Do you want to be a productivity wizard? Do you wish you could be a person who is successful, happy, and organized? Think your life needs a bit more direction?
None of these things are attainable without goals. Setting goals gives your life meaning, otherwise you’d probably just be wandering aimlessly, without a clear motive.
The problem is, there are certain things you need to keep in mind when setting goals. And there are just as many things you can do wrong when setting them. Lucky for you, here are two lists — the right and wrong way to set goals — and an action plan you can follow to help you get where you need to be.
The Right Way to Set Goals
1. Be Specific
How many times have you heard people say “I want to get healthy,” or “I want to get good grades,” or “I want to be happy”? Often, they pass these off as goals. But there’s a problem here: Those are desires.
There’s one word that blends desires and goals, and that’s want. The only way you can craft a focused goal is by tacking more detail on the end. Don’t be afraid to get in depth. What will you do to get healthy? What letter grades are you aiming for? Straight A’s, or some A’s and B’s? It’s time to quantify!
Of course, feelings like happiness aren’t necessarily quantifiable. But if you add a reference point, it will aid you in knowing what you’re aiming for. Try something like “I want to be as happy as I was in high school” or “I want to be as happy as I was a week ago.”
2. Have a Deadline
A goal with no deadline is not scheduled. Without a deadline, you run the risk of stretching out your goal’s timeframe way farther than it needs to go. And even worse, you run the risk of slacking on that goal.
Add a deadline! It gives you a window of opportunity. You have a starting line, and adding a finish line just makes sense. Your mind will switch into goal mode, and you hopefully won’t waste time getting to where you need to be.
3. Break it Down
The enthusiastic feeling of starting a goal always feels great. But sometimes we attempt to schedule goals that are just too big. Don’t overwhelm yourself — either break it down into smaller goals or change your plan entirely.
We often believe we’re destined to complete large goals, according to Lewis Howes, writing for Forbes: “When we set large goals, we are requiring ourselves to also have an equally large belief system to support it.” But these beliefs are flawed and unattainable.
Breaking down your goals into smaller ones helps you avoid the feeling of facing these monumental tasks.
4. Commit Yourself
Your goals will never survive if you don’t truly commit to them. As one of my favorite quotes about commitment goes, reaching a goal is “25% knowledge, 25% time, and 50% commitment.” A half-heartedly created goal is a failed goal.
There are a lot of ways to commit and stay accountable for your progress. Here are a few ideas to help you commit and stay committed to a goal:
- Use visual cues. Place lots of highly-visible reminders around your home to remind you of your goal. When I’m working on a big project on the computer, for example, I like to change my desktop background to reflect what I’m working on. It’s small, but it’s always there to remind me!
- Get social. Lots of groups exist in real life and on social media to help you stay accountable. For example, Weight Watchers groups meet regularly for “weigh-ins,” and participants in Whole30, a 30-day clean eating program, connect and cheer on one another through the #whole30 hashtag.
- Put money on it. If you’re in it to win it, the app Pact allows you to earn cash for going to the gym regularly, paid for by people who slack off.
5. Chart Your Progress
As stated before, you can quantify your goals. When you quantify goals, your progress starts to look more promising. Turn your goal into a daily or weekly plan — breaking down your goal might help with this.
Grab a planner or a calendar and mark it up. For every completed step, put a check mark. For every failed or incomplete step, mark an “X.” When you see your goals as visual data, even something as simple as checks and Xs, it’ll give you a better idea of where you stand. And every time you complete a step, it’s guaranteed you’ll feel proud for passing it.
6. Reward Yourself
Setting a goal doesn’t mean all work and no play until it’s complete. Small rewards keep us going. Perhaps once you break down your goal, you can set rewards at the completion of each stage. When you know more are on the way, that can be enough to keep you going.
In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explains that experimenting with different rewards can aid you in isolating what you actually crave. This process can be helpful in formulating better habits. Fiddling with the gears of rewards will help you better understand what you want to get out of this.
And remember — you’re the boss in all this. You choose how to reward yourself and when. Rewards should benefit only you.
The Wrong Way to Set Goals
Unfortunately, many people often go about setting goals the wrong way. They view goals as simply desires, start something they can’t possibly finish, or plan improperly. Whatever the case, it’s best to avoid these five things when setting your goals.
1. You Don’t Have a Deadline
Human beings often tread a thin line between urgency and laziness. We either feel like we have to get something done RIGHT AWAY, or we just keep putting it off. When your goal has no deadline, you’ll probably encounter problems with one of these.
A deadline forces you dedicate yourself to what’s important. A deadline makes your goal a priority, and it’ll be at the front and center of your mind, keeping you focused.
2. You Set Unrealistic Goals
When you’re exploring goals, feel free to let your imagination run wild. Dream big. Unleash your creativity. But they call it brainstorming for a reason — it’s a storm of thoughts. And when you settle on a goal, that’s when your storm should settle down.
That being said, when you set a goal, make sure it’s attainable and within a reasonable time limit. Don’t aspire to become the manager of the world’s best baseball team if you haven’t even had the proper experience or training. Don’t plan to run a marathon if you haven’t taken the steps to prepare for it months ahead of time.
One way to help you set realistic goals is to use the SMART strategy — make goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
3. You Let Others Set Your Goals for You
People influence your life, whether you like it or not. Your friends, family, possibly even coworkers or bosses fuel your daily decisions and actions. That’s okay in moderation — but if you let them influence your goals, that can be problematic.
Your goals need to be for you only — it’s your life and your business. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself if you find people intruding on or influencing your plan.
4. You Let Failure Get to You
One of the most frustrating parts of setting a goal is failure. You spent all that time working toward something, only to lose it all. Now it’s time to give up, right?
WRONG! Some people think that failure means “stop.” But it doesn’t. Failure is a part of setting goals. Doubt and urges to give up will come, but it’s best if you learn how to prepare to overcome these feelings. It’s a smart move on your part.
5. You Don’t Chart Your Progress
Sometimes goals can just make you feel like you’re jogging in place, not getting anything done, not going anywhere. This is where taking stock of what you’ve accomplished can help. As mentioned before, breaking down your goal and celebrating success can make you feel you’ve made giant steps.
You can also use this as an opportunity to update your goal. Where do you want to go from here? Do you need more time or should you change something about your goal?
It’s all up to you.
Now that we’ve explored the do’s and don’ts of setting your goals, here’s a 3-step action plan you can follow in order to make your dreams a reality.
- Create a chart for your goal on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Write down your starting and ending point.
- Think about the ways you can break your goal down into smaller goals. Write down when you’ll reward yourself and with what.
- Prepare for failure instead of letting it surprise you. Stay optimistic and keep a fresh, motivated attitude.
How do you follow your goals to completion? Share your strategies in the comments below!