things that are enjoyable because we’re already doing them anyway," says Armitage. Her analogy is that being able to complete a 10km run starts with doing 1km sessions a few times a week.

"It gives you that sense of satisfaction that you’ve done it. You get positive reinforcement from that behaviour which makes you want to repeat it and then you build on an upward trajectory."

Celebrate milestones

Morale is everything. It gets you through the bad days when you feel like giving up. To keep your morale up, you also need to recognise the progress you make and milestones you hit.

Unrealistic goals are overwhelming. "If you don't set little milestones in between to give you that sense of satisfaction and achievement, and feeling of having been an agent of own change, you become quite rapidly disheartened by the entire process and ultimately give up."

Continue to listen to your gut feeling

If it starts to feel like too much pressure, or that you are resisting the task, or you feel like you are overdoing it, stop and revisit your goals. That is your gut instinct telling you that you are struggling to keep up.

"It’s the unconscious telling us something based on our lifetime of learning. Our conscious brain can only hold so much information."

What if you fail at the first hurdle?

"Go back and reset if you fail, and trust you have the tenacity to try again," continues Armitage.

Failing from the get-go would suggest that the drive to hit these goals is missing, or you have set the goal too difficult from the beginning. This could also indicate you are self-sabotaging and setting yourself up to fail. In other words, you never wanted to achieve it in the first place.

Sometimes we can trick ourselves into thinking we want to hit a certain goal, though. So it is worth asking: "would I expect anyone else to do this?"

If not, then you may want to pick something else. If you are certain you want to keep going, scale down the goal and then make it progressively harder. If you set yourself up for something too far removed from where you are, you are being unkind to yourself.

Set yourself up for success

If your goals cause too much disrutpion to your life, you will not see them through. For that reason, make sure working on your goals does not mean sacrificing things you enjoy or reallocating your schedule too abruptly.

"It needs to be something you slowly integrate into your life so it becomes part of your world. Goals are achieved through tenacity and setting sustainable actions. They’re not achieved by going full steam ahead like a bull at a gate.

"If you’re doing that, it’s a short, sharp burst. But nothing in life is sustainable if it’s that intense. It’s about balance."

Prepare for setbacks

There will be hard days ahead. Days you feel like cheating, days you want to skip. Expect your journey to be non-linear, up-and-down and full of challenges. Understanding why these goals matter to you will make the difference on those tougher days, because you will be able to remain focused on what you are working towards. Spend some time being introspective and questioning why these goals matter to you. Revisit those feelings when the going gets tough.

But also believe that you have the capacity within yourself to hit your goals.

"We may have been taught limiting factors - 'I don’t have those skills' or 'I’m not from that background’'. It’s all about learning at a certain pace. The brain can do anything we train it to do. We can all hit our goals, the only thing getting in the way is ourselves."

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