Stuck in a loop? Reboot!
December 24, 2011 by Kay Grossman

The thought of making another New Year’s Resolution drags me down. I’ve made resolutions for years that too easily went “poof” — either forgotten or too difficult.

Surveys show that about half our New Year’s Resolutions expire by June. January gym binges end up couched by mid-February. Structured diets are soon starved for attention. We feel like perennial failures, stuck in familiar patterns, clinging to default behaviors.

To break out of that loop, I developed an approach that I find successful, which includes: 1) Pick one main goal; 2) Empower it with “approach-oriented” wording; 3) Maintain the buzz; and 4) Reboot if caught in a loop.

The key is to get into action.

Pick One Main Goal

With countless opportunities to improve our lives we can be quickly overwhelmed by an avalanche of goals. Pick just one main goal at a time for a greater chance at success. Ask yourself the following questions to help you choose your goal. Keep your answers handy to remind you why you picked that goal.

  1. Would achieving this goal inspire me? Why?
  2. Is this goal true to my core values? Which ones?
  3. What’s in it for me? Is it worth the effort?
  4. Why this goal now ?

Empower Your Goal With “Approach-Oriented” Wording

Language is powerful. The words we use to identify our goals determine if we will approach the goals with a positive or negative mindset, which ultimately affects the outcome.

The science of positive psychology tells us that optimism and an “approach” style to goal setting are linked to perseverance, achievement, and higher self-regard. In contrast, an “avoidance” style of goal setting is associated with lower expectations for achievement, lower perceptions of progress, decreased self-esteem and personal control, and a lesser sense of well-being.

The wording of our goals, therefore, makes a big difference. Approach-oriented language focuses on moving toward or reaching positive outcomes. Examples include “to produce more successful projects,” or “to take on leadership roles at work.” Conversely, avoidance-oriented wording conveys moving away from undesired outcomes or states. Examples are “to avoid procrastination,” or “to quit being a follower at work.”

Most goals can be framed as either “approach” or “avoidance.” We can “stop overeating” (avoidance), or we can “achieve a healthy weight” (approach). We can “reduce clutter in the house” (avoidance), or “optimize household organization for peaceful living” (approach). The distinction is subtle, but important.

Framing goals with positive, approach-oriented language sets us up for greater success.

Maintain the Buzz

It is human nature to start new goals with a sense of exhilaration and then to lose steam as time passes. It’s how our brains work. As the novelty wears off, our brains are less stimulated by thoughts of achieving the goal. It becomes more difficult to stay engaged. Here are a few tips to help you maintain enthusiasm for achieving your goal.

  1. Display photos or symbols that signify what it means to you to achieve the goal.
  2. Savor your accomplishments along the way. Write them in a journal or on your calendar.
  3. Practice mindfulness related to your goal. As you make choices throughout the day, ask yourself, “Will this action step take me closer to my goal?”
  4. Note positive trends as well as specific markers of achievement. Make healthy food choices more often, exercise more days a week, or keep fewer paper piles on the kitchen table, for example.
  5. Identify and engage with people who are willing to become a positive part of your support and accountability team.
  6. Jump back into action after a lapse in progress. Chalk it up to being human, problem-solve around obstacles you are now aware of, and reboot.

Reboot if Caught in a Loop

To reboot is a foreign concept to most of us, since we often think something like this: “Who starts a diet on a Thursday?!” “I’ll start my exercise program at the start of next month… assuming that’s a Monday.” “What point would there be in keeping a more thorough record of expenses starting in July? I’ll wait until January.” “It is now 3:37… I’ll wait until 4:00 to start the work I’ve put off all day.” We delay until the sun and the moon and the stars are appropriately aligned, essentially preventing ourselves from working towards our goals.

Developing a habit to “reboot if caught in a loop” frees us to accomplish our goals. It moves us out of an all-or-nothing mindset so that we can regroup without delay or self-judgment and take action steps toward a lapsed goal. Rather than continue in a loop to overeat after consuming a stack of Girl Scout Cookies in the morning, I can reboot and eat sensibly the rest of the day. Rather than continue in a loop to wait until the start of the next month to go back to the gym, I can reboot and go today. Rather than continue in a loop to wait until the top of an hour to start an article I’ve been putting off, I can reboot and write one sentence right now.

There are many advantages to adopting the I-can-reboot-if-caught-in-a-loop mindset. Studies show that simply starting a task changes our perception of the task. We find it less difficult, less unpleasant, and less stressful than we had anticipated. Further, starting a task changes our perception of ourselves, increasing our subjective well-being. We feel more optimistic and in control because we are in action towards achieving a goal.

Action Charge

If you want to set a new goal, how about starting the process today? Use the questions above to help you choose an exciting, meaningful goal. Throw caution to the wind, defy the gods of celestial alignment, and take action before January 1st. What’s the worst that could happen?


  1. Elliot, A .J. & Friedman, R. (2007). Approach-avoidance: A central characteristic of personal goals. In B.R. Little, K. Salmela-Aro, & S. D. Phillips (Eds.), Personal project pursuit: Goals, actions, and human flourishing (pp. 97-118). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Eribaum Associates, Publishers.
  2. Miller, Caroline Adams, and Michael B. Frisch. Creating Your Best Life: the Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling, 2011.
  3. Pychyl, Timothy A. The Procrastinator’s Digest: a Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. Canada: Howling Pines, 2010.

© 2011 Kay N. Grossman MA, PCC

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