There’s no shortage of advice on how to stick with your goals. This advice often ranges from the very vague (“Believe in yourself!”) to the slightly oddball (“Put you alarm clock across the room!”).
But what if you haven’t achieved your goals because you haven’t done a good job of setting them in the first place? After all, goal setting is an acquired skill – not one we’re born with.
“Goal setting is something that we hear about throughout our lives,” says Will Meek, PhD, in Psychology Today, “but I have found that very few people actually sit down and articulate the things they want.”
Improve the way you choose and think about your goals, and you might find them within closer reach than ever before.
Use the SMART Approach
You may have heard the SMART acronym utilized in business, perhaps when working on year-end reviews and planning for the next year. It stands for: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Set goals that meet these criteria, and you will be more likely to stick with them. You will also know when you’ve achieved them. Since you can measure, at a set date or time, what you have accomplished, it’s simple to know if you met the mark.
One element of a goal that’s more difficult to quantify is meaning. Only you can determine what goals speak to your particular values.
“Challenging yourself to grow on a daily basis requires setting goals that are meaningful to you,” says Jane Porter of Help Scout. Setting meaningful goals is another way of saying “cultivate a sense of purpose,” which improves business success.
Kelly McGonigal, talking to TED, gave this advice for finding meaning: “Think about what you want… then ask yourself why you want that — three times in a row. For example, if you want to quit smoking, ask why do you want to quit? Then, if you want to quit for your health, ask why do you want good health? Then, if your answer is to be alive long enough to meet your grandchildren, ask why do you want to meet your grandchildren?” Your answers will be highly personal and therefore, meaningful.
Set ‘Easy’ and ‘Stretch’ Goals
Want to raise money for your startup? Determine how much you need to raise, and then set two goals. Set one that seems well within your reach — it doesn’t have to be easy, but you should feel confident about it. Then, set a stretch goal for the amount you would love to raise. The satisfaction of reaching the first one will reinforce your good habits and help you succeed next time. If you reach the second one, it’s icing on the cake and a self-esteem boost.
Hold yourself accountable for each step toward your goal. Lay out the steps you will take on the way to your goal. Will you write for an hour each morning? Make five cold calls each day? Run on your lunch break? Once you have your “to-do” list, check off each item, either mentally or literally. Ask yourself, “Did I do what I intended today?” Answering “yes” is a reward unto itself.
You might even partner with a friend or coworker, and check in with each other. Being accountable to another person is even more powerful.
The Power of Positivity
Recent scientific studies show that positive thinking actually affects our actions and abilities. But you can’t just wave your magic wand and turn all of your thoughts positive. Take concrete steps to boost your positive thinking; choose a technique that works for you. For example, look at images you consider positive. Write uplifting stories. Read inspiring quotes. Use meditation to adjust your mindset. Give yourself pep talks, or find some online. It might sound silly, but positivity is power.
Welcome ‘Failures’ as a Way to Build ‘Grit’
Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn. The best laid plans may go awry. Decide ahead of time what “Plan B” looks like, if only in rough terms. That way, if something goes wrong and you miss the mark, you won’t be defeated. Working hard, and occasionally failing, cultivates “grit.” Think of “grit” as the belief that you can and will stick with things, even if the going gets tough. Failing to reach one goal shouldn’t break your spirit so that you’re afraid to shoot for the next one.
Now that you know how to set goals, you can improve at it. Practice will make you better still. You will find greater motivation and success in hitting your goals — whatever they may be.
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