It’s January, the time of New Year’s resolutions and believing that we can make positive changes in who we are and how we live. January is also the time of the NFL playoffs which means that the Super Bowl is just around the corner (February 4!). What do New Year’s resolutions and the Super Bowl have in common? The game of football might actually hold a lesson for us about how to make progress with those New Year’s resolutions.
First, a football primer. If you don’t know much about football, here are the very basics. The overall goal is to out-score your opponent, and the primary means of doing this is by making touchdowns (you can also score with field goals, safeties, two-point conversions, and PATs, but we’ll save those for another time). A touchdown is made when a team gets the ball to the opponent’s end of the field (called the end zone).
But a touchdown isn’t accomplished all at one time (usually). A team has four tries to move the ball ten yards (a football field is 100 yards long). This can be done by throwing the ball or running it. If a team isn’t successful in gaining ten yards, the other team gets the ball. However, if a team does move the ball ten yards within its four chances of doing so, it has completed what’s called a “first down.” Then the team has another four chances to move the ball yet another ten yards.
Continuing to make first downs will move you across the field and closer to making a touchdown. Whenever a team makes a first down, its fans will celebrate because it means the team is making progress. The team hasn’t scored a touchdown yet, but it’s getting closer, and it hasn’t given up the ball to its opponent just yet.
If a football team tried to make a touchdown every chance it got, they probably wouldn’t have much success. Sometimes there are big plays in football, but most of the time, the focus is just on getting the next first down. The team just looks at the next ten yards that they need to cover.
How does this relate to New Year’s resolutions? Common resolutions revolve around learning something new, losing weight, finishing a project, or achieving a big goal. Usually, these goals aren’t easy or met all at once. If they were, we probably would have achieved them by now.
If we think about accomplishing a goal, say learning a new language, it might sound daunting and overwhelming. Where do you start? But just as the game of football is made up of first downs and moving across the field yard by yard, the goal of learning a language is also made up of smaller actions and steps that finally lead us to feeling functional or comfortable speaking another language. Learning a language is made up of studying one new vocabulary word at a time, spending 20-minutes looking at grammar rules, listening to a language podcast in the car, finding a conversation partner to meet up with for an hour each week.
So what does football teach us about goals? To break it down. Break larger goals down into manageable chunks. How you can focus on the very next step that will move you closer to your goal? What will it take to get you to your next first down? Consider making a plan involving smaller, concrete goals that you can work toward, and how you will celebrate each of these "first downs" on your way to achieving your "touchdown" goal.
I’m Elaine Gee-Wong and I'm a therapist with a private practice in Santa Clara, CA.
Any information or advice on this website is for informational purposes only, and should not take the place of information or care provided to you by your physicians, medical, or mental health care professionals.