Few things are better in this world than setting a goal and achieving it. Just like when athletes experience a type of “runner’s high” after a race, so too does completing any goal produce a sense of elation and pride. This article explores many ways of setting and pursuing goals. Goals won’t just complete themselves. You need to be regimented in your pursuit of them. Get started. Keep going. Achieve your aspirations.
Part 1 of 3:
Formulating Your Goals
1. Decide what you really want to achieve. Don’t be concerned about what others want for you. Make your goals for yourself.Studies show that when your goals are personally meaningful, you’re more likely to get ahead in life and achieve them.
Oftentimes, this is the hardest part of the goal-making and fulfilling process. What do you want? The answer to this is often a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Buzz phrases like “stay true to yourself” clash with familial and work obligations. Find goals that promote a balance in your life – goals that make you happy and benefit your loved ones and others that depend on you.
Consider asking yourself some questions, such as “What do I want to offer my family/community/world?” or “How do I want to grow?” These questions can help you determine the direction to take.
It’s okay if your ideas are fairly broad at this point. You’ll narrow them down next.
Prioritize. Once you have an idea of what you really want to achieve, you need to prioritize these areas. Trying to work on every area of your life at once can leave you overwhelmed and unable to achieve any of your goals.
Split your goals into three areas: first, second, and third tier. The first-tier goals are the most important to you, and they may come more naturally. The second and third tier goals are not as important. They may also be more limited or specific.
For example, first tier goals could be “improve my health” or “spend more time with my family.” Second tier goals could be “keep my room clean, learn to surf” and third tier goals could be “learn to knit, do laundry more regularly.”
Set specific goals. Be specific and realistic about what it is that you want to achieve. Research shows that setting a specific goal makes you more likely to achieve it and can even make you feel happier in general. Be as specific and detailed as possible, remembering that you may need to break large goals into smaller sub-goals.
Ask yourself some questions about your goals. What do you need to do to achieve them? Who will need to assist you? When will each stage of your goal need to be accomplished?
For example, “Be healthier” is too big and vague to be a helpful goal. “Eat better and exercise more” is better, but it’s still not detailed or specific.
“Eat 3 servings of fruit and vegetables a day and exercise 3 times a week” is specific and concrete, making it much easier to achieve.
You also need to build the scaffolding for how you will achieve these goals. For example, to achieve your fruit and veg goals, will you bring healthy snacks along to work? Choose a fruit cup instead of fries the next time you eat out? For exercising, will you work out at the gym or go for walks in your neighborhood? Think about the individual actions you need to take to “add up” to your overall goal.
If you have multiple stages for your goals, when does each need to be accomplished? For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you need to have an idea of how long each stage of training will take you.
Be realistic. Setting the concrete, specific goal of “Buy a 3-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side” won’t help you if your budget is more “Studio apartment in Brooklyn.” Keep your goals grounded in reality. It’s okay to have aspirational goals, but you need to know exactly what to do to get you there.
For example, if your ultimate goal is to buy a big house in the country, you will need multiple sub-goals to accomplish this. You’ll need to save up money, build your credit, even possibly increase your income. Write out each of these sub-goals, along with the steps to take for each.
Write out your goals. Be detailed, be clear, and include your deadlines. Writing them down tends to make them feel a little more real. Keep your list in a place where you can reference them frequently. This will help keep you motivated.
Word your goals positively. You’re much more likely to achieve your goals when they are worded in positive ways, such as “Eat more fruits and vegetables” instead of “Stop eating junk food.” another example of this is “Exercise more often” instead of “Sit around less”.
Make sure your goal is measurable. How will you know when you’ve completed a goal? If your goal is to move to a new house, you’ll know based on when you sign on the dotted line of your new lease or title papers. Other goals aren’t measurable at first glance. If your goal is to become a better singer, then how will you know when you’ve reached it? Set measurable goals instead.
For example, you could memorize and “perfect” a single song. Learn to play an instrument while singing. Hit a new note. Measurable goals give you a sense of completion when you’ve finished them as you work towards a larger goal.
Keep your goals grounded in what you can achieve. Remember that you can only control your own actions, not anyone else’s. “Become a rock star” is not really a feasible goal because it relies on others’ actions and responses that you can’t control. However, “form a band and practice our music until we’re excellent musicians” is a goal that your own work can achieve.
Focusing on your own actions can help you face setbacks, too, because you will recognize that you can’t control the roadblocks you may encounter.
Remember that goals can also be processes. For example, “become a senator” relies too much on others’ actions, which you can’t control. If you don’t become a senator, you’re likely to consider your goal as a failure even if you did your best. “Run for public office” is a goal that you can consider achieved, even if you don’t win the election, because you went through the whole process to the best of your ability.
Create a realistic schedule. Your deadline doesn’t have to be exact, but it should be your best guess. Your deadlines must be realistic based on your goals. If you’re a part-time worker making minimum wage, don’t make your goal to have earned a million dollars by the end of the year. Give yourself enough time to accomplish what you’ve set out to do.
Set a deadline. We all procrastinate. It almost seems like a natural human quality, but when a deadline is approaching, you’ll work harder to obtain your goal. Think about being in school. When a test was coming up, you knew you needed to study, and you did. Setting goals for yourself should work the same way too.
Remember that some goals will take more time to achieve than others. “Eat more fruits and vegetables” can be achieved very quickly. “Become more physically fit” will take much more time and effort. Set your timelines accordingly.
Take external deadlines and timelines into consideration. For example, if your goal is “Find for a new job,” make sure to include any application deadlines that your prospective employers have.
Set up a rewards system. Humans respond well to reward systems. Whenever you accomplish part of your goal, however small your progress, give yourself a little reward. For example, if your goal is to practice your music more regularly, allow yourself a half-hour with a comic book or your favorite TV program once your daily practice is finished.
Stay away from punishing yourself if you don’t meet your goals. Punishing yourself or beating yourself up about not accomplishing something can actually hold you back from accomplishment.
Identify possible obstacles. Nobody really wants to think about what could go wrong when they’re planning for success. However, identifying potential obstacles and how you’ll deal with them is crucial to achieving your goals. If you don’t, you won’t have a game-plan when challenges inevitably present themselves.
Obstacles can be external. For example, if your goal is to open your own auto shop, you might not have the money to buy your own shop at first. If your goal is to open your bakery, you might not also have the time to spend with your family that you want.
Identify actions you can take to overcome these potential obstacles. For example, you could apply for a business loan, write a business plan to attract investors, or partner with a friend to go into business together.
Obstacles can also be internal. For example, a lack of information can be an obstacle, especially in more complex goals. Emotions such as fear and uncertainty can also be internal obstacles.
Actions you could take to address a lack of information could include reading up on the subject, asking a mentor for advice, practicing, or taking classes.
Acknowledge your limitations. For example, if the obstacle is that you don’t have enough time to focus on setting up your business and spending the quality time with your family that you desire, there may not be a way to resolve that tension. However, you can talk with your family to let them know that the situation is only temporary.
Tell people about your goals. Some people shy away from letting others in on their life goals. They fear that if they fail, they’ll be ashamed. Don’t think of it this way. Think of it as allowing yourself to be vulnerable, without which you can’t connect with others or grow personally. Others can help you reach your goals, can offer physical assistance, or just give you the necessary moral support.
Others may not react as enthusiastically to your goals as you hope. What is important to you may not be as important to others. Recognize that there is a difference between constructive feedback and mean-spirited commentary. Listen to what they have to say, but in the long run, you’ll have to decide how important your goal is to you.
You may also encounter others who do not support your goals. Remember that you’re working on your goals for you, not for anyone else. If you constantly meet with negativity from someone about your goals, express that you do not enjoy feeling judged or unsupported. Ask the person to refrain from judging you.
Find a community of like-minded people. Chances are you aren’t the only one with this goal. Find others who have the same aims. You can get started together and benefit from each other’s knowledge and experiences. When you’ve reached your goal, you’ll also have someone to celebrate with.
Go online, utilize social media, and visit local places that cater to your goals. In our digital age, there are many ways of connecting, staying connected, and forming a community.
Part 2 of 3:
Start working toward your goals today. One of the hardest steps to achieving your goals is taking that first step. Begin immediately. Even if you don’t know what your exact course of action is going to be yet, just go with your gut. Do something that is geared towards your goals. When you complete that step, recognize that you are on your way. You’re more likely to continue working on your goal if you can feel a sense of immediate progress.
For example, if your goal is “Eat healthier,” go grocery shopping to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Clear out your pantry of junk food. Go online and look for healthy recipes. These are small actions that are easily accomplished, but they can add up fast.
If you want to learn any new skill, you have to start practising. Strum a guitar and practice basic chords if you want to become an excellent musician. Start reading self-help books designed to help beginners develop new skills. No matter what your goal is, there is a way that you can start immediately.
Follow your plan of action. If you followed the steps presented earlier, you should have a good idea of what steps you need to take to achieve your goal. Now is the time to put them into action.
For example, if your goal is to buy that three-bedroom house, go to real estate websites and look around for houses that meet (or are close to) the criteria of what you want. Determine your budget and how much of a down payment you’ll need. Set up a savings account for a down payment and start saving. Build your credit by paying bills responsibly and managing credit lines.
Visualize achieving your goal. Research has shown that visualization can help improve your performanc. There are two forms of visualization: outcome visualization and process visualization. To meet your goals, combine the two.
For outcome visualization, imagine yourself accomplishing your goals. Make this visualization as concrete and detailed as possible. How good does it feel? Who is there to congratulate you? Do you feel proud? Happy?
For process visualization, imagine the steps that you must take to achieve your goal. For example, if your goal is to become a small business owner, imagine each action you take to achieve that goal. Imagine yourself creating a business plan, applying for a small business loan, pitching to investors, etc.
Process visualization helps your brain “encode prospective memories.” Psychologists say that this process can help you feel like you can accomplish your goals because your brain already feels some of the success from them.
Keep a list. Review your goals daily. Read over your goals at least once a day. Read your goals when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Reflect on what you have done each day to work towards them.
When you’ve completed a goal on your list, don’t scratch it out entirely. Instead, move it to another list, this one for “accomplished goals.” Sometimes, we focus on what we haven’t achieved and forget about all the goals we’ve met. Keep the list of accomplishments around as well. It will be a good source of motivation.
Ask for guidance. Find a mentor or someone who has achieved your goal to give you advice. They’ll have insight into ways that you can achieve your goal or things to avoid if you want to succeed. Listen to them carefully. Consult them regularly.
Just like in school, you wouldn’t necessarily choose to teach yourself advanced mathematics. It is far easier if you have a teacher — someone who knows the “formulas” to success — to help you along the way, to explain ways of overcoming obstacles, and to celebrate with once you’ve succeeded. A good mentor will be just as proud of you for achieving your goal as you’ll be of yourself.
Part 3 of 3:
Handling the Journey
Recognize “false hope syndrome.” False hope syndrome is probably already familiar to you if you’ve ever set a New Year’s resolution. Psychologists describe this syndrome in three parts that make up a cycle: 1) setting the goal, 2) feeling surprised by its difficulty, 3) giving up on the goal.
False hope syndrome often happens when you expect immediate results from your actions. For example, you might set a goal of “Become more physically fit” and then get discouraged when you’ve been working out for two weeks without noticeable changes. Just remember that some goals do take time and setting up clear stages and timeframes can help combat unrealistic expectations.
This syndrome can also happen when the initial “rush” of the goal wears off. For example, the goal “Learn to play the guitar” is really exciting for a little while, as you buy a new instrument, learn a few chords, etc. However, when the real work of daily practice, calluses, and chord progressions sets in, you may lose momentum. Setting small goals and celebrating small successes can help you keep your momentum going.
View challenges as learning experiences. Several studies have shown that people who treat setbacks as learning experiences are more likely to feel positive about their ability to achieve their goals.If you view challenges, setbacks, or even your own mistakes as “failures” and beat yourself up for them, you’ll be focusing on the past instead of looking toward the future.
Research has shown that people who accomplish their goals don’t usually have fewer setbacks than people who give up on their goals. The difference is in how you envision the setbacks. Can you learn from what went wrong to do something differently next time?
The drive for perfectionism can also hold you back from acknowledging mistakes as sources of growth. When you hold yourself to impossible standards of performance, you’re actually more likely to feel like your goals can’t be achieved.
Instead, be compassionate with yourself. Remind yourself that you are human, and that all humans make mistakes and experience challenges.
Studies have shown that positive thinking is effective at helping people learn and adapt than focusing on your mistakes or flaws. Next time you find yourself beating yourself up over a perceived failure, remind yourself that you can learn from every experience, no matter how unpleasant it is in the moment.
Acknowledge every victory. So much of achieving goals is a matter of perception. Celebrate small wins. If your goal is to make straight A’s and you do well on an exam, celebrate it. If you goal is to become a lawyer, celebrate every hoop you successfully jump through, such as getting into law school, doing well in a course, passing the bar, and finally getting a job.
Celebrate benchmarks or milestones. Some goals will take years if not longer to accomplish. Recognize and celebrate the amount of time that you’ve spent doing something. Practice takes time and effort. Recognize and be proud of the amount of time you’ve put into something.
Celebrate the smallest accomplishments, too. For example, if your goal is “Eat healthier” and you’re able to say “no thanks” to that greasy but delicious slice of pizza, pat yourself on the back for your willpower.
Stay passionate. Whatever your goal is, it is a goal for a reason. It is something that you want for yourself in the future. Let that passion and drive show. Reminding yourself about what you are working towards can help you get through momentary difficulty or unpleasantness. Sometimes, the best destinations force you to take the roughest trails.
Revise your goals if necessary. Life is filled with lemons that don’t make very good lemonade. Sometimes, unexpected things happen that will affect your plans. Don’t be afraid to recalibrate, think of new plans, set new goals, and in some cases reject old goals that you might not care about any more.
Setbacks are natural. They shouldn’t automatically deter you from your ultimate goals. Recognize why you are facing a setback. Is it something you can control or not? Move forward accordingly.
Consider new opportunities. Some of the best things in life aren’t planned. Say yes to new opportunities if they help further your own goals or present new, better goals.
Persevere. Keep track of the small successes you accomplish. Achieving these smaller tasks will help you build your self-confidence, because you’ll know that you’re capable of achieving things you set out to do. Remind yourself of your past successes when you find yourself struggling.
Remember that setbacks don’t mean failure. Author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels were rejected twelve times in a row before a publisher agreed to take a chance on them. Inventor Thomas Edison’s schoolteachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Oprah was fired from her first television job and told she was “unfit for TV.”
Sometimes it’s that negative feedback from others that fuels our drive to be successful at our goals and dreams.
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