Goals and Resolutions – have you lost focus?

Using REBT to achieve goals

So what happened to all that resolve and sense of purpose you had in January?


It is the middle of March and all the good resolutions made at the beginning of the year have faded into the distant past as daily life takes over, finding ourselves back on last year’s treadmill.

Often when we set out on a new goal we resolve to make the changes and then somehow the days pass as they always do and no changes are made, even though you had all those good intentions. It may be April before you realise that soon half the year will be gone and it’s another year of nothing new. It can feel very frustrating and for some even depressing that nothing has changed. So many articles and books are written about how you can think your way to a better life and that is partially true, however it is only part of the story. The other, is to act, to make the change happen, thinking and planning alone will not bring change.

 When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.Confucius

 Let’s say you set a goal for 2014 to live a healthy lifestyle, which you think as exercising 6 days a week, eat only healthy food, maybe do the popular 5/7 diet, take regular relaxation and have a healthy life/work balance. Now it is mid March, you ran a few days in January but haven’t run once in February up until now and the 5/7 diet is going well most of the time – well when you are organised at the weekend. The trouble is there is a major campaign going on at work and you are working 14 hour days, 6 days a week and barely keeping on top of the laundry and if you don’t get the work done, your boss is going to be mad and you have been promised a promotion if it goes well.

 Next week will be better, I’ll start again next week” you hear yourself say.

 So what stops us acting or behaving towards our goals – is it our thoughts?

The Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) approach emphasises the individuals’ ability to create, alter and control emotional states. It teaches you how to recognise unhealthy thinking and develop new beliefs and attitudes which lead to confidence, success and goal achievement. Ellis believed that as we have little choice about being human so it is preferable not to put yourself down or others around you and to remember you have choices and alternatives in how you live your life and pursue your goals. We can develop healthy beliefs to aid us in the pursuit of our goals, we can experiment and we can experience, we can learn and change what doesn’t work.


We recognise that we can hold beliefs about ourselves, situations and others that we are not aware of. In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and specifically REBT, we call these unhealthy beliefs, which mean they do not support our goal or interest. Unhealthy beliefs are by definition, rigid, inconsistent with reality i.e. have no evidence to support them, nonsensical and unhelpful.

REBT is about changing unhealthy beliefs to healthy ones and to do this takes time, just in the same way as it takes time to learn a skill like driving. It takes the repeated practice of new healthy beliefs stated with conviction, often whilst still experiencing negative emotions and discomfort until, as with all learning, it begins to feel more comfortable. The emotional change happens last and requires changes in behaviour as we determinedly apply the new healthy beliefs. Understanding alone will not create a change.

Steps to goal achievement


There are some simple steps leading to making the changes you want. At each step you may be holding unhealthy belief about it. For example, you may know what you want, yet you never quite start the steps that lead to what you want. This may be because you hold an unhealthy belief that “you must not fail” leading to avoidant behaviours. 

In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”

Bill Cosby

 Step 1 Identify what you want

Step 2 Gather Information

Step 3 Set achievable (SMART) goals

Step 4 Plan

Step 5 Take Action

Each step is a small goal and step in itself and can be broken down into small achievable tasks. REBT can be very helpful in challenging any unhealthy beliefs that may be an obstacle to any of the specific steps.

Tips on achieving your goals and resolutions 

  • Start small, remain consistent and keep doing it.
  • Work on your goal on a weekly basis. For instance, if you want to reduce your sugar intake, set a goal to reduce the number of sugars in your tea during the week. Then slowly set other small goals as you work towards reduction of sugar in your diet.
  • Check your goals are SMART ( Specific, Manageable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely)
  • Keep motivated. You can do this by creating a support network, hiring a coach or building resilience to boredom which is inevitable sometimes.
  • Check your inner dialogue or self talk, make it supportive and focused on what you want to achieve.
  • Remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing. It helps reinforce your commitment to change. For example, I want to be healthier so I play sports with my children or I want to earn more money so I can buy my own home.
  • Build your willpower, by feeling the discomfort and doing it anyway, each time you act against your feelings, E.G. wanting to stay in bed rather than going for a run, will increase your willpower until running is what you do.

If you can put some of the measures discussed in place, hopefully next year, when resolution time comes around yet again, you can look back and count yourself more successful and be able to say you finished what you started.



The thought informs the deed

The deed informs the habit

The habit informs the character

So be mindful of what you think.” Buddha

REBT was developed by Albert Ellis. It is one of the main schools of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It is a humanistic, philosophical and universal model.

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